Recapping for Television Without Pity Turned Me Into a Writer
By grubreport on April 26, 2010
BlogHer Original Post
This post has been a long time coming. In fact, it's been so long in coming that I almost don't want to attempt it for fear of not doing the subject justice. The question, posed to me by my BlogHer editor, "What was it like to work for Television Without Pity?" is a large one. It's not a loaded question, as some might think, it's just large.
If people are reading this in the hopes I'll spill great wadges of dirt and gossip about the popular "Spare the snark, spoil the networks" site, they're going to be disappointed. You can argue that there's dirt and gossip to be found in any company, but I'm not interested in looking for it. Dirt and gossip has nothing to do with my nine years of working for the Mighty Big TV/Television Without Pity crew.
Were we all rolling in recapping dough? No. Am I going to tell you what we were paid? See previous answer. With Mighty Big TV/Television Without Pity, it wasn't about the money. It was about getting to sit on your couch and yell at the TV. It was about being paid any amount to write bitchy and snarky. It was about finding a community that loved to hate bad TV as much I as I did. It was about writing alongside a slew of writers who kept me in a state of constant awe of their sheer comedic talent.
It was the best job I ever had.
In the beginning, we were Mighty Big TV, and we were comparatively small. Small enough, in fact, that I managed to watch every single show we covered, as well as find the time to bash-hug said shows in every single forum. Sure, that meant I was still watching an inordinate amount of TV, but not as much as I would have been if I was watching ALL the shows the site was covering in, say, 2007.
It was 1999 and there was a lot of awesome bad TV happening. My personal plot of bad TV -- that I nurtured with seeds of snideness and watered with withering contempt -- was a Party of Five spin-off starring everyone's favorite Ghost Whisperer and eyelash aficionado, Jennifer Love Hewitt. Time of Your Life lasted all of 12 episodes before the U.S. market pulled the plug. (A reader from New Zealand sent me a VHS tape of two additional episodes that aired down there. After getting the go-ahead from my editor, I plunked down a couple of bills to convert the tape and I recapped that damn show. Because that's how much I loved to hate it.)
However, what ended up being crucial to my development as a writer was that in those early years, I wasn't simply able to post in every forum, I was also able to read every single recap. When I started my recapping gig at Mighty Big TV/Television Without Pity, I was just starting to build my freelance writing portfolio. I hadn't written much and what I did write for the Boston Globe's wedding section wasn't that great, but it was a start.
Television Without Pity taught me how to write. From my editors and fellow recappers, I learned how to craft elegant jokes, using an economy of words. I also noted the power of word choice, and the impact of hilarious hyperbole. I didn't just stop at recap reading, either. For a number of years, I pored obsessively over my own published recaps. I'd print out the version I sent to my editor and compare it to the edited version. I'd note every change to punctuation or sentence structure and mentally file it away. I'd analyze how my editor tightened something rambling and expunged parallel construction issues.
I was totally OCD about it, but I did it because I was obsessed with Getting It Right and not troubling my editors with the same mistakes again. I'm certain I drove those long-suffering editors nuts by querying certain changes. And it wasn't because I disagreed with their edits, I really, honestly wanted to understand why the change was made. It wasn't until later that I realized I wasn't just getting too-long-delayed lessons in grammar and syntax, I was also learning how to write tight and funny. I was learning how comma placement could affect impact and how poor grammar could undermine or destroy a joke or argument.
It's not that I couldn't write before I became a recapper. I mean, I got the job in the first place on the strength of my writing (and for using "flounce" to describe something Dawson Leery did), but I became a much better writer over the years because of my work for Television Without Pity. Just having the structure of writing large amounts of (hopefully) funny copy every single week was discipline I sorely needed.
Plus, was it ever fun! Aside from a spectacularly bad Enterprise season, recapping didn't feel like a job -- and certainly not one filled with drudgery and frustration. It was exciting and rewarding, and one of the best parts of it was having your recaps laughed at by fellow recappers. Don't get me wrong, it was no small potatoes to have the Television Without Pity posters sing similar praise, but because of the camaraderie we shared, along with the knowledge of exactly what one another went through to pull a funny recap out of some spectacularly bad TV, praise took on a different flavor when it came from a recapper.
One of my editors once told me that we wrote our recaps more for one another than for anyone else. She was right. Including my editors, who also recapped, I've never known a group of writers I admired more. For me, getting their snort of approval was a major achievement.
Today, I can trace almost every job I've gotten back to Television Without Pity, so I mean it quite literally when I say that in both skill and opportunity, Television Without Pity made me the writer I am today.
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