"I THINK you can spell 'posthumously' without 'pity,' " insists Sarah Bunting. But it's close. Bunting knows pity — and, more important...
“I THINK you can spell ‘posthumously’ without ‘pity,’ ” insists Sarah Bunting.
But it’s close.
Bunting knows pity — and, more important, the lack thereof. Bunting is co-founder of TelevisionWithoutPity.com, one of the most indispensable — and funny — TV resources on the Web, home of scathing recaps of dozens of shows both good (“Deadwood”) and bad (“Big Brother”). But in eight years of merciless digs at actors, writers and reality TV “personalities,” Bunting says she rarely will reread a comment that she wrote and think, “That was too much.”
Then came Steve Irwin.
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On page 128 of the new book, “Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love To Hate (And Hate To Love) About TV,” which she wrote with TWoP co-founder Tara Ariano, the entry on the late “Crocodile Hunter” host included such passages as “Though he comes across as your standard braying Aussie loon, Steve Irwin is apparently a qualified zoologist” and “he takes very stupid risks in the name of documentary television,” not to mention an assessment of the stunt with his infant son and the crocodile.
“We finished writing and turned in a first draft around Labor Day of 2005,” she sighs, “and then we started getting galleys [proofs] in early ’06, and the last shot we really had at catching stuff like this was March or April [Irwin died on Sept. 4]. When we’re at readings, we apologize to the universe and to the family of Steve Irwin for essentially saying, ‘How’s that guy not gotten killed yet?’ I like Steve Irwin, but this was kind of obviously going to happen.
“We feel bad, but mostly because it’s not accurate,” she adds. “There are enough other dead people that we make fun of. Lucille Ball doesn’t get an inch.”
Ball’s entry includes the lines “She never once, in 53 years in show business, managed to apply her lipstick so that it followed her actual lip line” and “She. Was not. FUNNY.” There’s also a cross-reference to an entry titled “SITCOMS, UNFUNNINESS OF SEMINAL.”
Hoping for “do-overs”
There are a couple of other regrets in the book, but all remain of the factual kind. Aaron Spelling also died after the book went to press, although his entry doesn’t spend any time predicting his demise and instead reserves most of its scorn for his daughter Tori, “whose mediocre acting and diploma from the Louis Braille School of Plastic Surgery serve as a warning to us all on the dangers of nepotism.”
And Bunting and Ariano write that they are “still crossing our fingers for a sequel” to “Jackass: The Movie” — a sequel that had been produced and released by the time the book hit stores.
“We just hope that people buy a [lot] of copies and let us do a second edition to correct some of the stuff,” Bunting says.
But there’s far more of the book that has no need of correction, whether it’s their commentary on shows with Sadly Obvious Stunt Doubles (“Nobody expects actors to know karate; damn, David Boreanaz barely knows acting, never mind a bunch of unconvincing Shaolin vampire moves.”), or their account of Omarosa and Janice Dickinson’s stint in the same “Surreal Life” cast (“We’ve never wished so hard for one [rhymes-with-witch] to scratch another’s eyes out, so God bless VH1 for putting them in the same pen and letting nature take its course.”).
Things they love
The TWoP Web site does have a place for quality TV. Jacob Clifton’s recaps of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Doctor Who” are like some acid jazz mash-up of psychoanalysis, Greek literary references and pure gushing adoration. And the book finds plenty of room for the authors to wax about their own TV pleasures, guilty and otherwise.
Of Boston Rob from “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race” and several dozen specials about his marriage to Ambuh, they write, “He performed beautifully in challenges, he knew how to build stuff, he got a nice tan, he kept his shirt off a lot, and he had a hot accent. Err, that sentence kind of got away from us.” They analyze the greatest TV mustaches of all time. The winner: “Magnum, P.I.” star Tom Selleck, so thick that “there are Japanese soldiers in Selleck’s ‘stache who don’t know the war is over.”
“We don’t hate everything,” Bunting says. “There are enough entries where we defend things or see nuances or whatever. There’s proportionately more stuff we don’t like, because that’s easier to be funny about, that’s the raison d’être of the site. It’s not going to be a love-fest because that’s kind of off-brand.”
The choice of entries is obviously informed by the authors’ tastes, which in Bunting’s case are to one extreme or the other.
“I tend to like TV that’s very good or really horribly bad, it’s like the ends of the bell curve. ‘The Monkees’ is unwatchable almost, it’s so bad, but as a kid, I loved it; I’ve seen every episode … . We’re not better than anyone in terms of our taste. My favorite show right now is ‘I Pity the Fool’ with Mr. T.
“If you’re looking for an overarching principle, we were trying to write the book we would want to read in the bathroom. We’re getting reports of it being on people’s toilet tanks. Just little bite-sized entries, sort of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style of reading where you keep following the cross-references, and most of them lead back to ‘Acting, Wooden.’ “