Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Demise of Television Without Pity

Once upon a time, there was a website that used to recap television. It was a website that had some attitude, a healthy amount of perspective and some very funny, if blunt, opinions of the best shows on TV. It was a site in which a collective of writers covered select TV shows and did a thorough recap of each episode, peppered with snark and sarcasm and a healthy dose of realistic editorial opinion. It was a site for which TV loving writers would have loved to write, especially those writers, like myself, who can objectively and sarcastically talk about TV shows, beloved or not.

There were some flaws, naturally. Some of the writers were much better than others. The collective of writers were a little clique, their FAQ proving that they didn't take well to outsiders and didn't care to. The forums were too heavily moderated, almost communistic in some of the ways in which comments were censored. Sometimes their writers were downright cruel to the readers who criticized them, coming across as petty and mean rather than snarky and funny. But, aside from all that, it was a fun, entertaining website in which one could easily get lost in reading the witty, funny and mostly dead-on recaps of television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, America's Top Model, etc. They were always shows that would have the type of following to seek out recaps, shows that were so good they deserved a recap, even when they had bad episodes, or shows so bad that they simply had to be recapped in all their cheesy nonsense.

The site was Televison without Pity (TWOP for short), once glorious, now a commerical site in which the snark is lost in the glitz of Bravo Television.

But let's back up to the glory days. The site was founded by three individuals, known on TWOP as Sars, Wing Chun and Glark. They built the site based on their original effort, Mighty Big TV, a site originally built entirely around one TV show: Dawson's Creek. Mighty Big TV eventually became TWOP. The site was tightly run, the recaps well edited and mostly hilarious. The forums would entice undercover Hollywood players like Aaron Sorkin who would defend his show. There were interviews with writers of TV shows, humble, well-written interviews in which you'd actually learn about a show. It was evident that those that worked for TWOP loved their job, even when they were assigned awful TV shows to recap. Though other sites sprung up, most notably TWOP Sucks, that would bash TWOP and its writers, these sites did little except emphasize the point that TWOP had become a pop culture must, a place for TV lovers to congregate, virtually and it the case of events like TARCON (The Amazing Race Conventions), in reality too.

And then, the site was sold to Bravo. It was most likely financially a smart business choice for the founders. After all, what had begun as a blog had become a viable business. It hosted advertising, so there was definitely some profit being made as well as a store that sold TV gear, referencing obscure moments in TV. Yet, Bravo came calling and it's likely a lot of money was offered. To founders like Sars, Wing Chun and Glark, there probably seemed little to lose. They would make money, the writers would be guaranteed payment and the responsibility would be off their shoulders.

Bravo took over and one year later, Sars, Wing Chun and Glark left the site. There is little to be discovered about their departure, whether it was part of the original buyout contract or whether the site went so far from the original conception that they were disgusted enough to take their big checks and leave. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that Bravo's takeover of TWOP has killed the site in almost every way that matters.

Certainly, the site still exists and the archive of recaps is still there. The writers still recap the shows still airing that they recapped before the buyout. Yet now, there are recaps for shows that the original site didn't acknowledge, shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Law and Order: SVU and The Biggest Loser. There are many more photos and images. There is much more advertising. There is a spin off called Movies Without Pity. There are videos now. All in all, it's very glossy and shiny. It looks like a big budget site.

But the heart is gone. The soul of TWOP has fled, perhaps with the founders, perhaps when the contract with Bravo was signed. Some of the writers from the glory days are there, like Jacob and Couch Baron. But without the editing and tight reign of Sars and co., they have also declined. Jacob, always prone to waffling, has become boring. He has always brought the fact that he is a gay man into his recaps, often a tiresome aside, but nowadays, it has become the forefront of the majority of his recaps. We get it. We get that there is homosexuality on TV. But it would also be nice to read about the show instead of the recapper's issue with Americas acceptance of homosexuality (His American Idol recaps and Ugly Betty recaps especially). Jacob has started loving the sight of his own words and without a strong editor to reign him in, he's become pompous, irritating and unreadable. Couch Baron, still one of the strongest writers on the site, has become lazy. His perceptions are still sharp but without editing he, too, often rambles and sometimes its hard to get through the recaps of shows like Heroes. The writing is no longer snarky, it's just outright mean. There are now many Weecaps, shorter versions of recaps that basically give the episode in a nutshell. The site used to nail much of why a show was silly, Clifford the Big Red Ball from Alias is still one of the funniest references ever. But those references and recaps are few and far between these days. The effort to get a recap up quickly means that editing in minimal and there are grammatical, spelling, punctuation and factual errors in many of the recaps that are published.

The forums have grown worse. They are more heavily moderated than ever. The moderators have the right to delete a post, commenters must carefully phrase emails so they're not accused of flaming someone just because they don't agree. They are no longer fun to read and it's often hard to remember they're there anymore. The number of posts has declined dramatically and it's hard to find a reason to visit anymore.

Bravo attempted to get more people onto the TWOP site by hosting the TV Bigshot game in which participants attempted to create a TV network and picked shows to air. Points were assigned based on a show's ratings; if your network owned a show that did well in the ratings, you won points. It was a good idea, in theory. In reality, it was a game that wasn't well moderated; the rules would change, the points were miscalculated and the top scorers were always the same. Players would attempt to use strategy to pick their shows and then, because of a 'server error' or other such excuse, points for the week weren't calculated, thus ensuring no way to climb up in the rankings. As seems to be the case of the new TWOP site, it looked pretty on the outside but it lacked substance and guidance from within.

TWOP remains. It is still a place to read a decent recap or two; Drunken Bee's Friday Night Lights recaps are examples of beautiful, lyrical writing, especially the early episodes. Yet because there is no soul, the site seems empty. The personality is gone, clouded by corporate commercialism. Though it's still a site to read about TV, it has lost the sheen of talent that made it great and given way to a gloss that makes it mediocre. It's always a shame when greatness falls, even when it's just a site for television geeks and in the case of Television Without Pity, greatness has fallen far.


  1. It is a fact that TWoP has "jumped the shark". I've been an avid reader of recaps for many years. I am disappointed by the new style. I miss the tighter editing of the founders. I think TWoP has lost a lot of it's initial audience. The forums are half dead. I used check an episodes thread the next day and find 20+ pages of posts. Nowadays it's 10 or less for most.

  2. I think you're right about the 'soul' of TWoP being gone. The little details that used to make the site seem unique - the little pictures next to the shows, for example - have been turned into big, glitzy pictures of the cast of the show. Some of the newer additions, like the Week Without Pity videos, seem funny until you realize that they're all the same. What used to be a nice site with personality now seems like one big advertisement for Bravo.

  3. I so agree with this article, in particular Jacob and his current recaps of "True Blood".
    They read like a combination of fan fiction and psychology 101 and not in a good way. In addition, the moderators appear selective on what is deemed inappropriate.
    I am increasingly disappointed in the recaps.

  4. I'm totally on board with the assessment of Jacob's writing. I only watch one of the shows he recaps, True Blood, and he drags a one hour show into 30-33 pages. 65% of those pages are tangents he babbles on and on about, trying to make points and connections that are so obscure he sounds like a pompous tool.

    There is no snark anymore - especially where he's concerned. It's like he's trying to enlighten us all because he's oh-so-knowledgable, but really he's just a tool.

    So sad to have a "must read" site stumble so low.

  5. And the moderation? Ugh!! The mods there are treated like gods, because they are untouchable. You have post in those forums as if you were treading a mined camp. One step... Boom! You're banned. One, Two steps... BOOM!

  6. I just stumbled on this post by googling TWOP and something else (but I can't remember what the something else was).

    I've never been a very active participant in any of the TWOP forums. I've made a few posts, here and there (I've been a registered member since 2003), but never was a part of any community, really.

    But I always enjoyed reading the posts of others, and many of the recaps. I'd go away for awhile, and could come back, and find it to be the site I left.

    I heard that the founders left earlier this year, and really didn't go back to the site until a couple of weeks ago.

    Not even going into the recaps--the site is so very messy now. The homepage, I kept thinking it was my browser, but no, it looks crappy in IE as well.

    I can say I didn't watch many of the shows they recapped before (oh, I did watch Seventh Heaven ONLY because of the recaps!). It seems now they ARE longer and not as...good. I don't know when that changed.

    Currently, I'm reading 2 year (I didn't know the show existed two years ago!)old recaps-- by Jacob, no less--does this mean if I search out the newer ones, my head might explode?

    I do agree that it's gone downhill. I will say that the forums, heavily moderated though they be, are many many times better than most other boards devoted to television shows.

    I hate change, I guess, so it makes me sad. :(

    Aw well, most of the old stuff is still there, somewhere.
    But it used to be so much cleaner!


    How is that fair?

  7. Jacob used to be one of my favorite writers there. Now he just pisses me off. I did a bad thing, got a warn (totally warranted), and ever since, any time he bumps into me in the forums he's a complete and total ass. I don't even go to the True Blood forums anymore; the fans there are amazing but he is terrible.

    At first I thought it was just me until I realized he was being a total demon to anyone who he doesn't agree with or who voices an opinion in a way that's not against the FAQ but not the way he'd like it.

    Sigh. I miss the real TWoP

  8. It used to be that I wouldn't read the Angel/Buffy recaps at work because I'd laugh SO hard that my undercover use of 'net would be outed and I'd get in trouble. Now; meh.
    I MISS the Now-Or-Never shirts- I used to treat myself to one every time I'd get cast in something new. Now there are no Tubey shirts. The Frakkin' Toaster shirt got me so many laughs of recognition at DragonCon from people who got the joke and/or knew TWOP.
    Wherever Our Founders wind up, together or apart, I'll follow their new endeavours with interest.

  9. It used to be that I wouldn't read the Buffy/Angel recaps at work because I'd LAUGH SO HARD at Strega's humour that my undercover use of 'net would be outed and busted. Now, it's more of "meh."
    I miss the Now-Or-Never shirts, too. I used to treat myself to one every time I got cast in something new. No more Tubey shirts. My Frakkin' Toaster shirt was a HIT at DragonCon by those who got the joke and/or knew TWOP.
    Whatever new endeavours Our Founders (together or apart) show up in, I'll watch with interest.

  10. Yeeeeeeeeees on Jacob. I mean, as a gay man myself, I am slightly biased when it turns out the recapper is also a gay man. Despite this advantage, I can't take Jacob's writing. It's like he's making _him_ the focal point, instead of the show. I loved pamie, not because she made me, but because she loved Gilmore Girls as much as I did, and I just naturally liked the personality she conveyed through her writing. Battlestar Galactica was, prior to its series finale, my hands-down favorite show. And I love TWOP. Despite these things, I couldn't bring myself to read Jacob's tedious, tedious recaps. Not that he's a hipster, but I hate his writing the way I hate a hipster.