Rotten Tomatoes announced this morning that they will launch "The TV Zone" tomorrow in order to aggregate reviews of television shows. This is not a good idea.
Variety's Marc Graser reported that the TV Zone will compile reviews of a show's seasons, rather than individual episodes, and will start tomorrow with the new fall shows and primetime shows from the last four years "that received coverage by critics from major media outlets Rotten Tomatoes follows."
It's understandable that Rotten Tomatoes would want to expand into television. It is, after-all, the new cinema (or something like that) and Rotten Tomatoes has established itself as the go-to spot for a simplistic notion of whether a movie is good or bad. But TV criticism isn't the same as movie criticism. Whereas movie criticism is fairly finite—a critic states his or her case and it's done—television criticism has to account for the fact that show's can vary wildly over the course of their seasons. Note, for instance, how initially critics weren't too thrilled by Mad Men or Breaking Bad at the shows' outsets.
Graser explains that Rotten Tomatoes expects to account for how shows change, even though most of the ratings will be based on reviews of the initial few episodes of a season. Editor-in-chief Matt Achity told Graser: "If reviews go extremely negative then we may change it as the season goes on." He used Smash, which had a brilliant pilot but then became synonymous with hate watching, as an example.
Sure, that's helpful, but it would be hard for an aggregator to fully explain what television critics are doing these days. Just last month Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an essay for Vulture about how there "has never been a better time for TV criticism," but in the piece he argues that what makes this criticism so great is that the critics aren't following any established rules. "[Critics] aren’t losing sleep over answering the questions that some other critic believes are the 'right' ones, or nudging TV coverage into line with the supposed grand traditions of older art forms." Not to mention, the fact that these days television analysis happens episode to episode, rather than season to season.
And finally, the problem remains, that television is inherently a more personal medium that film. Fans make the choice to stick with a show whether or not critics like it or not. If that's the case, then what's the point of a TV Rotten Tomatoes.