Not long ago, on the eve of the screenwriters strike, Michael Ausiello, a writer for TV Guide, described the imminent work stoppage on his TVGuide.com blog as “the forthcoming Armageddon.” Days later, with the strike in full swing, he could bring himself to refer to it only as the “s-word.”
Right now, scores of reporters and commentators across the city and the country are covering the divergent concerns of the writers and the producers. But for Mr. Ausiello, it’s all about the fans. “For my readers, what’s critical is what this means for their favorite shows,” he told NYTV.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Mr. Ausiello sat at Riposo, a wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen, and sipped a glass of Riesling. He was wearing a plaid shirt, over jeans, and blue Chuck Taylors. With his square jar, strong brow, and dark hair, he bore a passing resemblance to the actor Dana Ashbrook circa Twin Peaks.
In recent years, Mr. Ausiello, 35, has helped breathe new life into the TV Guide brand by bantering with his fans on the magazine’s web site and breaking news about forthcoming plot twists and cast changes. (The past year alone, he was first to report that Isaiah Washington had been fired from Grey’s Anatomy, that Jorja Fox was leaving CSI, and that NBC was secretly developing a spin-off of The Office.) And his almost messianic enthusiasm for popular television has won him a strikingly loyal following of like-minded couch potatoes.
Recently, as the immediate future of scripted television has turned dark, so too has Mr. Ausiello’s writing. Last week, he assembled a strike chart, letting his fans—who go by the affectionate term “Ausholes”–know how long before their favorite shows would run out of episodes. “[I]t makes me want to double my Prozac dosage,” he wrote.
“I understand why they’re so scared,” Mr. Ausiello told NYTV*. “I know where the hysteria comes from.”
Indeed, it was TV that helped make life bearable for the young Mr. Ausiello. He grew up in the small town of Roselle Park, New Jersey, a half hour outside of Elizabeth. His older brother was a high school football star, and his dad was an Astroturf salesman for Monsanto. Michael himself was overweight and gay. At school, the kids made fun of him. He learned to self-medicate through television.
Mr. Ausiello loved The Smurfs. In between episodes, he would walk miles to a store in a nearby town that stocked Smurf paraphernalia. Back home, he lovingly arranged his growing collection in swaths of his father’s Astroturf.
Daytime soaps were his other obsession. Whenever possible, he would skip school and bask in the glory of Days of Our Lives. In his free time, he filled the pages of sketchpads with episodes of his own soap, which he called Beverly Hills. During Thanksgiving at his grandparents’ house, while the men watched football, Mr. Ausiello would sit in the corner and write cliffhangers.
“I managed to survive by my soap operas,” he said.
When he was sixteen, his mother died, and Mr. Ausiello dealt with his sorrow, unsurprisingly, with food and television. Doritos and Dynasty. Cheez Wiz and Dallas. He ballooned to upwards of 250 pounds.
Mr. Ausiello took another sip of wine. “Even though it was such a hostile environment,” he said, “I still managed to do my Ausiello shtick thing.” To wit: his senior year, with his best friend Jill, he launched an underground weekly paper called The Cub, which regularly ridiculed the school’s popular kids. “People hated us for it,” he recalls.
He also began to get a hold of himself. On his 17th birthday, at his grandmother’s house, Mr. Ausiello ate a memorable piece of cake. “As I was eating it, I was saying to myself, this is the last piece of cake I’m going to eat,” he recalled. “The next day was the last day of me being fat.”
He became a vegetarian, went on Slim Fast, and shed the pounds. In 2006, a poll run by Peta ranked Mr. Ausiello as the third sexiest male vegetarian in the world (thank you, Ausholes!).
After high school and a stint at a junior college, he applied to the film school at the University of Southern California, aiming to become a screenwriter. Instead, he got into the journalism program, where he majored in public relations and minored in cinema.
During his senior year, his dad fell ill with heart problems. Mr. Ausiello took a semester off to patch things up with his father, with whom he’d rarely seen eye-to-eye. “My dad was always like, ‘you must be in wrestling, you must be in football,’” said Mr. Ausiello. “Why are you watching soap operas?’”
Mr. Ausiello told his father he was gay. Over the next few months, they reconciled, soon before Mr. Ausiello senior passed away. Michael was 22. Along with his two brothers, he cleaned out the family house, saving a few heirlooms, his Smurf collection, and his Beverly Hills sketchpads.
After college, Mr. Ausiello landed a job with Entertainment Tonight, doing public relations. But he grew restless and began freelancing as a writer. Through a friend, he scored an assignment for Soap Opera Update, and eventually landed a full-time job, writing for Soaps in Depth.
Over the next several years, Mr. Ausiello cut his teeth, interviewing daytime starlets, developing sources, and breaking news. He began moonlighting for TV Guide, penning articles about his favorite primetime shows.
In 2000, he jumped to TVGuide.com full time, to blog about the business. Roughly four years later, he began writing a wildly popular web feature called “Ask Ausiello.” Additionally, he now writes a column for the magazine, a blog for the web site (The Ausiello Report), and does a biweekly segment for the TV Guide Channel, recounting the top five TV moments of the week.
“I really feel like it’s nice to be in a place in my life where I’m not being suffocated by tragedy, and all the shit I put up with in high school, just being ostracized,” said Mr. Ausiello. “Things are going really good for me, and I can enjoy it, because things have been tough.”
These days, Mr. Ausiello lives with his long time partner Kit Cowan—and his Smurf collection–in Hell’s Kitchen. “Part of me wants to move to LA just because it would afford me the space to put my Smurfs in their own room,” he said.
Every year now, Mr. Ausiello parlays his stature as a TV blogger into a guest appearance on one of his favorite shows. So far, he’s landed bit parts on Felicity, The Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, and Scrubs—where the kid who once doctored his sadness with television got to appear on television as a doctor. And recently, as part of the New York Comedy festival, he even got to host a panel discussion with the Scrubs cast members.
Back at the bar, Mr. Ausiello polished off his wine. It was time to get back to his real life patients. Television was on strike. The Ausholes were hurting.
“It’s going to sound corny, but TV was an escape for me, during a rough childhood,” said Mr. Ausiello. “I see why it is so important to other people. I can totally relate to the anxiety they are feeling right now.”
* This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version.