Friday, April 04, 2014

What A Pity

My family got hooked up to the internet about halfway through 1996, and it's incredible to think that in 18 years, the internet has more or less utterly dominated every facet of my life.  I work online, I keep in touch with people online, I spend way too many hours trying to solve that godforsaken "2048" game online, etc.  The internet is, with maybe the possible exception of the printing press just because it has old-school street cred, the single greatest invention in human history, yet it has only been a major part of people's lives for around two decades.

This is a very long-winded and melodramatic way to talk about a website I like, but still, while I haven't regularly visited Television Without Pity since my very start online (I don't even think the site was live in 1996), I'm hard-pressed to think of another site I've visited on a near-daily basis for so long.  It may have been around 1999/2000 when I started visiting TWOP to peruse their recaps of The West Wing, and the rest was history.

Back in the prehistoric days of 2000, we were caught between two stage of human evolution --- we were between "Missing an episode of your favourite show and having to wait for a rerun to see it" and "easily finding said episode the next day online."  During this in-between period, your options were to set up your VCR to record said episode if you were going to be out,* or to skip the episode altogether and rely on the internet for a recap.  Today, there are countless sites that recap/analyze TV, yet back in the day, Television Without Pity was the place to go.

* = while I was a self-proclaimed master at this, one Saturday night out, I suddenly realized I'd forgotten to set my tape for that night's SNL episode.  Since my parents were out, I called my pal Dave's mother (from a payphone outside a bar!) to ask if she could tape it for me.  It was, without question, one of the most bizarre and hard-to-fathom moments in my life.  Poor Dave's mom, getting that dreaded phone call from one of her son's friends late at night…but only to have this nerdy request made.  Frankly, I think she would've been less disgusted to learn that Dave had been hit by a bus.

But who am I kidding, while the recaps were humorous and engaging, the forums were the main event.  TWOP was ground zero for the 21st century experience of enhancing a show through the social experience of discussing it --- the site was essentially the world's biggest water cooler.  Of all the countless shows I've watched over the years, I'd say that Buffy, Angel, The West Wing*, Survivor, Mad Men and especially LOST were the ones that gained the most from the forum experience.  Hell, in LOST's case, you could argue that two-thirds of the fun from that show was arguing and theorizing about it with others, or writing overly-long blog posts on the topic.

* = Aaron Sorkin himself even surfed onto the TWOP boards one day, ended up getting offended or turned off by something someone wrote or asked him, and then actually ended up writing a thinly-veiled version of the TWOP boards into a West Wing episode.  I believe this was known as the initial moment when Sorkin jumped the shark.  It's still amazing that the seemingly intelligent man who ended up writing 'The Social Network' was so clueless about how the internet works.   

It was recently announced that TWOP will close its doors this month, and the forums will be shuddered at the end of May.  It's a sad day for perhaps the web's greatest place to discuss and figure out television.  Also, you know you're getting old when you realize you've been reading a site for 14 years (!) and also getting nostalgic over the olden days when it was 'Mighty Big TV' and you had to wait a week for the fresh recap of the Sopranos to be posted.  RIP TWOP.

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