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Terminal Care

Grave sites aren't what they used to be.

Making the eSCENE

Must fiction be print to be hip?

The Living and the Dead

An in-depth look at death in America reveals how stories become the salves of the living.

The Wings of Perseus

The modern-day world of the ancients.


A new Internet guide with venerable roots.

Bureaucrats with 'Tude

The IRS tries to lighten up. It's a bit of a strain.

Revolution 2.0

Esther Dyson wants to redesign the digital world -- or at least get the brainstorming started.

News You Can't Use

The art of the parody is alive and well.

A Prairie Home-Page Companion

Don't know what socks to wear? Ask Garrison Keillor.

The Witch's Voice

Coming out of the broom closet.

Chess on the Net

An online community where those with the best moves always mate.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Entertainment Asylum

December 4, 1997

Everything about Entertainment Asylum, the amibitious new entertainment destination launched recently by America Online, seems unfulfilled. It's interactive television -- but without the television, since the vast majority of its intended audience doesn't have the capability to receive live video. It wants to get its viewers up close and personal with stars -- but the only stars it can reliably attract are the faded variety, along the lines of George Takei and Ed McMahon. It features "celebrity" guides, who attempt to personalize the site at every step -- but those celebrities are just unknown GenX'ers whom Entertainment Asylum has tapped for the online equivalent of stardom. AOL is not alone in the business of trying to manufacture stars. Fledgling Internet sites have defined a whole class of "startup celebrities," beginning with the launch of The Spot in 1995. (Indeed, Entertainment Asylum's Vice President of Production, Laurie Plaskin, played a central character on The Spot.)

explanation The celebrity guides, known as the "Screen Team," are what separate Entertainment Asylum from other online or print entertainment guides. They conduct many of the interviews, write reviews and columns (or at least put their names to them), and most interestingly, provide their own daily soap opera of sorts, falling in and out of favor with one another in "Real World"-fashion as they go about their business. The first-person, MSNBC-meets-Melrose Place concept would be annoying enough, even if it weren't for the fact that the writing is chatty and obsequious to a remarkably homogeneous degree.

explanation With its colorful, TV-inspired look and feel, Entertainment Asylum is certainly attractive. But while the site's sprawl makes the content seem extensive, a bit of browsing reveals that its beauty is skin deep. Nowhere to be found are the wry wit and in-depth information of Mr. Showbiz, the insider gossip of Hollywood Online, or even the usefulness of Music Boulevard, TV Guide, or MovieLink.

So, one wonders, what is AOL hoping to add to the Web's menu of entertainment sites? The Asylum's "mission statement" says that the goal is to create no less than a new kind of "entertainment community." If the Web's future lies in the convergence of the personal computer and the television, then Entertainment Asylum may be (gulp) a harbinger of things to come as new-media companies seek out that holy grail, the American TV audience.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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