Episodes: Farewell, TV Club Classic


I left The A.V. Club two years ago next Monday. I started at Vox two years ago next Thursday (I'm assuming you're reading this on Saturday, but if you're reading this in the year 2018, please tweet at me and tell me how things are going; are we all dead? are we enjoying the final season of Game of Thrones? did I find The Americans finale satisfying? thank u).

I'm going to write more about Vox once that anniversary rolls around, maybe, but I've had a draft in my drafts folder about The A.V. Club open and half-written since April (when my first piece was published there in 2009). I haven't ever finished it because it's a big topic, and a big part of my life, and I want to be careful to capture both why I loved working there and am honored to have it on my resume and also why I eventually had to leave by any means necessary. That, I suppose, makes it sound like I hated the place or the people who work there, but neither could be further from the truth.

Here, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. My average article gets more readership at Vox than it did at The A.V. Club. But my average article at The A.V. Club got this intense, passionate reaction from readers. The response was worth it, too. People really, deeply cared about what I wrote there and how the AVC covered the topics it talked about. That readership could push too far, especially in comments, but the passion was a little intoxicating, and I've sometimes referred to my first six months at Vox as the detox, since we didn't have comments at all, and the readership for culture articles was pretty low for a while there. (We fixed it!)

I've always skewed a little more toward Nebraska Bruce Springsteen instead of Born in the USA Springsteen, and AV Club was Nebraska Bruce Springsteen. It was that cult hit where not everybody gets it, but the people who do love it to the ends of the Earth. And that's exciting to be in the middle of, even if "in the middle of" means sitting in a New York City park, when you could be doing something else and the cold seeps into your bones, to write a review of a mediocre episode of Borgen that less than 1,000 people will read. (Seriously, this is that review.)

TV Club Classic was sort of the epitome of that. It did pretty well for its first couple of years, and we had always hoped it would do even better once Netflix normalized the idea of the marathon watch. But Netflix actually had the opposite effect: It became so hard to hold people to the one or two episodes per week model (which DVD had made more possible, for some reason) that they would stop by for the first couple of articles and then fall away, because they'd already finished, and we were poking along at a snail's pace. And because the traffic was so low, and the articles took so long, we couldn't really adopt a quicker publishing schedule. The whole thing became a vicious cycle, and even in my last year there, it was clear TV Club Classic didn't have long for this world.

(Sidebar: This was coupled with the fact that if a show was produced before the '90s and didn't have Star Trek in the title, it was basically doomed even when TV Club Classic was in its heyday. Twilight Zone, for instance, had a couple of weeks when it did really well, but it was mostly something that operated at a loss that we kept alive because I was writing half the articles and it felt important to have it on the site.)

It actually hung in there for a couple of years after I left, though! Myles McNutt and eventually Noel Murray continued the Lost reviews I started right before leaving, while Sonia Saraiya and Zack Handlen almost made it through the three seasons of Battlestar Galactica the site had never covered. And, hey, though I'm pitching this as an obit, I would bet anything John Teti eventually finishes his Six Feet Under reviews, since he's so close to the end.

So why didn't TV Club Classic die long ago, when it was clear the numbers would never improve (probably somewhere in 2012 or 2013)? In my case, it was because I was stubborn about it (probably to a fault, let's be honest), but I know that everybody there saw it as something worth pursuing and doing as, I guess, a sort of public service. But there comes a point where the numbers get so low that even that argument doesn't hold water. Plus, the number of shows left that could draw even a consistently small audience was basically down to one or two. (The Wire is the one that comes up the most often, but our experiences with The Shield and The Sopranos, both of which ended up being boutique operations, don't bode well for it suddenly being a huge hit.)

Still, I'm gonna miss it. I think some of the best writing on the site happened there, and I always appreciated the way that the distance afforded by a show having left the air allowed for added context and knowledge. It made it a whole lot further than I think anybody would have predicted, but, hey, like Star Trek: The Next Generation said, all good things must end.

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Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.