Longtime TV writer Sarah D. Bunting ’94 says that to make a living on the internet, “you have to be doing 17 things at once.” So in addition to being a freelance writer, she contributes frequently to Previously.TV (where she serves as the East Coast editor); has a regular gig on the weekly Extra Hot Great podcast; writes for and edits a true-crime blog called The Blotter; cohosts a music podcast called Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs; and occasionally posts on her wide-ranging entertainment site, Tomato Nation. Somewhere in between those commitments, she manages to watch the TV shows that she writes about. In September, Bunting talked with PAW about her background, what works online, and a couple of her recent favorite shows.
From message boards to something more
“[When] Dawson’s Creek started, my now-business-partner-of-17-years, Tara Ariano, and I were complaining at length about how terrible it was, and how it was trying to be My So-Called Life and failing miserably, and one of the forum-ites was like, ‘You guys should have a website of your own about this’ — possibly so that we would stop dominating the thread, but maybe sincerely. And so we started a site called dawsonswrap.com, which was only about Dawson’s Creek, and then in September of ’99, we launched Television Without Pity [which had a broader focus and eventually was bought by Bravo, in 2007].
“I sort of backed into it. I really didn’t know what kind of writing I wanted to do. … It was really just me and Tara and a bunch of other people sitting around on an online bulletin board trying to make each other laugh about how big James Van Der Beek’s forehead was.”
Starting the conversation
“With the podcast, we’ve built a listenership that feels involved in it. They know us, they can predict what we like, and they know the running jokes. That’s a big part of it — kind of feeling, when we’re recording, like they’re there, that they’re already listening. It is a conversation. We’re the ones who start the conversation, with a piece on the site or a segment on the podcast, [but] that’s just starting the conversation. That a listener or reader would continue it is what we hope for.”
“Our editorial model is that readers respond to content that the writer is passionate about, no matter what it is. … If you care about it, and you can give me 800 to 1,000 words and some pictures about why, then people will respond to that. If you don’t care about it, that’s going to show. Am I particularly proud of caring deeply about that episode of Catfish where a medium claimed to be talking to a woman’s dead father? No, but I did, and [the story] has been performing well for us.”
Bunting recommends checking out these two shows, if you haven’t already:
The Great British Baking Show
“It’s everything good about competition reality TV without any of the Gordon Ramsay ginned-up yelling drama garbage.”
O.J.: Made in America
“The best thing that I’ve seen in the last few months. It was physically difficult to watch and emotionally and psychologically difficult, and I think that was part of its genius.”
Interview conducted and condensed by Brett Tomlinson