Recaps Are The New Water Cooler


Like many people these days, the vast majority of my TV viewing is done on a time-shifted basis. Sometimes I’ll binge a series long after it’s off the air, other times I’ll catch up with a show that’s in-season, only I’ll do so  intermittently, in bursts. But however I’m doing it, the one thing I miss is that water cooler conversation, the ability to trade notes with friends and co-workers who’ve also just seen the same show.

That’s not happening these days. Particularly when I finish watching at 2 in the morning. But I’ve found a solution and so, it appears, have many others: Recaps.

Recaps, for the uninitiated, are a combination of a review and blow-by-blow recounting of an episode and the best ones are humorous and have a very strong POV. They are a great way to ascertain, for example, who random characters in Game of Thrones actually are and which family they’re related to, or get someone else’s opinion on which of the Wet Hot American Summer actors have aged the best.

What’s most surprising about recaps is how many publications actually run them—everyone from The Wall Street Journal and New York Times to Vanity FairRolling StoneNew York MagazineWiredand the Huffington Post.

While all the aforementioned sites (along with Entertainment Weekly) have excellent recaps, my favorite remains the AV Club, a site by and for TV and movie geeks. Their writing is just a little edgier, their insights a little geekier, the tone just a little closer to the late, lamented Television Without Pity, the mother of all recaps.

And they give letter grades.

While it’s interesting to look at recaps from a creative perspective, it’s worth looking at them from a business perspective, too.

Can we monetize them? While that may initially seem crass, recaps might be the only place you’ll be guaranteed to find all of a show’s fans, whether they watched the show in 2015 or 2025. That’s a pretty broad swath, but chances are good the demographics of the shows fans won’t change, just their numbers over the years.

Recaps also provide an incredible source of data for networks, studios and showrunners. What scenes did these superfans seem to like? Which ones did they find confusing. Who are these fans? What other recaps do they read? What sites were they referred from? There’s just so much data in tracking the recaps that is of great value to networks and showrunners alike.

I would also suggest a few ways for networks and showrunners to make use of recaps:

  1. Aggregate recaps on the show’s site so they’re easy for fans to find. Whether it’s the show’s website or a second screen app, fans will appreciate having the links available. It’s also a great way to increase engagement for fans who are coming late to the show—recaps give them an easy way to begin to understand the show and its culture. They also reinforce the notion that your show is popular and lots of people are also watching it.
  2. Promote recaps on social so that your fans can find them there. Not every recap will be 100% positive, so you need to be able to bear that. But fans will ultimately reward you for promoting deeper involvement with the show. And the people who write the recaps will certainly be happy that you’re promoting their work.
  3. Consider writing your own recaps. Ideally someone on the show’s writing staff can be in charge of this one. They can provide insights that other media sources can’t and can clear up some mysteries once and for all. The flip side, of course, is that they are the voice of the show rather than that of the viewer, but “official” recaps can be a useful companion piece to third party recaps.

As the way we watch television changes, the way we keep up with television will continue to change as well. Recaps are just one part of the equation, but an important one nonetheless. Which ones are your favorites? Let us know.