Scott D. Pierce, longtime TV critic at Tribune and D-News, dies

‘The Swiss Army knife of reporters’ wrote about culture, entertainment and breaking news.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune TV critic and breaking news reporter Scott D. Pierce. He died Friday, May 24; he was 64.

Scott D. Pierce, who enthusiastically told Utahns what was good and bad on television for more than 30 years as a critic for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, has died.

Pierce died Friday, his partner, Rob Sonoda, confirmed. He was 64.

Pierce started his “dream job” as a TV critic on March 31, 1990 — just weeks before his 30th birthday — at the Deseret News.

Over the years, Pierce wrote in a 2020 column marking his 30th anniversary as a critic, a local station manager once tried to get him fired over what he wrote — and an executive at the network UPN ordered his people to tell Pierce’s boss to fire him. (Pierce noted that he outlasted UPN, which merged with The WB network in 2006 to become The CW.)

(Getty Images) Scott D. Pierce presented Betty White with the TCA’s Career Achievement Award in 2009.

(Getty Images) Scott D. Pierce, who was president of the Television Critics Association at the time, welcomes guests to the 2014 TCA Awards. What no one knew at the time was that Miss Piggy (and her handler) were hiding under the podium.

Pierce said he was given wide latitude by the Deseret News’s ownership — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — to write about nearly anything he wanted on television. One exception, he said, came in the early 1990s, when he was told not to write about the possibility that KSL (also owned by the church) would end its affiliate status with CBS. (In 1995, KSL switched to become an NBC affiliate.)

He wrote for the Deseret News for 20 years, before he lost the job in 2010 in a round of layoffs that affected 43% of that newspaper’s staff. A Tribune editor, Michael A. Anastazi, called him the next day to offer him a role as a reporter.

“Scott had obvious and enormous talent and a voice Utahns needed to hear,” Anastazi, now vice president for local news at the Gannett newspaper chain, said in an email. “I leapt at the chance to recruit him and never regretted it.”

At The Tribune, his duties expanded beyond TV criticism. He wrote general features and the occasional theater review. And, after The Tribune faced its own rounds of significant layoffs, he readily and capably took on the new challenge of working the early-morning breaking news shift, covering police shootings and anything else that happened overnight, while continuing to cover entertainment.

”Scott was the Swiss Army knife of reporters,” said Tribune reporter Julie Jag, “seemingly able to handle anything and in quick order.”

In a message to the newsroom Friday, Tribune executive editor Lauren Gustus wrote, “He was a friend to many of us.” In addition to working with longtime Tribune staff, she said, “he also welcomed the newest reporters, making an effort to find connections with folks who had recently joined us.”

Gustus noted that Pierce “had a conversational style that made him easy to read, and a willingness to take on anything journalism happened to throw his way on any given day.”

When the printed page wasn’t enough to contain Pierce’s thoughts on TV, he took to podcasting — as one of the original panelists on the popular “Geek Show Podcast,” starting in 2008. He stayed on the show for six or seven years, said Kerry Jackson, the podcast’s creator and co-host of X96′s “Radio From Hell” program.

Jackson said Friday that Pierce had “a cutting wit, and [was] one of the smartest men I have known. [He was] fun to argue with. I gave him my United Federation of Planets ring [from ‘Star Trek’]. He loved it.”

Pierce was a longtime member of the Television Critics Association, and attended its twice-yearly press tours in Los Angeles for many years. Some years, he emceed TCA’s awards ceremony — which allowed him to give a 2009 lifetime achievement award to one of his TV heroes, the actress Betty White. He was TCA’s president in 2014.

Pierce said he tried to avoid being on television, though he gave in to the urge twice: In 1999 as an extra on the short-lived science-fiction drama “Crusade” (the alien makeup meant he couldn’t wear his glasses on the set), and in 2019 for the filmed-in-Utah “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.”

In recent work, Pierce had highlighted the lack of Asian representation in history and arts, Gustus said, citing as an example The Tribune’s 2019 coverage of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. That and Pierce’s related reporting, she said, “brought needed awareness to a community that for years had been ignored and underrepresented in arts and entertainment and elsewhere.”

He had a love-hate relationship with “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” working late to get episode recaps up swiftly for a waiting online audience — while also reporting about serious issues the reality show raised, such as calling out instances of racism on the show.

(Doug Pasko) Scott D. Pierce is dressed in a suit of armor on the set of “The Outpost” in 2018.

(Fred Hayes | Disney+) Pierce as an extra on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” in 2019.

Pierce’s final TV column — an interview with the creator of the filmed-in-Utah TV series “The Chosen,” about the life of Jesus — is scheduled to be published in Sunday’s print edition of The Tribune.

“I may hate individual shows, but I love TV,” Pierce wrote in The Tribune in 2020. “Dramas, comedies, documentaries, news, sports, reality shows — there’s great stuff in every category. I can find you something [that’s] worth watching on TV every day of every year.”

Scott D. Pierce was born April 17, 1960, to Donald and Mary Lou Pierce, both educators. He grew up in Endwell, New York, and attended Maine-Endwell High School there.

He attended Brigham Young University, and was editor of The Daily Universe, the student newspaper. He remained a lifelong Cougar fan. He followed Real Salt Lake, and was a long-suffering supporter of the English football club Arsenal.

Coworkers noted that he showed the most pride in his three now-adult children: Hillary, Jonathon and Amanda.

“He could not have been more proud of his kids and to be a grandfather,” Gustus said.

At weekly reporting team meetings, his editor, Rachel Crosby, asks each reporter to share what brought them joy that week. For Pierce, Crosby said, “it was always his family and his pets.”

Pierce often filled the pets channel of The Tribune’s Slack account with his affection for and faux irritation with his beloved shih tzus, posting photos of them curled up or causing trouble. (He also owned a large collection of shih tzu-related T-shirts, which he often paired with Hawaiian shirts.) After his dog Xavi died in 2023, he opened his home to a rescue, Charlie, to keep his other dog, Chip, company.

(Scott D. Pierce | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chip and Xavi.

The last moment of joy Pierce shared with his colleagues centered on his granddaughter, Remi, who was born in November 2022. Recently, his son-in-law came over to help move a piece of furniture, Pierce said. As he did, Remi curled up on the couch with her grandpa to watch the Australian children’s show “Bluey” with him — and urged him to clap during the show.

“He said it was a special moment for him,” Crosby said. “He was so happy to share.”

Pierce is survived by his partner, Rob Sonoda; his siblings: Kimberley Pierce, Timothy (Renee) Pierce, Lynne Pierce and Betsy (John) Pope; his three children: Amanda Pierce (Jeremy Tyrrell), Hillary Pierce and Jonathon Pierce; and his granddaughter, Remi Tyrrell. His mother, Mary Lou Swanson Pierce — known as “Lou” — died on April 14, at age 97.

Plans for memorial services are pending.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks people support two nonprofit organizations close to Pierce’s heart: To foster independent journalism by sharing, subscribing and donating to The Salt Lake Tribune; and to help dogs by donating to The Golden Bark Foundation, which rescues forgotten senior dogs and sends them to loving retirement homes.