Inside People

updated 06/02/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/1997 01:00AM

UNLIKE MUCH OF THE COUNTRY, PEOPLE'S new television critic Terry Kelleher doesn't spend Thursday evenings watching only you know what. "Must-see TV takes on a different meaning when a small child is controlling your set," says Kelleher, 49, who has a 3½-year-old daughter, Jia, with wife Ann Silverberg, an assistant editor at Long Island's (N.Y.) Newsday. "I see more of Barney & Friends and Sesame Street than I do of Friends and Suddenly Susan."

Luckily for Kelleher, Jia, who has become his "TV-watching partner because she doesn't like to go to bed," has viewing preferences that have ranged beyond kiddie staples. "For a while she had this strange enthusiasm for hockey, but I had to change the channel every time a fight broke out," he says. "Then she discovered figure skating, and as long as Tonya Harding wasn't involved, I didn't have to worry about violence. Lately her top choice is Singin' in the Rain. Gene Kelly is a big influence, maybe because he was so good at splashing in puddles."

A Chicago native, Kelleher got his B.A. (in philosophy) from Marquette University and an M.S. (in journalism) from the University of Illinois before landing a job in the sports department of the Miami Herald in 1977. Later, as an entertainment writer there, he covered, among other things, an annual revue of scantily clad women at a local hotel. "They called it 'flesh and feathers,' " says Kelleher, "but there's more flesh on NYPD Blue." A three-year stint at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel followed, after which Kelleher spent a decade as an entertainment writer with Newsday. In March he joined PEOPLE. "He sizes things up with smarts and snap," says senior editor Bonnie Johnson. "And he gives readers everything they need to make up their minds."

As for Kelleher, he has no doubts about his tastes in TV. Although duty dictates that he immerse himself in cliff-hanging season finales and women-in-jeopardy movies of the week, his personal must-sees include The Larry Sanders Show, Politically Incorrect and venerable sitcoms like The Bob Newhart Show. "I probably laughed out loud at Newhart more than anything else," he says. "I'm a sucker for comedians from Chicago."

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