Another chapter of online media fandom is about to end, fellow media junkies. The beloved website Television Without Pity (TWoP), that had a big hand in creating the TV recapper culture we know and love today, is scheduled to be shut down in April, with its famously boisterous forums following at the end of May. It's an old, familiar story by this point. A media website attracts a loyal, fervent following for a few years, they're acquired by a major company that doesn't really know what to do with them (in this case NBC Universal via their Bravo unit), the original folks responsible for the early success moved on, and the site slowly withered away until the plug was finally pulled.
I wasn't a very consistent visitor to TWoP, but I did visit fairly regularly for a few years. A lot of people did. What drew me to the site wasn't the recaps, which have now become industry standard, but the forums. I have a long history of loving obscure little genre shows that have almost no fandoms to speak of, and no matter how obscure a show was, the TWoP forums could be counted on to have a thread for nearly everything you could think of. Even if it was a single one-season reality show, late night time-filler, or a foreign cult import, if it was airing somewhere on American television, someone on TWoP was talking about it. On the other hand, it was also the only place I regularly found a decent level of discussion going on for shows that didn't really attract traditional media fandoms - the crime procedurals, the family sitcoms, and even news programs.
So the TWoP forums were where I went to look for reactions to new episodes of dubbed late night anime (from viewers who weren't part of the usual anime crowd), "Law & Order: SVU," "Project Runway," and occasionally even "60 Minutes." It was where I went when I first started working my way through older shows, because I could follow along with the archived discussion threads simply by keeping track of when posts were made relative to the original airdates for the episodes I was watching. I always preferred old fashioned message boards to social networking based sites for media discussions for this reason. It was so much easier to find things. And, of course, there were always far fewer technical glitches than with "talkback" style comments like Disquis.
I also appreciated that the participants were mainly casual viewers like me. There were certainly big fandoms on the forums, often with their own separate subforums and subcultures that generated lots of activity, but I tended to stay away from those. Certain media fandoms are notorious for generating drama, and I was always wary of getting too involved with them. I also knew where to find forums and message boards devoted to specific shows, like "Project Runway," but they tended to be more insular and myopic about their particular fandoms. The TWoP crowd could be counted on to be a more laid-back, more eclectic crowd that was interested in a variety of different shows.
Most of the write-ups I've been reading about the end of TWoP have focused on the recaps, naturally, on the snarky, obsessive, yet refreshingly self-aware brand of criticism they helped to popularize. It helped the mainstream to realize that there is an audience for good television writing, and that even the most heinous pieces of pop culture detritus could be good material for serious dissections. There have also been some inches devoted to the site's brushes with fame over the years, as various TV showrunners have dropped by to engage with their audience directly over the years, with mixed results.
The obvious successor to Television Without Pity has been the A.V. Club, which takes a more curated approach to television recaps and reviews, and has also nurtured a great little community. However, it hasn't got quite the same verve or the same breadth of coverage as Television Without Pity. Few media sites do. That's why there are still a significant number of regular users on the site, and they're debating over where to migrate the community next. This is a common occurrence now, fandoms moving from platform to platform and site to site as the internet chugs along.
I can't say I'm going to miss Television Without Pity. Though I had the site bookmarked for ages, I haven't been by in years. I'm far too busy to follow along with message board discussions of the shows I watch anymore. However, in its own way TWoP was an institution, one that gave TV fans a place to be TV fans for well over a solid decade and changed the way a lot of us watch and engage with television.