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October 8, 2015

NYTVF: TV Criticism on the Web

by Liz Finn-Arnold, posted Sep 14th 2007 12:01PM
Alan Sepinwall and Tara ArianoI sometimes look around the internet and am amazed by the sheer volume of content. People can write about almost anything -- especially when they're obsessed with a specific topic. And a lot of people seem to be specifically obsessed with television.

Not that I can judge. I'm TV addict who writes for TV Squad. But I sometimes wonder if it all really matters. Is anyone listening to any of us? And more importantly, do we have any influence on the television world at large with our opinions and criticisms?

As a devoted TV addict, I headed out last week to cover the New York Television Festival (NYTVF) and listened in on a panel discussion which looked at the explosion of blogs and TV fan sites and questioned their impact (if any) on the industry.

The "TV Criticism on the Web" panel was comprised of Alan Sepinwall, TV critic for The Star-Ledger, Matt Roush, senior TV critic for TV Guide, and Tara Ariano, co-founder/co-editor-in-chief of Television Without Pity. As you can see from the photo above, I was able to snap a quick photo of Alan Sepinwall and Tara Ariano, but couldn't wrangle Matt Roush who seemed to disappear in a cloud of smoke immediately following the panel discussion. Seriously, that guy has the quickest exit I've ever seen.

Sepinwall, Roush, and Ariano have all been writing about TV for many years, and have felt the impact of the internet first hand. As professional TV critics, Sepinwall and Roush have been able to use their blogs to write more frequently and immediately about what's happening on television. This is something they aren't able to do with their print deadlines and limited newspaper space. The internet, on the otherhand, seems to have no space limitations. And as an added bonus, their blogs have helped raise their profiles and brought them their own personal fanbases.

Tara Ariano helped co-create the Television Without Pity website nine years ago and it has become the place to go for obsessive TV fans. TWoP provides the most in-depth episode recaps anywhere on the web along with the snarkiest commentary. As I told Ariano after the panel discussion, I'm a huge TWoP fan. Their recaps are so entertaining (and thorough) that instead of viewing the last season of Six Feet Under, I just read their weekly recaps. It doesn't surprise me that a couple of these talented recappers have been hired as TV writers.

I haven't spent much time on the TWoP discussion boards, but from what I've heard, they can be a pretty scary place (the scariest and most fanatic being The Office boards). Because of the internet, TV fans now have a forum to voice their complaints (ahem, Lost fans). And in some instances, the internet creates a platform where supportive fans can organize around a common cause (I'm looking at you Jericho fans). And according to a recent Rolling Stone article, "TV Enters the Blog World," the television industry IS listening (as evidenced by Jericho being renewed). Besides TWoP, the industry reportedly trolls The Futon Critic and a little place called TV Squad for feedback and information.

As an aside, one of my favorite things about being at the NYTVF was crawling out from behind my computer and having the opportunity to meet people who told me they read TV Squad on a regular basis. It was fascinating to hear not just from TV viewers, but from TV professionals who are fans. I was especially glowing after Bryan Fuller (the writer/creator of Pushing Daisies chatted with us at the red carpet premiere event) told us he reads TV Squad all the time.

Back at the "Web Criticism" discussion, the panelists questioned the true impact of fan criticism. Sepinwall and Roush pointed out that television is written, shot, and edited so far in advance that it's difficult to fix "bad" TV seasons once they're in progress. If anything, producers can learn from their internet critics what went wrong during bad seasons (i.e. Season Two of Desperate Housewives) and make changes going forward. But there's just no way a show can react immediately to fan outcry (if they could, they would have done something to fix 24 this year).

Roush also pointed out that while opinions matter, fans can sometimes have too many knee-jerk reactions. There's no way producers should jump every time someone on the internet tells them to. Sepinwall explained that fans who post on boards and blogs aren't necessarily representative of the larger audience. They just tend to be a bit more obsessive and vocal in their complaints.

At the end of the day, whether our opinions make a difference or not, it's pretty cool to think that TV professionals are taking the time out of their busy schedules to seek us out, in the same way in which we seek out their programming. Television is no longer a one-way street. They talk to us, and we can now talk back. We don't have to just sit back and passively watch TV -- especially when they mess up something we really care about (I'm talking to you Grey's Anatomy).

After all, we're not shy about voicing our complaints or showing our love and support when necessary. TV critics and TV creators -- we're in this together. And ultimately, we all just want the same thing -- the best television possible.

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Alan Sepinwall is awesome. I first read his stuff on an NYPD Blue newsgroup -- probably 8 or 10 years ago now. He's very approachable too; I recall corresponding with him a couple of times by e-mail.

September 14 2007 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been doing a movie review/tv news and review/general interest mailing list for years (http://groups.yahoo.com/pavco_reviews), but it's been restricted in readership to my friends and acquaintances. I've never really branched it out, because of the volume of other folks on the 'net doing the same thing as I am.

And when so many have screeners and such, and can review things ahead of time, it often seems useless to tell people to watch a specific tv show based on episodes that have already aired. Throw in the ubiquitousness of the DVR, and the fact that I sometimes don't get a chance to see a show until three weeks downstream, and it's an uphill battle.

I've been silent (mailing-list-wise) for most of the summer, for just those reasons. I'm in the process of relaunching with a LiveJournal blog, to coincide with the new tv season. We'll see if I can make that one stand out.

September 14 2007 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I read Roush's columns on TVGuide and I have to say that the man has such condescension for fans and those who write to him that it's mind-boggling that nobody's called him out on his bullshit. He's the quintessential snob.

September 14 2007 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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