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Michael Ausiello Q&A Part 2: Celebrity Status, His Dream Job, & Which Star He's Afraid Of Running Into

October 1st, 2009 11:04am EDT
Michael AusielloThe first part of this interview focused on "Entertainment Weekly" writer Michael Ausiello's beginnings in the field of media journalism. We intended to look at his work and concept of celebrity, but it turned into something more.

The difference between a good journalist and a great journalist is a sense of humility. A great journalist sees each new assignment as a piece that must stand alone, rather than as part of a legacy. To the great journalist, their job is to serve the audience fresh interviews and articles. They are competitive, ambitious, and are not looking to have their egos stroked.

Some of the following questions were purposefully constructed to be hard to answer. It was my intention to bluntly ask him to define himself. It is through the answers I received from Michael that I realized he is more than this neo-celebrity figure who I originally went searching for - he is one of those great journalists who put their work before their egos.

PART 2: THE MISSION


Sarah Lafferty: This part of the interview I want to focus on your mission, how celebrity and fandom have affected you and how you have affected the world and the idea of celebrity. What would you do if I told you I consider you to be pop culture's Walter Cronkite? How would you react?

Michael Ausiello: My first reaction is that I don't deserve that title. I really don't think of myself in that grand sort of sense. I think I am sitting here doing my little TV thing, scooping finding spoilers, and it is always shocking to me when I am confronted with the fact that I do have a high profile in this business. All that stuff is kind of new and always surprising, because I am just sitting in my office all day behind the computer just writing, and that gives me a sense that there are people connecting to what you do and what you write. Walter Cronkite, gosh, what I do just feels so trivial. He was a legend, an icon who shaped this business in a profound way. I don't think of myself in those lofty terms, but I appreciate that, its very flattering.

Being that your job is working with and around celebrities, what is your definition of celebrity?

Good question. I don't know that answer. I never really thought about what defines a celebrity. Can I think about it?

Having a general idea in mind, do you consider yourself to be one?

I don't consider myself to be one. No. When I think of celebrities I think of people like Brad Pitt, people whose first name is recognizable. I don't think of myself in that sort of sense.

What I am finding is that the idea of celebrity has become a virus that has been spreading itself out in the past 20 years that has been affecting non-book and non-screenwriting writers. Do you think that is due to our cultural obsession with the desire to be larger than ourselves?

I think, for me, the reason it is happening is because of the platforms that I have. I mean, I think it is easier for me to have a high profile because of the internet age. The connection to my readers is more intimate than if I was just writing for a magazine or newspaper. It is almost like I have a relationship with my readers and a back and forth dialogue. They send me emails, I respond, they comment on my blog. They think they know me and have a connection to me. That I think is why media has changed, and how someone like me is probably in a higher profile.

Is there a negative side to social media outlets, like Twitter, for writers?

I don't think so. It only has an upside for what I do. It is a vehicle to get my stories more exposure. It allows me to network with my readers and also is fantastic to get info out instantaneous. Breaking TV news is so competitive now, and a lot of time it is a race to see who can get the info out first. The reverse is that sometimes accuracy can take a backseat. It is exciting to see how Twitter changes what I do. Every writer and actor now has an account and they are putting out info - now I am competing against them along with other journalists.

What did you expect from your attendance at Comic Con? What were your expectations for your experience and how you thought fans would react specifically to you?

I thought it was going to be an overwhelming experience. Those expectations were met when I first stepped foot onto the convention center floor. I was speechless at what I saw from the costumes to the booths. Even though I expected to be blown away, experiencing it was just, amazing. As far as my own experience, I thought there was a chance I would be recognized, I imagined that readers of my blog would be interested in Comic Con, but it was startling when I was walking around on the floor and people would call my name and ask for a picture with me, or an autograph, and immediately jump into a conversation about a show as if they just knew me. That was surprising, that was my first taste of having that kind of attention all in one location in one period of time. It was the first time it hit me that maybe I'm a little famous. It was really exciting. I got an idea of how fame can be an addictive thing. God knows it is a much smaller scale for me, but it was addicting. They were all so nice, the readers, the Ausholes [refers to the moniker of people who read his blog], they were so cool and it was fun meeting them.

How has attending Comic Con changed your view of your position?

It hasn't. It was fun and I got a high off of it, but once I get back to the daily grind of what I do here it goes away and it isn't something I focus on or think about.

Michael Ausiello and fans

Michael Ausiello (center with blue shirt & wine glass) surrounded by Ausholes (his fans)



How has your opinion of fandom changed in the past ten years?

It's gotten more feverish, more passionate. Or, at least it seems that way. There are so many outlets for fans to express themselves. I was a passionate fanboy growing up, but there were only so many outlets for me to express that. It wasn't like there was a blog for me to write on, or a convention to go to. It definitely seems like it has gotten larger, bigger, and louder.

Because of your neo-celebrity status, do you think you are memoir worthy, or do you not think you are there yet?

I worry about answering some of these questions because I feel like my answers will come off as sort of pompous. I feel like I have a lot of really funny and interesting stories to tell, but I am nowhere near a Barbara Walters look-back, this is what my life was. I have led an interesting life, and I have been through a lot. I have a really unique way at looking at things. In that sense, I mean it could be a series of funny and sad short stories. I think my childhood is what I think about when I want to write about stuff. The influence TV had on me, it is fun to see how it turned me into the person I am today.

Are you recognized by celebrities on the street?

Yes.

Even people you haven't met or had a chance to interview?

Yes. I mean it hasn't happened that often, but there have been actors, I wouldn't necessarily call them celebrities, but actors who would come up to me and say, "I'm a big fan of your work, I love what you do." So that is fun.

Would you consider yourself to be a celebrity's celebrity? When you discuss shows or interview celebrities, you do tend to give them the benefit of the doubt - there is a definite respect that comes across in your work. How do you think that affects your relationship with them?

Whenever I write a story or interview someone I always try to think about what I am going to do or say when I run into them. I didn't always think about that. When I first started, I rarely got out and came face to face with people I was writing about. It was easy to be behind my computer and write something snarky and never have to deal with any repercussions except from the occasional call from a publicist. When I started to go out and do red carpets and have to come face to face with them, I started to think twice about being snarky on the computer. I started to think, would I be uncomfortable running into this person after writing this? That has changed the way I write. If something really upsets me I will say it, but I won't be as gratuitously mean as I used to be. I still worry about the day I run into Elisabeth Rohm, because I have said some horrible things about her acting, and it is inevitable that I run into her and I am going to fell really bad. So now, if I write something, I have to stand behind it and feel ok about it.

What do you think is the strongest broadcast network right now for programming, and what do you think is the worst?

I think CBS is in the strongest position just because they have had the most consistent ratings and solid performing shows. It is a very stable network who knows who they are. They have a clear identity and mission and it shows. I think NBC is in the worst shape. I think it is because they are lacking a hit show. It is unfortunate because they have good quality shows, but they aren't reaching the mass audience they got with Friends or ER. It hurts when I see the ratings come in for a show that I love, like Community, that is only pulling five million viewers on Thursday night on NBC. It is disappointing. They need a hit show. They need an American Idol, or a CSI, or Grey's Anatomy - something that they can start rebuilding around.

Going back to the definition of celebrity. Do you have a working definition? Earlier you differentiated the terms of actor and celebrity. Do you not assume that all actors are also celebrities?

A celebrity is someone who is instantly recognizable by a large group of people. I don't think celebrity and talent go hand in hand. You could be a celebrity and have no discernable talent. You could be really talented and have no celebrity. I think it is all about recognizability.

Where do you see yourself going from here, as a journalist, as someone in the entertainment world? What is your next step?

I am not one of those people who think about the five-year plan. I like thinking about the next scoop, the next big story. I think it is because I am so happy and like where I am at, that it is hard for me to think about changing that or doing anything different. I think I would like to explore on camera. I enjoy talking to actors and writers. I feel that I am most confident there. The dream job may be a talk show, kind of like Chelsea Handler. Having an interview and scoop element. It would be a good place for me to showcase actors and writers I like. That would be fun to explore someday.

Sarah Lafferty
Story by Sarah Lafferty
Starpulse contributing writer

Follow Sarah on twitter at starbuckscout.


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