I’ve been looking for forums in which I can try out liveblogging myself, but so far I’ve had trouble finding reliable live threads for the shows I follow. I’ve been doing research, and am confident I’ll get the chance to liveblog with my peers. However, in the meantime, I thought I’d blog tonight’s episode of America’s Next Top Model here, Television Without Pity style. Since my last post focused on the popular practice of one blogger producing a “critical” liveblog on his/her own for fans to read (and comment on), I decided to follow that trend myself. On WordPress, I’m unable to publish the blog in real time, but, more importantly, I’ll be blogging live while I’m watching the show. This will help me to see how my own television viewership, and reaction to what I’m viewing, changes when I’ve liveblogging. I will also be able to analyze how traditional television criticism changes when the observations are being made, written, and published without a second thought. Though I’m not able to interact with other livebloggers just yet, this will be a great way for me to try my hand at snarky, Gawker-style live television response.
So here we go (I’ll limit it to the first 30 minutes or so, as this experiment does not necessitate an epic episode recap):
8:00 p.m. The episode is starting! I’ve been watching this show for years, even though it’s always the same and no one from it ever gets famous. I feel old because I can’t even remember every season.
8:04 p.m. Commercial for the new 90210, which is horrible, and Tori Spelling seems to be an even less convincing Donna Martin now!
8:04 p.m. Back from commercial. This episode is going to be about Tahlia. She is talking about how she needs to “step it up” and it’s “a competition.” Duh.
8:05 p.m. Tocarra is back! And shrill! One girl says Tocarra is “an inspiration to every girl.” Every girl who remembers who Tocarra is.
8:06 p.m. Tocarra wants the girls to tell her about their “personalities.”
8:06 p.m. Tocarra just finished “doing a workout DVD.” Career death-knell.
8:07 p.m. Everyone hates Sandra, who is this season’s Transparently Insecure Contestant .
8:08 p.m. Tocarra tells them not to just rely on their looks. Cut to a shot of Cecilia looking like Jerri Blank. Hope she’s got a good personality!
8:09 p.m. Holy crap it’s Benny Ninja! This man POSES FOR A LIVING. His title is actually “posing instructor.”
8:10 p.m. I do not understand Benny Ninja. I’m just going to say that now.
8:10 p.m. Posing challenge. Sandra blows it. Most of them blow it, actually. Kortney gets in trouble with the Ninja.
8:12 p.m. Uh-oh. Tahlia the burn victim has once again been accused of not having confidence.
8:16 p.m. Local news aside: A woman STOLE breast implants. Presumably in Pittsburgh…what a town!
8:17 p.m. I am really disturbed by that Soft Scrub commercial in which the stove talks back to the woman cleaning it in a racially coded voice like Chester Cheetah. Inexplicable.
8:18 p.m. The girls are headlining an event “for the fashion elite of New York City.” Mmm hmm.
8:19 p.m. Alison feels “horrible” and is “scared.” Don’t, Alison! You’re freaky and you should stay on the show!
8:20 p.m. Benny Ninja is the host. Obviously this is not a prestigious event.
8:21 p.m. Alison looks good, but the crowd is booing! No!
8:21 p.m. Sandra is a fool. What is she doing? More boos.
8:22 p.m. Celia does well, but her makeup makes her look like a wax figure.
8:23 p.m. Natalie and Celia face off, and Natalie almost falls so Celia wins. In your smug face, Natalie!
8:24 p.m. Tahlia is complaining again about her low self-esteem, and Alison is talking about her behind her back.
8:25 p.m. Commercials. With all the top model winners that get Cover Girl contracts, why is Queen Latifah always hogging all the ads?
8:28 p.m. The Tyra mail was talking about “migrating.” That means birds! BIRDS!
8:28 p.m. Ugg, Tahlia’s a sad sack. I would probably react the same way to being on Top Model, but even so. Celia wants her to leave.
8:29 p.m. Ok, so the shoot is not about birds. Jay Manuel is waxing all historical about immigrants. He must have been cramming all night for that speech.
OK…I’ll stop here. Liveblogging is exhausting! I’ll be back to analyze this on Friday.
So I’m back to analyze! Looking over this liveblog days later, I’m amazed that it seems so slight. I felt like I was spending every spare moment writing comments, and yet it doesn’t really show. A solo critical liveblog is typically more work than participating in a liveblog thread, but even that would be something to get used to. Interestingly enough, later the same night that I liveblogged Top Model, I tuned in to a reality show on which a friend of mine was going to be featured. Another friend and I facebook chatted throughout the program, which was itself a lot like commenting in a liveblog thread. This was easier and more fun than the solo liveblog, but still involved a lot of work and drew my attention away from the television screen for probably almost 50% of the broadcast. In sum, I would say that to me, liveblogging was a lot more work than, say, watching TV with a group of actual friends in my living room. Especially with a show like Top Model, which is mostly interesting because of the visual elements (listen to the dialogue sometime and you’ll hear what I mean), I found I was frustrated that my attention was being drawn away from the TV.
I also felt slightly overwhelmed by the process because of the genre constraints of liveblogging, which I instinctually followed due to my experience reading them. Whenever something important (or comment-worthy) happened on the show, I felt that I must comment on it, as to miss it would be to misrepresent it. This brings me back to the discussion of Television Without Pity that I began in the last post: they’ve mastered the art of the almost obnoxiously complete recap/real-time review. I consider this type of liveblogging a new strain of television criticism, popularized by the introduction of the DVR and Tivo. It is obvious that TWoP reviewers use this technology to pause and rewind, thus enabling them to see and hear every moment of the show, despite the task of commenting. This produces a type of criticism that actually seems to suit television as a medium better than traditional, film-style criticism. It’s always been a problem for reviewers to write about television, since it is not a complete, succinct text that can be viewed and considered as a whole (look at The Simpsons). Liveblogging takes the film-style review, which condenses a television season into one pithy interpretation, and does the complete opposite: it blows the minutiae of a single episode up into a review-length (and often longer) close reading that resists categorization, allowing the reader to watch, read, and develop a sense of the show for themselves.
For example, Television Without Pity’s recap of Tuesday’s American Idol (by Jacob) is thirteen standard web pages long, and covers everything from disparaging the judges’ clothing (Simon in “high-rise jeans” and Randy in a “mathlete cardigan”) to speculating about the contestants’ dispositions (on Kris Allen: “I can’t imagine him writing a song unless it was like one of those Edie Brickell songs about sitting on a porch and eating a burrito”). The reviewers take liberties with the liveblog format, of course. Though their main responsibility is to document an episode, these recaps are filled with tangents and asides about personal experiences, other pop culture texts, and even conversations happening between the writers’ friends in the room while the episode is airing. This is a genre of review that fits perfectly with reality TV, as the enjoyment (for most people over the age of say, 13) of these flashy, synthetic shows is usually found in the absurd blink-and-you-miss-them details, like Ryan Seacrest’s sexual innuendos, a contestant flashing a “weird muppet smile,” and a small moment when a contestant “giggles” at Smokey Robinson. As I noted in my previous posts, Television Without Pity’s most popular recaps are of shows with which the writers themselves have a “love/hate relationship.” The in-depth recap seems to be the only type of review that truly allows for a demonstration of such a relationship. The joy of writing and reading recap-liveblogs comes from the snark, but also the heart underneath the snark. This comes through in Jacob’s reaction to Idol contestant Adam’s performance of “Tracks of my Tears,” which left Smokey Robinson teary-eyed: “Adam Lambert sings like an angel! Damn. That was amazing.” This is the kind of moment that has the maximum emotional impact upon first viewing. Television brings us moments like these all the time, when the shallowest, cheesiest of shows inexplicably bring us to tears. Liveblogging can capture these feelings before embarrassment takes over, and gives us a true picture of why we watch television.