Apocalyptic Fan Power

A screen shot of getglue.com where fans can interact with their favorite shows.

To those who have endured the painful experience of the cancellation of a beloved television series only to be left with that confused aftershock of intense, irrational (but justifiable) emotion – my condolences. This is for you.

In the past, the executive producers have held the gavel, so to speak. They’ve marked time of death and pulled the plug on a once-lively series. Fans mourned the jobless actors and the deceased story lines, eventually learning how to handle their grief. However, this is the past. The television world as we know is undergoing an apocalyptic change.

Today, television may be one of the most successful forms of art. It’s current and it’s constantly changing. It can be long lasting and all ages can get sucked into its addicting powers. Previously, fans would have to wait until their show aired on television to watch it. Then, in order to talk, complain, or emotionally explode after an episode, these fans would have to find someone in person.

However, beginning back in the early 90’s, specifically focusing on The X-Files, the internet became the forefront for fans.  Terms, such as “shipping,” (wanting two characters to become romantically involved), and “shipper,” (the person who is doing the shipping), were coined from the “Philes,” or the devoted fans of the supernatural show. We moved from barely touching the benefits that the worldwide web offered to fully absorbing it today.

Producer Ryan Murphy at San Diego Comic Con. He has admitted to listening to fan feedback.

With the installments of Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media sites, fans can voice their opinions immediately. Show runners don’t have to wait until the show has aired and Neilson ratings are released to find out who enjoyed the episode. The networks are seeing how the fans feel immediately after, and sometimes even during, the show’s airing. Show runners have admitted to using this as a way to format their future plot lines. Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), admitted to switching Glee’s fourth season after ‘Gleeks’ (the show’s fan following) were upset that three main characters would graduate the show’s high school and would not return as  series regulars. Now, these three characters are still in the show, but have graduated and are living lives past their high school endeavors.

However, some show runners are admitting to not caring what their fans think; it’s their show and they have a plan. Hart Hanson, creator of Bones, has admitted to ignoring the needs of the shippers and is doing what he wants. In addition, Christopher Buchanan, once president of geek icon Joss Whedon’s production company, says that this kind of unpredictability is what keeps fans interested and will help prolong the life of the series. However, the opposite seems to be happening. NBC’s Community has gone as far as to include a version of a fan video into their actual show.

Fans are getting noticed. When WB’s Roswell was on the verge of being cancelled, fans came together to save their show, popularizing the “Save Our Show” campaigns. These fans created a website, Crashdown.com, named after the show’s restaurant, and a campaign that ended in the sending of thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce to the show’s producers, something that was important to the show. The series went on to have two more seasons.

Multiple replications of this response have happened since then. After learning of Roswell’s success, Jericho fans sent twenty tons of peanuts to their series’ producers. Veronica Mars fans sent 10,000 Mars Bars, and Arrested Development fans sent bananas. Other shows have devoted fans that will not let their passion die. Firefly, a short-lived geek phenomenon, should have died after being canceled after thirteen episodes; however, ten years later, they have had multiple cast panel interviews, a movie, and a reunion special. Nathan Fillion, the show’s main actor, is currently dubbed the king of comic-con, a comic-book-turned-fan convention.

Fans will be the main reason for a show to survive, if we aren’t already. Networks are tracking our existence with check-in sites such as Getglue.com and the Viggle app. Both of these sites allow users to check-in to the show they are watching and receive stickers from the show or coupons to various stores. Also, during most primetime airings, in the corner of the screen will be a hashtag (#) and something about the show for twitter reasons, for example #Glee. People can tweet about their show and be unified by one hashtag, something that tracks your tweets and puts them into a feed.

A screen shot of getglue.com where fans can interact with their favorite shows.

Show runners and producers will learn how to play their fans even more than they currently do. Audiences will be manipulated into thinking they are becoming part of their favorite story line. Things that audiences might find surprising, such as a form of character or plot development, might be the product of simple research into what fans are predicting. Dan Harmon, creator and once runner of Community, noticed that there were fans of the Annie/Jeff coupling in the first season. After the episode aired that suggested this pairing, he specifically did interviews and released tweets pointed to those fans. He is one of many show creators who have begun to utilize their fans’ opinions. Fans want to see their needs answered, but in a way that doesn’t let them know what their needs are. Show runners will develop an extremely devoted fan base, even more than today.

This is all different from the past several years. This could have been seen as the decrease of the television medium and the erosion of the once powerful empire. But, it is the opposite. When you use other mediums, such as books or films, you can’t change the ending. The book will end as will the film. However, the television episode will end, but the story will not. Until the final credit rolls in the series finale, the story is still changing. This is something that makes television extremely unique and valuable. By taking advantage of fan interaction, this will only make television stronger. The discovery of the value of fans will change this world into something completely different.

Executive producers will not be making the final decisions anymore. We, the fans, will. We are being recognized by higher powers. Our voice was previously heard, but now it is taking effect. We can determine what we want, when we want it. We, in a sense, will become part of the creative team. Change is among us. The television medium is undergoing a miniature apocalypse. And the future is bright if it’s given to the right hands. Interaction will become the new fad in the television industry and ratings will no longer be the single item that keeps TV shows afloat.

Photo credit to Gage Skidmore on WikiCommons and www.getglue.com

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