Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One more time we're gonna celebrate

As the clock started edging closer to 10 am, I got more and more nervous.  You only get one shot at this, and I was hoping I hadn't muffed it.  What if no one read, or commented?  What if everyone read and hated it?  What if I'd made a terrible error or missed something obvious?

When you write for a site with a million viewers a month, even if you are one of dozens and contribute only occasionally to obscure parts of the site, there can be a lot riding on your work.  Triple that when you are reviving a feature that has become important to a loyal group of readers.  When it's time for that first post, you can't help but experience some anxiety.  What happens today might determine whether people come back next week.  It might determine whether people remember the feature with fondness and give the site credit for its excellence, or whether they consider it a joke or a lost opportunity, or whether it fades quickly back into the morass of the internet.

Today the first post for the last summer of TV Club Classic reappraisals of NewsRadio, my favorite television show of all time and a true cult classic, appeared at 10 am Central time precisely.  And to my great relief, for the rest of the day the comments rolled steadily in, both from readers who have been following along since the summer of 2008 when I began writing about it and from those just discovering that somebody out there is talking about NewsRadio.

One of the magical things that can happen in Web 2.0 is the creation of an unintentional community.  People gather around something they care about, sometimes in an unlikely place that wasn't exactly built for their obsession, like the comments section of a publication.  Norms and mores develop, enforced by the community.  Vigorous discussion is encouraged, but questioning of core values may be squelched.  The location, shifting forward in time week by week and season by season as the host publication marches on with its mission, becomes like an online meetup, an event that community members look forward to for its own sake.  Friendships and antagonisms develop, members gain and lose reputation, personalities manifest themselves in greater detail, and a kind of gratitude for the little miracle of this accidental gathering can hover around it like a halo.

There are times when we can take possession of something -- treasure it, value it, make it ours by virtue of the fact that no one has laid claim to it.  I think some of the folks in these scattered TV Club communities feel that way about not only their shows, but the discussion to which they return week in and week out.  It's even stronger when the show has been neglected, or has lain fallow for a while, or isn't currently in the mainstream of the cultural conversation, but it can happen on a show as overexposed and obsessively, ubiquitously analyzed as Lost, where Noel's recaps gained a devoted and idiosyncratic cult following of their own.

This last season of NewsRadio is divisive; some feel it's a sad downhill slide, some feel it's underrated. I don't know if folks will keep showing up for the next three months to talk about it.  But I'm glad they came back for this first post, if only to say goodbye once again to Phil Hartman.  In a way, I know that I don't have to do much for this to happen -- just provide the space and a few conversation starters.  I aim to do much more, of course.  But the pressure isn't what I made it out to be.  The community of commenters isn't responding to me but to each other -- to what they've built, and what meaning it bestows on each of us who claim it.

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