Tom Shales
BornThomas William Shales
(1944-11-03)November 3, 1944
Elgin, Illinois, U.S.
DiedJanuary 13, 2024(2024-01-13) (aged 79)
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
  • Critic
  • author
Alma materAmerican University
Notable works
  • Live from New York
  • Those Guys Have All the Fun
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Criticism (1988)

Thomas William Shales (November 3, 1944 – January 13, 2024) was an American writer and television critic. He was a television critic for The Washington Post from 1977 to 2010, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1988. Shales also wrote a column for the television news trade publication NewsPro, published by Crain Communications.

Early life and career

Thomas William Shales was born in Elgin, Illinois, on November 3, 1944, to Clyde Shales (who had once been Elgin's mayor) and Hulda Shales, and graduated from Elgin High School in 1962.[1][2][3] He attended Elgin Community College[1] before transferring to American University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a degree in journalism and was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Eagle, for the 1966–1967 academic year, as well as the paper's movie critic.[4][5][6][7][3]

Shales's first professional job was with radio station WRMN/WRMN-FM in Elgin at the age of 18. He served as the station's disc jockey, local news reporter, writer and announcer, on both the AM and FM bands. He later worked with Voice of America as a producer of broadcasts to the Far East.[4]


Shales worked as entertainment editor at the D.C. Examiner, a tabloid newspaper, from 1968 to 1971.[1] He joined The Washington Post as a writer in the Style section in 1972, was named chief television critic in July 1977, and was appointed TV editor in June 1979.[4] His reviews were syndicated in newspapers nationwide.[7] By 2006, his combined income from his salary and his syndication earnings neared $400,000 a year.[1][7]

Shales was known for his withering putdowns of shows he disliked, and was nicknamed "Terrible Tom" and "the Terror of the Tube".[7] His blunt style could polarize; Forbes Media Guide Five Hundred, 1994 wrote: "Forget the middle ground, Shales either loves it or hates it – and his reviews of TV shows and personalities are often unabashed paroxysms of that love or hate.... Like the medium he covers, Shales turns out fast-paced and amusing fare that often lacks depth".[8] His influence was such that shows he panned would sometimes include unflattering references to him as inside jokes.[1] Shales called such barbs "a TV critic's only shot at immortality".[7]

His influence also extended to other critics. Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire who founded and served as president of the Chicago Film Critics Association, described him as setting a standard with writing that was "incredibly funny, creative, inventive and smart" and with a style more akin to a barroom discussion with readers than a lecture.[3]

In 1988, Shales received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his work at The Washington Post,[4] including his coverage of the Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings.[6] From 1998 to 1999, he was a frequent film critic for Morning Edition on National Public Radio.[9] He was a guest co-host on the television show Roger Ebert & the Movies after the death of Gene Siskel.[10][11][12] Shales was a member of the Peabody Awards Board of Jurors from 1991 to 1996.[13]

In 2006, Shales ceased to be a staff writer for the Post and went on contract, where he remained until 2010, when he was laid off entirely by the newspaper.[14][15] From 2012 to 2014, he wrote a column for[16][17]


Shales published four books, including two he co-wrote with James Andrew Miller. In 2002, Shales and Miller published Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, which covers the history of the sketch-comedy variety show, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at its stars and production process.[18] The book was re-released in 2015 to coincide with Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary. The updated edition contained over 100 pages of new material.[19]

In 2011, Shales and Miller published their second book together, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, which chronicles the history of the network ESPN from its infancy in 1979 through 2010.[20] In 2015, Focus Features optioned the book to adapt it into a film.[21]


Shales died from COVID-19 and kidney failure at a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, on January 13, 2024, at the age of 79.[1][7]

Selected works


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bernstein, Adam; Murphy, Brian (January 13, 2024). "Tom Shales, Pulitzer-winning TV critic of fine-tuned wit, dies at 79". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 13, 2024.
  2. ^ Temkin, Jody (October 22, 1995), "Test Your Celebrity Knowledge With This 'Who's Who?' Quiz", Chicago Tribune, retrieved June 11, 2011, Even when he was a student at Elgin High School in the 1960s, Tom Shales wasn't likely to be found at any homecoming celebrations ... But former classmates don't need to see Shales at homecoming to play that "whatever happened to so-and-so" game. Shales has been in the national spotlight as the television critic for the Washington Post since 1977, winning a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1988.
  3. ^ a b c Vitello, Barbara (January 17, 2024). "Elgin native, Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Shales dead at 79". Daily Herald. Retrieved January 25, 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d "Tom Shales". The Washington Post Writers Group. Archived from the original on August 12, 2002. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  5. ^ "A Brief History of American University's Student Newspaper: The Eagle". American University Library. Archived from the original on June 10, 2010. Retrieved September 3, 2007.
  6. ^ a b "All Bork and no bite". Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved January 13, 2024.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Williams, Alex (January 16, 2024). "Tom Shales, TV Critic Both Respected and Feared, Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2024.
  8. ^ Eastland, Terry (1994). Forbes Media Guide Five Hundred, 1994: A Critical Review of the Media. p. 114-115.
  9. ^ "Tom Shales". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on September 2, 2002.
  10. ^ "CNN Showbiz – February 16, 1999". CNN. February 16, 1999. Archived from the original on April 28, 2001. Retrieved January 14, 2023.
  11. ^ "October Sky, The 24 Hour Woman, Office Space, Jawbreaker, Tango, 1999". Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews. Retrieved January 14, 2023.
  12. ^ "8mm, The Other Sister, Just the Ticket, 200 Cigarettes, Eight Days a Week, 1999". Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews. Retrieved January 14, 2023.
  13. ^ Unruh, Wes (November 1, 2014). "George Foster Peabody Awards Board Members". The Peabody Awards. Archived from the original on November 1, 2019. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  14. ^ Alexander, Bryan (October 22, 2010). "Tom Shales Confirms He Will Leave Washington Post after 39 Years". The Hollywood Reporter.
  15. ^ "Tom Shales: I'm Leaving Washington Post, Am Heavily In Debt". The Huffington Post. October 22, 2010. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  16. ^ Seitz, Matt Zoller (January 18, 2024). "Wonderful Tom: Tom Shales (1944–2024)". Retrieved January 18, 2024.
  17. ^ "Tom Shales at Large". Retrieved January 18, 2024.
  18. ^ Rabin, Nathan (November 8, 2002). "Tom Shales & James Andrew Miller: Live From New York: An Uncensored History Of Saturday Night Live As Told By Its Stars, Writers & Guests". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  19. ^ Lies, Erica (September 9, 2014). "An Updated 'Live From New York' Goes Inside the Last 12 Years of 'SNL' History". Splitsider. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  20. ^ Brownfield, Paul (May 27, 2011). "Book review: 'ESPN: Those Guys Have All the Fun'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  21. ^ Machir, Troy (February 17, 2015). "Movie based on ESPN book 'Those Guys Have All The Fun' is in development". Sporting News. Archived from the original on April 3, 2017. Retrieved August 17, 2017.