I’ve been putting off writing about my current discomfort with the way in which Television Without Pity has been reshaped recently.
But I’m cranky today.
Partly it’s general end-of-semester tiredness.
Partly it’s because I just made it to the end of a Lego Batman level, realised my computer-controlled companion—needed to help me operate a two-handed switch—had disappeared, and had to run all the way to the beginning of the level, where I found him hiding under a set of stairs. Why? Who knows. He wasn’t stuck; he was just standing there.
Partly it’s because I’ve finally begun reading a Margery Allingham novel—the only one of the four great female writers of Golden Age detective fiction whom I haven’t read—and, only twenty-two pages in, Albert Campion is irritating me.
But partly it’s because I read a Television Without Pity recap this morning, for the first time in some time, and it reminded me of why I don’t bother with the site much.
Now, I never was an indiscriminate reader of the site. The recaps are enormously long, which pleased me when it was a show I enjoyed—I adored the Deadwood recaps, for example—but bored me when I wasn’t interested in the show in question.
Fair enough: I didn’t read those ones, and everyone was happy.
But the recappers were variable, as well. Generally, the standard was high, but sometimes the general attitude towards the show, the recapper’s tone, or the framework for their recaps began to frustrate me after a while.
One recapper, in particular, I had to give up on, despite the fact that they recapped shows in which I was interested, because something about their writing brought the teacher out in me. It wasn’t to do with the quality of the writing, per se. I don’t quite know what it was, except it brought out in me an overwhelming urge to write “so what?” in the margins.
(I do not, by the way, write “so what?” in the margins of my students’ work. But we do tell them to apply what we call the “so what?” test, to make sure that every sentence and every paragraph in their writing advances their central argument. That was the problem, for me, with this recapper. When it reached the point where they declared that the episode they were recapping that week would be read through Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” despite the fact that there was no real or concrete connection between the two texts, I decided I was out.)
But that’s the nature of a large site such as Television Without Pity: you read the bits you enjoy and ignore the rest.
Then it all started going rather odd.
The first thing that annoyed us was the cancelling of the Doctor Who recaps: I’d stopped reading them, but Nick still enjoyed them.
Recaps are cancelled fairly frequently, if the reader figures are low or the show turns out to be either less successful or less interesting than anticipated.
But these were cancelled with only a brief, bitter message: “If you want to know what Bit Torrent is, ask a Doctor Who fan.” When people queried this, they added an explanatory note: “(Translation: y’all have already seen the episodes by the time Sci Fi airs them anyway.)”
Well, yes. Because it’s a British show—and when you’re writing for the Internet, not all your readers are going to be American. And as Nick pointed out, people watch the show then read the recap. How does it matter when they watch it?
Still, that’s editorial policy. It annoyed us—and many other readers—but it’s their decision.
As was selling the website to Bravo Television, but that’s where they really lost me. And, indeed, the three creators of the site and some of their longest-serving recappers also left rapidly after the sale.
Which is when I noticed a noticeable drop in the quality of the writing.
It was evident even in some of the long-serving recappers, such as the one who, I noted above, brought out the blue pencil in me. It used to be, with their recaps, that I’d read them and think, “Wow, this recapper needs some rigorous editing.” Now I read them and think, “Wow, this recapper used to be edited rigorously, after all.”
But take, as a different example, this recap of a 30 Rock episode:
“Hey dummy I was just telling all these dummy’s that we used to go to the park and make fun of all the joggers,” says Duffy to Lemon. Lunch arrives and Lemon and Duffy double-team Toofer for having ordered a salad from a burger joint. The whole room yucks it up as Duffy casually puts his arm around Lemon who suddenly becomes aware of the moment. A single Cheeto stays dangling in her mouth.
That quote’s from the second page of the recap, but it’s not the only example. For example, there’s also this one, from the first page: “In walks Kenneth who looses it like he’s just seen Hannah Montana.”
No. I’m sorry, but this degree of poor sentence-level writing is sufficient to completely kill my interest in a professional website.
Even when the show or recapper held no interest for me, I could at least recognise that the entire site was rigorously edited. It was, in fact, one of the aspects that appealed to me the most.
To see this quantity of basic grammatical and punctuation errors on a site such as Television Without Pity is bad enough.
Throw in the new Flash-driven site, where it’s almost impossible to find the recaps among the advertisements, video files, and picture galleries, and I’m not interested any more.
It’s a shame, though. I know that certain groups of readers, such as the ones who run this site, have always been uncomfortable with the level of moderation in the TWoP forums and the perceived socio-cultural snobbery behind the site, but at least it was a site that recognised that since the Internet is a text-driven medium, it should be held to the same standards as we anticipate from print media.
Not any more.
And that is a shame.