What exactly is The Spinoff? Editor Duncan Greive explains. //
Like most people, I can map my life out through TV. Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse as a gawky, pale kid growing up in London. A few years later The Bill and Grange Hill made the surrounding streets seem different, more sinister. My mother wouldn’t let us connect our TV to an aerial when we first got to New Zealand, so we watched the same Simpsons VHS hundreds of times, later cycling it in with tapes of Shooting Stars and Whose Line is It Anyway? that my cousins’ sent over. After the aerial got connected I got my first TV crushes – Teri Hatcher in The New Adventures of Superman and Kelly Rutherford in The Adventures of Brisco Country, Jr. I was an adventurous teen, I guess.
As a high school cyclist Clash of the Codes gave me some kind of visceral thrill, watching these wiry men duelling with enormous rugby bros. Max TV thrilled as my first contact with alternative culture, and a few years later I felt more national pride than at any time shy of the Kiwis’ World Cup win when Back of the Y would miraculously lumber boozily onto TV2 late at night.
Five years on came a show which snapped me out of my inherited elitist conception of TV as this lesser culture. I’d somehow absorbed that idea by osmosis (I blame England, for no good reason) and never sloughed it off. A guy I knew was a buyer in the basement of Real Groovy Records. I worked a couple floors up, editing now defunct music magazine Real Groove (RIP, still). He liked alt country and tequila and was really, really into television – just not the stuff they showed on TV at the time.
It was in the mid-’00s, when some shows were particularly hard to get hold of – boxsets were pretty niche, and it was before torrents really took off. Back then, burned DVDs were a big deal. He was obsessed with this new, very unpopular HBO show called The Wire. I got season one in a sheet of A4 paper folded into a makeshift sleeve.
I took it home and left it on our coffee table. My flatmate Brody was teaching at the time, and it was the first term holidays. I came home from work the following day to find him in trackpants, staring at McNulty, transfixed. It wasn’t at all clear that he’d done anything else that day. He was six episodes in, and hooked.
Within a few months those DVDs had circulated through a bunch of my friends, and there was little else we wanted to talk about. I know it’s become a (massive) cliché for white middle class men of a certain age to be so in love with The Wire, but I can’t deny its impact. I read Homicide and The Corner, bought a bootleg Bullets basketball jersey just like one of the dealers wears, and generally adopted David Simon’s dyspeptic worldview as my own, despite having no real stake in it. I couldn’t imagine there was anything more profound and affecting in the world. Still can’t.
A few years later another show got me bad. The first season of New Zealand’s Next Top Model was slickly produced, immaculately hosted and always hilarious, sometimes intentionally. Some friends and I had a sports blog at the time, so I decided to make like Wynne Gray and rank the participants each week based on the calibre of their performance. It was mean, juvenile and some of the best fun I’ve had writing. That show seemed to me a window into a whole new generation of New Zealanders. Forcing them to live in close proximity, low on sleep and high on sugar, while performing ridiculously contrived tasks proved incredibly compelling.
The profundity of The Wire, the absurdity of New Zealand’s Next Top Model. Bunk Moreland and Colin Mathura-Jeffree. They are why The Spinoff is here. This is a site about television. From the high-minded and brilliantly subtle, to the hopelessly deformed and crass – we love it all. Because everyone has those shows, and everyone is watching something at any given time. Even people who sniff that they “don’t even own a TV” – they watch more TV than any of us! They just do it online. Big woop!
But I digress. Back to The Spinoff: as far as coverage goes we’ll start and end with writing, but we plan video and podcasts in time. While we’ll have news and recaps and all that great stuff, we’ll also attack shows and seasons from any era at any time. That’s because we want to reflect the way people watch TV nowadays. Many shows start small and contained, swelling in their impact and ambition as they progress. Others get canceled before they ever getting a real audience. A show like Party Down deserved far more viewers than it ever got during its brief, buried two season run. (Who knew a show about caterers wouldn’t be a smash?) The point is that people are watching shows both new and old at any given time. As a result, The Spinoff will look back as frequently as forward.
In terms of its approach, The Spinoff will emphasise New Zealand television, and television available in New Zealand. If you want the latest thing an hour after it airs in America, you’re in the wrong place. We want to epitomise way TV unites a nation – the accessible, open-to-all atmosphere of the medium. The best TV writing does the same – we’re inspired by the way they do it at Grantland, Vulture and The AV Club. And by local heroes like Fiona Rae, Paul Casserly and the rest.
We have a set of writers who love the medium, and can write entertainingly and provocatively about it. Some have spent significant time in front of the camera, like David Farrier and Rose Matafeo. Most have just watched more than is healthy, and thought about it more again, like Dominic Corry, Henry Oliver, Rosabel Tan and our editorial assistant Alex Casey, who’ll be posting for us daily.
The site launches today, the 10th September 2014. Due to a monumental scheduling screwup, I go on holiday for month today. But don’t sweat it – Alex and Rosabel will hold the site down without me. It’ll probably be better as a result, truth be told. We’re in it for the long haul anyway.
I know that The Spinoff will evolve, have smash hits and big misses and be as chaotic as the medium it’s covering at times. But I’m excited to be bringing something new into the conversation about TV in this country, and even more psyched about the people who’ll be putting it together.
Thanks for reading. Please comment, and tweet and participate in this thing. TV is for everyone, and so is The Spinoff.
Editor, The Spinoff
PS – This devolved into an increasingly desperate plea for attention already, so why not let it become a goddamn
Oscar’s Daytime Emmy’s speech? I’m going to thank some people. Dave, Kerryanne and the guys at Lightbox, first and foremost, for believing in a weird pitch and coming on board as a foundation advertiser. Consortium, for acing the circuitous build. Joel Kefali, for art directing this thing with newborn twins in tow. Alex Casey for her energy and patience. And all our writers, present and future, for making this thing work. Lastly my wife Niki, for putting up with my endless associated neuroses and a thousand other things.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.