David Hyde Pierce's Murderous Secrets and the Mystery of Virality
Towards the end of my first unhappy stint at The A.V Club, I remember an editor aggressively encouraging me, as well as all the other writers, to churn out as many news briefs and “Great Job, Internet” pieces as possible each day and to not take more than fifteen minutes to write them. The idea was to be as ruthlessly economical and efficient as possible. Quantity trumped quality. These pieces didn’t need to be good, they just needed to be good enough.
The idea wasn’t to create something new or original of genuine value but rather to find something sexy or juicy or funny or attention-grabbing on the internet, link to it, write two paragraphs of explanation, give it a sexy headline and wait for the page-views to roll in for something you cynically threw together in twenty minute for an audience pretty much just looking for shiny things to look at.
I hated having to write these pieces. They were a big part of the reason I left The A.V Club for The Dissolve. To me, they were garbage content. They just recycled work other people did in hopes of piggy-backing onto that audience. But they were cheap, they were commercial, and they were page-view-friendly, so they proliferated and proliferated until they swallowed up the whole site, and became its identity.
So I vowed that when I had my own site, I would do things differently. There would be no garbage content on Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, nothing cynically crapped out to goose the page-views and keep the bean-counters satisfied.
I would do things the only way I knew how: the hard way. The self-indulgent way. The personal way. The crazy person way. Yet I found myself nevertheless obsessing over Analytics all the same. How could I not? Running a site like this is such an immersive, all-consuming obsession. How could I not want tangible evidence of what my readers and patrons are responding to and what they aren’t?
And, in a bid to help increase page-views without compromising the site’s integrity, I decided that I would engage in a little bit of “Great Job, Internet”-style recycling but only if the work that is being cynically recycled and exploited was done by me in the past.
That’s why I introduced “Exploiting the Archives.” If The A.V Club has no use for me or the legacy that I built there, well, then at least I can benefit, as a 41 year old working like a maniac to just barely pay the bills as a full-time, largely reader-supported freelancer, from the enormous body of work I created at The A.V Club.
This Christmas, meanwhile, I discovered that I could also recycle the work I’ve done at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place through Exploiting our Archives, a newish feature where I re-run an article from the website’s 9 months or so of existence for the many people who didn't have a chance to read it the first time. Again, I feel a little bad not having to do an enormous amount of work on everything I do, but I don’t feel too guilty, since I’m exploiting myself, not some stranger at Vulture who did a juicy interview with, say, Quincy Jones.
Recently I re-ran a very silly Clickbait piece taking aim at those ridiculous “8 Shady Things Everyone Ignores About…” articles by positing that the “shady things” that people ignore about David Hyde Pierce all involve him being a prolific murderer of student nurses.
I wrote the piece for the same reason I write all my Clickbait pieces: because I’m annoyed by some ridiculous trope or cliche and it amuses me to steer it into the darkest direction possible.
When I do comedy pieces they tend to go one of two ways: either they just kind of die, or they catch fire like the David Hyde Pierce one, or the one on Andie MacDowell secretly murdering Steven Spielberg, and get huge traffic initially, but then also weird bursts of renewed traffic every few months.
At this point, the Hyde Pierce piece, which had a huge surge in traffic this week despite being ancient, is probably the best read piece in the history of the site. I’m not overjoyed about that. I like the piece, but it’s silly and something I wrote in about two hours to scratch a creative itch, not any kind of magnum opus.
Incidentally, I recently discovered the secret of the David Hyde Pierce article's success. If you Google "David Hyde Pierce", my article shows up on the front page. I'm guessing a lot of people click out of morbid curiosity. I suspect a lot of people click on the article without realizing that it's satirical and fake. To these people, and to David Hyde Pierce himself, I'd like to apologize. It was wrong of me to strongly suggest Pierce killed even a single student nurse, let alone a whole bunch of them.
If I had a choice, I’d prefer if, say, my 4000 word dissertation on Steven Seagal’s crazy Alt-Right novel The Way of the Shadow Wolf: The Deep State and the Hijacking of America was the site’s most popular article, because I worked so hard on it, and it represents my sensibility so purely. But I’ll take what I can get.
This site is such a labor of love that I’m thrilled people are reading anything on it. Besides, I need a piece to re-run for next week so maybe it’s time for Seagal’s The Way of the Shadow Wolves: The Deep State and the Hijacking of America to get a rare second chance to make a first impression. I'm pretty sure the dude who wrote it initially would be okay with me re-running it. He seems pretty chill.
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