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Television Without Pity

Research Report by Katrina Kimport
(created 4/2/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Online Reading and Society

Original Object for Study description

Television Without Pity (TwoP), first launched in 1998, is an online community that hosts recaps and forums on television shows, primarily reality shows and hour-long dramas.

This site is among the most well-known of a large number of fan websites that convert content from a non-text-based medium (television) into text. In so doing, they offer a reading format–specifically, an interactive reading format–for content that is generally viewed. Television executives and writers regularly read and react in future scripts to critiques provided in these sorts of communities.

TwoP began in 1998 as DawsonsWrap, a site devoted to retelling the plot of “Dawson’s Creek” episodes. Its founders, Sarah Bunting and Tara Ariano, soon grew irritated with plot twists in “Dawson’s Creek” and their summaries began to contain critiques of the show. In 1999, they branched beyond the single show and began to produce summaries of other hour-long drama shows and, in time, of reality shows.

The site currently has two central components. First are the summaries, or “recaps,” as they are known on the site. These are produced by freelance writers immediately after an episode airs. (Generally, a shorter, one-paragraph “recaplet” appears within 24 hours of airing and the complete recap within a week.) Over sixty writers have contributed recaps to the site, although only twelve are currently considered active recappers. TwoP offers recaps of episodes from over 150 shows, from both network and cable channels. While each recap is exhaustive and all episodes from given seasons are recapped, not all seasons of a show are recapped, usually due to audience or recapper apathy. For the spring 2006 season, 28 shows are actively recapped.

Each recap is between ten and sixteen pages in length and contains a faithful rendering of everything that occurred in the episode, including relevant dialogue, scenery, and accompanying music. Additionally, however, the recappers inject their summaries with personal viewpoints and, most importantly, humor. Recappers often rename characters/participants (for example, the much-hated participant in the first season of The Apprentice, Omorrosa, was renamed Assorama), harp on grammatical mistakes, and critique wardrobe choices.

The second component of the site is the forums. Each show has its own forum, split into various discussion threads, including threads on particular characters/participants, spoiler threads that discuss rumors about unaired episodes, and even threads addressed to show producers. There are also forums for topics not tied to recapped shows on the site, such as forums on sports coverage, soap operas, and talk shows.

Research Context:
TwoP represents the translation of one form of media–television–into text in an online environment. This presents the opportunity to investigate the relationship between visual images on a television screen and online text that is pointedly tied to those visual images.

Further, TwoP is a complex and successful online community with offline impact. TwoP is a format that encourages repeat visits and boasts of unusually high user session lengths (averaging at 22 minutes). It is, in other words, a model of the successful production of content in a readable form, even as–or especially as–the content is available in the alternative medium of television.

Technical Analysis:
TwoP forums are powered by Invision Power Board v. 2.1.5, a professional bulletin board software. The forums require registration and are moderated.

Evaluation of Opportunities/Limitations for the Transliteracies Topic:
It is an open question whether media compete for viewers or cooperate. That is, with such a variety of sources for information and entertainment, should we be thinking about viewers choosing television versus the internet, or should we be considering the ways in which these formats may reinforce each other? In the case of TwoP, the internet and telelvision appear to mutually benefit each other. TwoP is clearly dependent on the existence of television, while television is not, strictly speaking, dependent on TwoP. But while not dependent on TwoP, television shows gain from TwoP’s existence by offering loyal viewers a place to build a fan community. In this case, the multiplicity of media serves to benefit all forms involved, not to steal viewers from one format to an alternate format.

Given the Transliteracies Project’s focus on online reading, it is important to consider the role of other media in our focus on the online arena and investigate the question of when forms of media detract from each other’s popularity and when they reinforce each other.

Further, TwoP represents translation from images and spoken dialogue to text and, as such, offers a rich opportunity to investigate the relationship between seeing and reading.

Resources for Further Study:

  • Marshall Sella, “The Remote Controllers.” NYT Magazine. October 20, 2002. p. 68

  tl, 04.02.06

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