I woke up to a text from my brother: “RIPTWOP.”
The loss of Television Without Pity is a difficult one, although not because it interrupts my daily routine: it’s been years since I’ve visited the site regularly, and probably at least a year since I clicked over to any of its coverage or visited its forums (which I haven’t logged into in probably four years or so).
It’s difficult instead for two different reasons. On the one hand, it’s difficult because of the sheer volume of content that will be lost when the site shuts its doors. It has lived on as an archive of week-by-week engagement with television programming, both in its recaps and—especially—in its forums. From a scholarly perspective, this archive has been both a subject of study in and of itself and a space in which other subjects can be studied (I last used the forums to study audience response to dynamics of race in Showtime’s Weeds during its early seasons, for example). The idea that this archive could be lost (to the public, since NBC Universal has announced they’re archiving it but not for public access) is rightfully a point of concern among the site and its followers, and consider this brief overview my commitment to helping with any archival efforts.
However, the other reason the site’s death is so resonant is because its influence spreads so far beyond its content, both in terms of the careers its creators and writers have gone on to have, and the way it has influenced its readers and commenters—that’s me, in this instance—to engage with television in an in-depth way. For as much as the loss of the site’s content is hard to imagine, it’s even more difficult to imagine a world when that content hadn’t existed. Despite largely being marginalized from contemporary television discourse in the post-Bravo acquisition era, the site’s legacy has lived on in ways that make even the death of the post-Bravo Television Without Pity into a meaningful event for reasons beyond the loss of the content itself.
There is no question that Television Without Pity was a substantial influence in how I engage with television, fostering an engagement with the medium that would bleed into my academic work, frame my early days blogging about television, and eventually exist as a foundation for whatever my academic/critical identities have become. I will always hold at least a bit of a—fake—grudge against the site for popularizing the term “Recap” that has become unnecessarily ubiquitous in thinking about episodic television coverage, but at the end of the day Television Without Pity had an immeasurable impact on a generation of readers that have today taken to social media to reflect on its impact.
The site is shutting down because of how many of those remembrances are in the past tense; the site’s legacy will live on because of how many remembrances there are.
I’l say this much—my Hannibal recaps today, and the Lost recaps before that, exist because TWOP solidified the idea of the full-length, in-depth recap in the first place. I won’t say they were the first or only site to do it originally, but I really believe that they established the medium as a full-fledged thing; I’d go over there and read gigantic recaps of shows I never had any intention of watching in the first place. I’ve actually sat here the last month or so telling myself, “It’s okay that the Hannibal recaps go so long, because the TWOP recaps are huge. It’s a legitimate format that people have been using for years now, don’t worry about it.” My entire idea of how to approach writing them came from TWOP—so that’s a drop in the bucket of influence they’ve had.