There's much more to TV than the networks these days, and Hiltbrand, 35, is going to take a hard look at all of it. No stranger to the Picks & Pans section of PEOPLE, David already has contributed hundreds of music and book reviews. "He gets excited about what's good, as well as indignant about what's bad," says senior editor Ralph Novak. That sort of fierce enthusiasm may be familiar to the many fans of our departing TV critic—Jeff Jarvis. After 8½ years of throwing his distinctive, often acerbic voice back at the box, Jeff has left PEOPLE to launch a new publication for Time Inc. Magazines, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.
Hiltbrand's armchair occupation comes after years of anything but couch potatodom. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he joined the 1974 charter staff of PEOPLE as a copy clerk at age 20. But he pulled up stakes two years later and roamed the country, supporting himself by working in a California lumberyard, as a Cambridge, Mass., cab driver and on a freighter bound for Africa. After graduating from California's Sonoma State University in 1978, Hiltbrand returned to PEOPLE as a reporter, then went on to work as a writer at TV-CABLE WEEK and PICTURE WEEK. For the last two years, he has edited the Insiders section of TV Guide.
Hiltbrand lives outside Philadelphia with his wife, Mary, his stepdaughter Ceara, 16, daughter Erin, 3, and son Rory, 11 months. From there he will screen approximately 35 hours of television each week, helping PEOPLE readers to sort the great from the gawdawful. "I'm not an elitist," says Hiltbrand. "But I expect a lot from TV." PEOPLE readers, in turn, can expect a lot from him.
PEOPLE'S new TV critic, David Hiltbrand, doesn't take television sitting down—except literally, of course. "I'm volatile about it," he admits. "The networks have been playing it too safe. Look at the brainless use of bathing suits on Baywatch or that artificial banter on Prime Time Live. On the other hand, they can surprise you with something as provocative as Lonesome Dove."