October 20, 2007
Links to TV History Sites
In the course of compiling the ninth edition of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows Earle and I had plenty of opportunities to check the accuracy of TV-related websites. We use a multitude of sources for the Directory including press releases, reviews, internal industry information (we are or have been executives in the business) and direct communication with networks and producers. We also watch everything. It quickly became apparent which sites tended to get it right, and which ones were – well – a little less reliable.
Here are our ratings.
www.wikipedia.org (A-). The leading one-stop general repository of information on the web, this has exploded in recent years and contains a large number of television program entries, all contributed by users. Its reputation for inaccuracy (“anybody can post anything”) is undeserved, since it does in fact appear to be edited. Opinions are stripped out, unsubstantiated facts are flagged, and upgrading of entries is urged when the editors feel that a subject has been treated superficially. Its greatest weakness is probably its unevenness; some shows get book-length treatment, others only a line or two, or no entry at all. Current, youth-oriented fan favorites do best because that’s who contributes to sites like this. Not always the place to go if you want a quick synopsis, and the writing is pretty bland (the wiki “style”), but it’s definitely worth checking.
www.tv.com (B+). Formerly tvtome.com, this is also fan-supported and contains information on thousands of shows, many with episode guides. The accuracy varies wildly (there is apparently less editing here) and it is particularly weak on casts (Who was a regular? Which seasons were they on? Who knows?). Pretty good coverage of contemporary TV.
www.sirlinksalot.net (B+ for reality shows). This site specializes in reality shows and for the most part links to other sites and news sources on that subject. The navigation is dreadful, but if you can get past that and are patient it can lead you to a treasure house of information on shows from Survivor to He’s a Lady. One weakness: the sites it links to rarely seem to give contestants’ full names (it’s all just “Bob” and “Jill”), something we like to include in The Complete Directory.
www.epguides.com (C+). One of the original fan sites, it specializes in episode guides but has become somewhat overshadowed by wikipedia and tv.com (to which it often links). Strongest on recent TV and high-profile nostalgia.
www.imdb.com (A for comprehensiveness, C- for accuracy). Huge, but more superficial and definitely less accurate than the previously-mentioned sites. Multitudes of wrong dates and missing credits. Because of its enormous size it can be useful for compiling a preliminary list of an actor’s credits, but use it only as a first stop, not the last.
www.tvguide.com (A for schedules, C for program history). An offshoot of the magazine, this is an excellent guide to what’s currently on and when it will rerun if you missed it. It also has brief but useful background on many less well-known older programs that can fill in holes that the fan-supported sites miss.
Other sites that can be useful include:
Search engines like www.yahoo.com and www.msn.com have TV “areas,” but they usually crib superficial information from somewhere else and simply dress it up; we did not find them useful. Opinion sites like www.jumptheshark.com can be fun, but are not for serious research.
Broadcast and cable network sites are basically promotional sites, full of glitz and games, and generally offer little in terms of solid information except in some cases for currently airing programs. Don’t look to them for information on shows of the past; once a show is canceled it disappears instantly! The network press sites (most of which are open to the public) are generally more factual. The names of the network consumer sites are as you would expect:
Cable network sites are generally named obviously as well (discovery.com, mtv.com, lifetimetv.com, etc.) with plenty of redirects in case you type something slightly different. They want you to find them!