Sunday, March 4, 2012

Who's Running The Show?

by carol

The credits roll as the latest episode of Hawaii Five-0 comes to an end. Perhaps you’ve been online during the program or log on immediately after to post your opinions about the acting/directing/writing/etc. on Twitter, Facebook, fan forums or blogs. Praise, criticism and often outright demands are made to showrunners, producers, writers and networks.

Fans increasingly seek to influence the plots of TV shows through blogs and forums. It’s been called the Internet Effect. But is this a new phenomenon that began with the growth of Social Media?

Nope. It’s not.
The first Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1886 for a magazine. More stories were written in response to their popularity. Seven years later, author Arthur Conan Doyle had tired of Holmes and killed him off. In The Final Problem Holmes meets mortal enemy Moriarty and both disappear over a thundering waterfall. Reader shock ensued.

Well, quite simply the fans and publishers refused to let him go. Public demand and a lucrative income brought the return of Holmes, with stories appearing until 1927.

When movie producer David O. Selznick bought the rights to Gone with the Wind in 1936, thousands of fan letters began to arrive at the studio demanding that Clark Gable play the role of Rhett Butler.

Gable himself wasn't happy about this turn of events. A humble man, he wasn’t sure he could do the part justice. In an interview on The Making of a Legend, Gable said "too many people had read the book and already formed an opinion about who that character (Rhett) really is. If they (the fans) saw one thing out of place, that could've been the end of my career."

Prior to internet message boards, television executives heard from viewers in much more removed ways: through fan mail, reviews, Nielsen ratings, and network focus groups. But as media producers and media viewers have connected through the internet, shows have changed to reflect audience feedback.
"It's true that a huge number of people working in TV read what is posted about their shows on the internet - and that can then impact on the plot or character developments of those shows," says John Ramos, LA-based writer and producer, who recaps show episodes for the website
"The internet allows networks to view an instant fan response and then react to it," says Ramos. "Of course, that doesn't always mean that they will respond. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's creator, Joss Whedon, famously said: 'I'm not giving you what you want - I'm giving you what you need.'"
Supernatural star Jensen Ackles has said, “I do know that the writing team and the producing team pay attention to the blogs, the posts, and all that kind of stuff." Ackles credited the increased fan influence on Supernatural to the rise of social media sites.

Glee executive producer Dante Di Loreto has discussed the Twitter responses he receives from fans. “You want to hear people’s opinions (but) if you try to do everything, you have nothing. You’re trying to filter through what really is important, what people really connected with, what’s working.”

Danny Cohen, controller of the BBC, admits a similarly rabid fan response helped the show Being Human make the leap from pilot to series. But he remains wary of completely breaking down the barrier between fans and program makers. "We put a lot of store in having an interactive relationship with our fans, but that interactivity can't be to the detriment of a program's creativity," he says.

So what place does the fan viewer have in the creative process of television production? Should audiences have more interaction with the entertainment process or does viewer desire for input just muddle the artistic vision?