post cover

Episodes: Happy 10th birthday, South Dakota Dark


Emily VanDerWerff

Feb 05 2016

6 min read



I almost missed an important anniversary.

Okay, I DID miss an important anniversary earlier this year. The only reason I'm thinking to mark it now is because my friend Jace Lacob mentioned on Facebook that his own site, Televisionary, turned 10 recently. And in an instant I remembered that Jace's site and my own started at roughly the same time, which is why it's time to pay tribute to South Dakota Dark, my first blog and the place where I honed my voice.

Here's a link to the very first post! Here's the first post that has something like actual content. (And note how I just assume people will know who my wife was. I was wondering how I got people to read the blog; now I know it was just from badgering friends and family.)

Now, there's a lot of stuff in those posts (the first, in particular) that makes me cringe. But one of the things that helped me break into actually getting paid to do this was, I was told, that my style was a little more conversational, a little more like having a beer with a smart friend than getting a lecture from somebody who knew too much. And if I squint, I can sort of see that peeking through.

What's even more amazing to me is that in the first year of the blog, its focus was fairly diffuse, much more similar to what I'm now doing at Vox than the later years of the blog, and my years at House Next Door and AV Club. Looking through the range of topics I covered in that first year, it's a surprisingly wide swath of stuff, even if not all of those posts are that great.

I don't do a lot of reading of SDD, because a lot of it is, frankly, pretty embarrassing. But it was, obviously, inestimably important to my development as a writer. I started it out because I was very into Jaime Weinman's blog. Later, when I discovered Alan Sepinwall's old place, I shifted to become a bit more like him (since his idea of covering episodes weekly through short capsule summaries very quickly took over the internet). But I was always trying new things.

Truth be told, I don't know why I kept at it. I was working at a job that demanded a lot of my time, and I was also trying to keep up with some personal writing that ultimately didn't go much of anywhere (not that it couldn't still). In that first week of the blog, there are very few posts, and I'm sure it could have easily been another project I randomly dropped.

Obviously, I'm glad I didn't, since it changed my life and all, but it's hard to look back at the person who's just starting that blog and figure out what it was that was going to make him keep going, day after day after day.

It was that frequency that proved most important, however. Just from the simple act of doing it, over and over again, I learned how to do it. It doesn't matter that many of these posts are bad, because by churning out the bad stuff, I was getting to a place where I could write better stuff. And that better stuff got noticed by folks who were in the right position to push me on to whatever was next.

That's one of the things I miss about the old blogosphere. I work for a publication now that was largely started by old bloggers, and you'll occasionally hear things from sites that have large, corporate presences about trying to get back to the days of blogs or whatever. I suspect that social media has mostly washed those days out to sea, and the biggest problem with that is simply that it's a lot easier to tell if someone can write from their blog than it is from their Twitter. You can tell from both things, but I'd much rather read something with more meat on its bones.

In those days, the blogging world felt like it had the potential to change everything. It did, sort of, but it also died much more quickly than it seemed like it would. I guess it had a natural lifespan, and that ended.

One last thing is that SDD taught me how to be an editor, too. The format that evolved into TV Club was essentially prototyped at SDD, where I very quickly figured out that there were niches of people who loved certain shows and would be willing to read recaps of them, even outside of the normally recapped shows. We ended up with a solid team of writers, who covered a hugely diverse series of programs, from all across the TV landscape. I don't know that I would have had the confidence to take over TV Club if I hadn't had the SDD experience.

I'm grateful to SDD for forcing me to write every day. I'm grateful to it for introducing me to the people who pushed my career forward. And I'm grateful to all of the writers who started with me there and joined me at later adventures (most notably David Sims, Carrie Raisler, and Myles McNutt, who all jumped on board with me at AV Club). I don't know if you could pay me to do it again, but for the handful of years it was up and running, it was one of the most important things in my life. And I owe it at least a 10th birthday salute.

One final link: Pls read the longest comment thread in SDD history, which is just David and I arguing about Spider-Man 3.


Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter