Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Social Media And Its Influence On Television

Connecting Viewers To The Writers' Room

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando and Brandon Harig 

A little over two weeks ago, A.O. Scott, film critic at The New York Times, and David Carr, media and culture columnist at The New York Times, created a web series entitled, “The Sweet Spot.” The show is devoted to in-depth discussions about media and its impact on the world around us. In the premiere episode, which focused on the influence of digital media, Scott stated, “The power of digital culture is certainly enough to destroy books, newspapers and celluloid – every kind of physical object that culture lives on. But I don’t think it threatens [them]. I think it finds new ways of encouraging; that desire to get together, to communicate.” This point drives to the notion that, in this day and age, we live in a digital world where something like the television is now more of a monitor with web-enabled features than a vehicle for watching pre-slotted television programming. The interactive element is less about collectively watching as a widespread audience and, instead, utilizing channels like social media to bridge the gap between the writers and producers of television shows and the fans.

The benchmark, moving forward, for audience and writer interaction is Lost. The showrunners of the multi-season show, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, often addressed common concerns aired on social platforms like Twitter by using one of the show’s characters, Hurley, as a vehicle to speak these communal perceptions. Hurley would often voice the questions of the captive audience within the show and bring them to the other characters’ attention, inherently embedding audience reaction as a plot line. While Lindelof was promoting his latest venture, Prometheus, he discussed in a web interview how audience interaction affected Lost. Lindelof stated, “The two things that sort of came up all the time during Lost were, question No. 1: ‘Are you making it up as you go along?’ and, question No. 2: ‘How much input does the audience have?’” Lindelof goes on to say that the answer people want for No. 1 is something to the effect of, “Yes, there is a definite plan. Don’t worry, you’re in good hands,” and that the answer to No. 2 is something like, “A lot! We listen to you guys all the time!” He acknowledges that while those are the answers people want to hear, those answers completely contradict one another.

After every episode of this hit show there would be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of questions hurtled toward Lindelof and Cuse on Twitter, fan sites and forums. This unique adoption of a new (at that time) social platform to pursue resolution from those producing content, demonstrated how social media, especially Twitter, had the potential to influence shows on a creative basis. Because of its real-time outlet of personal issues or concerns, social media creates and helps promote that interactive conversation mentioned by Scott.

TV Guide published an article a few weeks back entitled “Is Social Media Hurting TV?” wherein many writers, including Castle creator Andrew W. Marlowe, weighed in with their opinions. In the article, Marlowe mentioned that the feedback from the various social media sites “can help us calibrate where we are. If people are making noise about a story line that they feel we’ve neglected, it’s easy to drop a line in and acknowledge it, so that they don’t feel we dropped the thread.” The article also points out that last season’s finale of the hit show The Killing left many fans quite angry over a promised resolution left dangling until the following season; these fans used social media to retaliate by warning other people not to waste their time watching the show and, thus, created a feedback cycle that showrunners could not ignore.

There’s no denying that social media is having a profound impact on television even beyond the items already mentioned. Even something as innocent as the Twitter hashtag for that night’s episode on the bottom right corner of the screen is a clear demonstration of the industry recognizing the impact social media carriers. Whether or not social media is a good thing for television is something that will be debated for many years to come. Many would argue that it is good thing because it provides a forum for interesting discussion while others may think it could push television away from artistic autonomy and into satisfying, perhaps, the lowest denominator airing grievances online. Yet, still, would the latter be all-together bad? If social media truly exists to start conversations with people (if that was its original intent), how is it possibly a bad thing to go the source itself (writers) and ask them questions you may have?

Scott is correct in saying that digital media, social or otherwise could very much destroy physical objects but that it does open up and add to that push for communication between product and consumer. Television just happens to be one example of how social media furthers that interaction; no longer should people look at social media as open for businesses looking for feedback on their electronic products, etc. Instead, the versatility upon which feedback cycles can be created demonstrates the indefinite permanence of social media in business models and the unclear, and perhaps exciting, future this entails.

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