Television Without Pity

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Name: Television Without Pity
Dates: ?-2014
Type: Commercial
Fandom: multifandom
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Website once known as Mighty Big TV, Television Without Pity established itself as a place to get accurate, cynical, often hilarious recaps of episodes, generally within a day of airing. The forums of TWoP were extremely active, often slash-friendly, and sometimes can contain fanfiction recommendations. Some terms originating on TWoP are used within LiveJournal fandom as well (e.g., hoyay).

In 2014, the owners of TWOP announced they were shutting down the websites and forums. After a few fans objected, they agreed to keep the episode reviews online in archive mode. The forums, however, hundreds of thousands of fan discussions, were to be deleted. Due to the interactive nature of most forums, these discussions were not archived in the Internet Archive. However, fan volunteers manually archived the fan fiction discussions from the Supernatural forums: "The Supernatural Fan Fiction Thread: Nightmare Fodder." The first page can be accessed here and all 229 pages are available in the WayBack Machine.

Its History and Influence

TWoP’s Legacy:

The influence of Television Without Pity is notable as a both a pop culture website and a catalyst and birthplace for many of pop culture fandom norms we see in social media and on blogs. The website launched the careers of numerous careers of pop culture critics, most notably NPR’s Linda Holmes. It could be argued that the long-form TV episode recap online writing format was popularized, if not originated, by Television Without Pity, all the way back to its Dawson’s Wrap/Mighty Big TV days in the late 90’s. For many TWoP fans – and detractors – the true legacy of the website is its forums. They were the birthplace of numerous online fan communities and one of the first online spaces where a fandom’s collective voice was heard – and sometimes engaged – by a TV showrunner. Aaron Sorkin’s well-documented passive-aggressive relationship with social technology and online culture was born in his relationship with West Wing fans on TWoP, so you could say it indirectly inspired his Oscar-winning film The Social Network. The forums were the birthplace of at least one fan con – for the at-one-time mega popular The Amazing Race, and is arguably the starting point for a whole host of online fandom references and in-jokes.[1]

The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin , creator of The West Wing, posted on the forum during the early years of of the show as "Benjamin," his middle name.

As summarized in 10 Absolutely True Stories About Writing For Television Without Pity, published March 31, 2014,

4. The greatest thing that happened to Television Without Pity the entire time I worked there was that Aaron Sorkin got so mad at us that he wrote an entire B-plot of The West Wing about internet forums with draconian moderators (that was us!), in which a character hypothesized that such people are probably "women in muu-muus smoking Parliaments." We found this almost intoxicatingly delightful, it was the moment I personally felt that the site had arrived, and muu-muu/Parliaments jokes became recapper-to-recapper standards.

Sorkin's activity on Television Without Pity during the first three years of The West Wing, is covered fully in the blog post The long back story of Aaron Sorkin, West Wing, Televisionwithoutpity and the "U.S. Poet Laureate" episode.

From a post on a "Troll Tales" thread[2]:

Apparently he posted there infrequently talking about the show, and most members of the site were fans so everything went quite well. Then, at the Emmys, he and Rick Cleveland won for best writing in a drama series for the episode In Excelsis Deo, but Sorkin hogged the mike when making the acceptance. Rick was annoyed by this because he had told Aaron that he wanted to speak and dedicate the episode to his father, and when the fans on TWoP found out about this they asked Aaron why he didn't let Rick speak. Aaron responded by being very dismissive of Rick's work on the episode and claimed that he writes all the episodes and that Rick's name was only on the script because Aaron was gracious enough to give him co-writer credit. People started pointing out to him that guild rules don't allow for Aaron to do that, that for Rick to have his name on the script it meant that he had to be involved in writing it, and that Aaron's claim was absurd.

Aaron came back and said that Rick wrote the original draft for the episode, which had the First Lady looking for a missing cat, and that Aaron rewrote it and turned it into an emotional episode about a Korean veteran that died at Christmas. Then Rick showed up on the site and rebuffed Aaron's claims saying that he was the one responsible for the veteran story because it was based on his father, who was a veteran of the Korean war that died in a flophouse. At this point, some newspapers picked up on the fact that Aaron Sorkin was on a fansite insulting writers he used to work with, and once that happened he was forced to apologise to Rick in order to make the bad news story go away.

Later, in the third season, he wrote an episode containing this subplot about internet fandoms. Apparently, the people on the TWoP forums weren't happy about it.

Its Closing, the Erasure of History, and the Future of Fannish Voices

The website’s 2007 purchase by Bravo was both a win and a great loss for fandom – a sign that online fandom and pop culture writing was influential and valuable enough to attract the funding of a major media company, but also a large step towards the now-standard fan/brand synergy that has slowly eroded many grassroots fan communities.

Saying goodbye to more than a website:

So here we are, in 2014, saying goodbye to TWoP (though, yes, many of us did years ago, and maybe not on the best of terms) but the biggest goodbye, is to what TWoP represents, or did represent at one point: pre-social media online fandom, a time where one’s online fandom could exist in comfortable anonymity, before “social TV” became a career focus, before armchair media criticism became a socially acceptable hobby in the same way fantasy football is.

With the shuttering of the website, we lose a searchable piece of online fandom’s multifaceted history. This history may be written one day, but much of what is written and shared will be from the perspective of the (post-2007) website, and more specifically from the perspective of NBC/Universal, rather than from the fandom activity that it inspired. We can already see it in “formal” online documents such as Wikipedia; TWoP’s entry has a fleeting reference of the website’s 2007 life (including the older fan forums) and little mention of its former writers/creators.

There are two issues at play here: Firstly, as online fandom becomes a business model, we see more and more of its formal history being written and controlled by media owners, which risks having the major players in fandom be written out. Secondly, we’re well beyond the point in the history of online culture where archiving of shuttered and discontinued online properties (especially message boards and blog content) should be a concern for creators and owners. Many influential pre-social media online entities are going dark, and there’s been little discussion of where this information may be archived where it may be of use to the public. (Or if it should be archived, or who should have the responsibility/access to this content). [3]

Further Reading/Meta