The following is a response to Ryan McGee’s article, “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Future of Television Criticism.”
I’m going to speak directly, on a not too broad scope, and try to sell you on a non-conventional journalism platform in which to publish reviews.
My name is Andrew Seroff, I won’t bury my mediocre lede either. A little biography to keep you reading (since I flatter myself by even writing to the TV critic community): I majored in television at Notre Dame, under the advisement of TVitterati’s own Professor Becker. Since graduating, I’ve become something of an amateur television critic and academic, that is to say, I write about the things I like, but for free. I recently took an internship at a start-up called Miso, which you may know from the last year in news about Social TV products.
I think you’re right to question the current model of television criticism. It’s flat. The only reviews/recaps I read are the standouts, like Cory Barker’s Community timeline breakdown, to name a recent example. It’s a matter of economy. I can’t afford to waste my time reading a review that is more long than it is interesting, I need punk rock. Speaking of which, I’ll skip further agreeing with you and get to the point.
If your cry is for punk rock, let’s look at the Classical model, but from the readers’ perspective. If I want to know what a critic thinks of an episode of TV, I have to first find the review, which in itself can be a pain. Then, I read through what is generally a non-linear exploration of the episode. After that, most reviewers leave a big pile of bullet-point moments they wanted to include, but couldn’t fit in the narrative of the review, left hanging like shallow conversation. “Remember when X happened? That was great.” Finally, a comments section - a true wasteland of discussion. On a less popular blog, good luck finding anyone who also wants to talk about what you want to talk about. On a popular blog, good luck finding the point you want to talk about in the hundreds of comments (and heaven forbid everything has been said once you get there!).
All these experiences - the magazine, the article, the comments - it’s the product of the evolution of online journalism. But the whole experience is outdated. Your cry is for punk rock, for the text of the reviews to defy the form and conventions of this evolution. I got a better idea - ditch grandpa Sepinwall’s Stratocaster and try the keys.
Collaboration between the printed word and the visual image seems like a pretty interesting way to succinctly and powerfully convey points in a way that a 1,500 word review would not.
At Miso, we’re building a platform we call the Sideshow - secondary, supplementary content that appears on your second screen as you watch. If statistics say that everyone likes to surf on their mobile while watching TV, we thought, “Let’s give ‘em what they want.” No, better yet, “Let’s make it easy for them to give each other what they want.” And networks haven’t been shy about trying it out, either.
We’ve run into a problem, though: fans can’t make sideshows before the episode airs. They can only go back in time, creating the experience they wish they had when they watched it. This is where you critics and your screeners come in.
I believe the fundamental problem with television criticism is that it is a two-step process. You watch the show, and then you read the review. There’s so much lost in between those two steps! Imagine instead, a single, streamlined experience, where a review chirps from your smartphone after memorable moments, with a critic’s subjective opinion. A single point has its own comments section, a “Like”, and options to share on social media. Wouldn’t that be some beautiful hybrid world of “TV criticism” and “social TV”?
Well, we’re almost there. With the right combination of smartphone (iPhone) and set-top box (DirecTV, U-verse), your phone can know not just what show and episode you’re watching, but what exact time you are at within it, delivering content as it happens. We don’t have the individual comments section yet, but here’s an example of what we have now.
I realize that journalism is an industry, and critics require page views. Maybe the reviewer’s website hosts the collection of all the sideshow cards, able to be viewed within the conventional website advertising model. Maybe a reviewer’s sideshow gets sponsored. Who knows if a time-sync second screen review would even be popular.
But we’re techno, and we’re only sounding better.
Contact me if you’re interested, we’re in an open alpha.