"He's highly ethical," says reporter Leslie Strauss, who is often assigned to check Jarvis' copy. "He never cheats. He watches every minute without fast-forwarding. I don't know why he doesn't short-circuit, but he doesn't—even when he's reviewing unwatchable trash."
It's not all that hard, responds Jarvis, 31 and a TV buff since childhood: "Television can be very, very good, so I'm mad as can be when something bad comes on." To shorthand his opinions, he hands out grades for the shows he reviews. Some recent A's went to Passion Flower, Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary and Bleak House, but this week (p. 13) the Joan Collins miniseries Sins merits an F. Explains Jarvis: "It had no plot, no characters, nothing."
The Chicago-born son of an electrical industry executive and a home-maker, Jarvis is famed hereabouts for his machine-gun speech (it rivals that Federal Express commercial). With comparable speed, he raced through high school and college in six years, earning a journalism degree from Northwestern in 1974. Before joining PEOPLE in 1981, Jeff worked at six newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, and became a popular columnist on the San Francisco Examiner. Single and living in Brooklyn, he relaxes by writing fiction (he has an unfinished novel on Berlin), videotaping and, yes, watching TV. But when the hours wear him down, Jarvis retreats to a consoling fantasy. "I'd like to run a Taco Bell in London," he confesses, "where the only decisions would be bean or beef."
"His office is like an explosion in a tape factory," says Senior Editor Peter Travers. Nonetheless, oblivious to the stacks of videocassettes, corridor din and the kibitzing of colleagues, TV critic Jeff Jarvis—all 6'4" of him—sprawls comfortably in a chair watching TV for 20 to 40 hours a week, a computer keyboard on his lap, his trusty pause button within reach. Fueled by Classic Coke and vast quantities of junk food (his favorite restaurant chain: Taco Bell), Jarv works through his weekly TV quota with unrelenting determination. "You have three networks, all the syndicated shows, a couple dozen cable channels—and now almost a third of Americans own VCRs," he says. "There's just too much to choose from. If I can help make that a little easier and quicker for the reader, then I'm doing my job."