Television Without Pity, the site that made snark okay and launched a thousand recap and TV websites, will be closing its virtual doors next Friday.
The news of TWOP’s closing appeared on the site’s homepage Thursday morning and was reported by Recode. I never worked for the site, but lord how I wanted to. This is not an exaggeration when I say TWoP had a profound influence on my adult life, including pursuing graduate work in television studies, writing about television, and launching this site.
I first became aware of TWoP in 2006. My housemate Katie and I were watching The Amazing Race and she made a passing comment about Miss Alli, the show’s recapper at the time. Miss Alli (aka, NPR’s Linda Holmes) went to the same college as Katie and I, and Katie mentioned that references to our school sometimes come up in the recaps. I started following the site and quickly became obsessed. I had finally found a community who watches television the same way I do, with the same sense of humor, and the same desire to write about it.
I joined the forms on April 1, 2006. The date is a coincidence—or perhaps a serendipity. When I registered, I knew I wanted a name that sounded like a real name, but also demonstrated my point of view. I settled on Rube Goldberg, a cartoonist whose sense of humor comes from needlessly complicating things. I continue to use the moniker to this day.
The most influential recap from my TWoP experience came from Miss Alli. The site used to do a fundraiser auction where the winner got to select an episode and a recapper to cover it. One winner selected the episode “Whisper Country” from Little House on the Prairie. The episode is Mary-centric (blech) as she takes a teaching gig two towns over. One of the townspeople takes an instant dislike to Mary and accuses her of tempting the boys. It turns out the evil woman can’t read and then bible something something.1 I think it was either a spec script or a rejected Movie of the Week, as Laura and most of the Ingalls aren’t even in the episode.
What caught my attention most about this particular recap was that it documented an hour of television that existed. When you think Little House on the Prairie, you think of calico dresses, pastoral music, and the occasional encounter with Nellie Oleson. Think a little longer, you remember the time Caroline almost cut off her leg, when that mime raped Sylvia, and when Albert battled a morphine addiction. This was family television folks.
As part of preparation for my grad program, I wanted to get back in the habit of writing about texts. This goal was the genesis of my first major website project: WTF Little House on the Prairie?! I didn’t want to give a quick summary of episodes—I wanted to do the micro-analysis a TWoP recap would do with episodes of House and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The project helped me figure out how web writing differs from academic writing, what SEO is, and that it is okay to have strong opinions. About five months into the project, I received an email from a woman named Wendy McClure. She stumbled upon my site as she was doing research for a book on LHotP fandom.2 We exchanged emails and parts of our conversation were included in The Wilder Life. Although being part of a real book has been a dream, the true validation came from Wendy when she said she used to write for TWoP and thought I did good work. That email is still in my YAY folder.
Although the site has lost quite a bit of its vim and vigor since its acquisition by Bravo and the departure of its founders, the writers from the site continue to push me to keep working. I believe it was in an FAQ somewhere on the site that if you don’t like what they’re doing, go make your own site. And here we are, six months into a venture I could not have imagined back in 2006.
The founders of TWoP have since moved on to Previously.tv, a delightful site with the delightful podcast Extra Hot Great. Many of the writers who worked at TWoP during its heyday are on the new site and on Twitter.
It’s weird to think that a website could have so much influence on how I have spent my post-college years. It is even weirder to think of something on the web no longer existing. Although the site will cease operations next month, its influence will last at least a generation.
R.I.P. Television Without Pity.