Jerry Krupnick may not be a name most readers here will recognize. If it sounds like a name straight out of a sitcom, well, not exactly. Jerry Krupnick was a TV critic, and he died last Thursday at 82. Alan Sepinwall, who took over Krupnick's beat about a decade ago, has all the details in his sweet and comprehensive obituary, found in Friday's New Jersey Star-Ledger.
Krupnick covered TV longer than most, starting in the early '50s and lasting until his retirement in 1998. He was the guy asking the questions when it was Lucy and Desi and Gleason and Carney and Berle and Bonanza (Sepinwall has a great Lucy story in the obit), and he was still at it when Fox and HBO started changing the game in the '90s.
By the time I started attending the semi-annual TCA press tours in the mid-'80s he was like the Pope of press tour. You didn't have to kiss his ring, but plenty of network publicists seemed prepared to kiss his ass. His wife of 58 years, Phyllis, was a fixture in the press room, often working the phones like the place was her own private office. (She would have hated this last press tour; the networks finally pulled the free phones out of that room for good.) Mrs. Krupnick also took more than a few meals with critics, as I recall, and was not shy about collecting a second hat or T-shirts or any of the other trinkets the networks used to heap on scribes back in the day. Network publicists would routinely prep two of everything for the duo. They were a package deal, the Paul and Linda McCartney of the press tour, and nobody was going to tell the guy from Jersey his wife didn't belong in the room.
This was mainly out of respect for Krupnick, who earned his advantage. He had that edgy, Jersey, son-of-a-gun thing going for him; he looked like a veteran corner man at a prize fight.
Whenever he asked a question during a session, it usually brought a bracing slap of common sense to the proceedings. Krupnick had a terrific bullshit detector and wasn't afraid to use it. He was old school, pre-Watergate, just good old fashioned adversarial. He may have had bags full of network goodies in both hands, but he put them down long enough to punch out a show.
There are few voices like his left in the room. Tom Jicha, from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, has the strongest one today. Jicha can still size up a panel and take them down with one question like nobody else. This past July, while the CNN panel was busy patting themselves on their backs over their presidential election coverage, he asked this Hall of Fame question: "Why did it take a skit on Saturday Night Live to change the tone of the Democratic primary Coverage?"
The panel stumbled and handed off and ducked and denied and a full transcript page later Jicha and the rest of the room had their answer. It was the kind of a question you could build a whole Saturday theme piece around. It was the kind of a hard ball Krupnick used to deliver. Condolences to his wife, three sons and five grandchildren.