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Success from Scratch: Alan Sepinwall, TV Critic

January 25, 2013

Self-made TV critic Alan Sepinwall

If you watch Mad Men, as I do, no episode is complete without a visit to his blog What’s Alan Watching. As I Netflixed my way through the series, I would always follow up an episode with a visit to his blog, and was blown away by how much I missed about the little touches placed in each episode of the series. I learned as much about writing by watching Mad Men and reading his blog–and the comments–as I have an any seminar. It’s one of those experiences I wish I hadn’t had because I’d love to have it again for the first time.

I learned enough that I seriously considered proposing a conference session on what I learned by watching Mad Men and reading his blog for this coming October. (Alas, the intellectual property issues involved in charging people in part to watch Mad Men clips, and the sheer amount of work involved have made me reconsider–for now.)

As I read Sepinwall’s blog and saw that he also had entries on a number of other series–and that his blog moved from his own to a bigger website called HitFix, I wondered if this guy really rose from the humble beginnings it seemed.

And the answer is that he did. According to his Wikipedia entry (and if you can’t believe Wikipedia, who can you believe?), Sepinwall got his start reviewing NYPD Blue on usenet groups–that is, on a big honkin’ text based bulletin board that was a huge part of the Internet when people still used dial-up.

Based on that work, he was able to get a job as television critic with the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper, where his week-by-week reviews of The Sopranos included discussions of the show intricacies that didn’t make it into other reviews. He continued that style on his own blog What Alan’s Watching, which is where I started reading his reviews of Mad Men.

In 201o, he quit The Star-Ledger to go to work for He’s influential enough that NBC’s Ben Silverman said that he was partially responsible for the revival of the NBC series, Chuck.

Okay, great you say. I want to know about writing…WRITING…not the idiot box. What does this have to do with my WRITING experience?

Simply this. Alan Sepinwall digs high-quality television. It’s a passion for him. So he started writing about it. And he kept writing about it. Now he’s influential enough to get interviews with TV insiders and to get a bit part on NBC’s Community. There are a zillion other people who write about TV. Alan Sepinwall did it better than others and he kept at it. As a result, he created an awesome career for himself.

I stole the heading Success From Scratch from a radio host named Bill Handel in Los Angeles. He’s a lawyer. He’ll probably sue me.


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