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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Loss Soap Fans Don't Know They're Experiencing

Color me stunned.

Today, I sat through seven hours of panels that were HIGHLY entertaining and fascinating to me as a writer. Whether or not your average fan would be interested in some of it, I'm not sure.

But something was pointed out not once... not twice... but at least four or five times in three different panels that blew me away. And this isn't a case of people telling fans something to humor them. This is about people in the industry telling academics and other people in the industry, as a way to explain their point.

This will be up in a few weeks on MIT's website, but I had to share it with you guys first.

Did you know that True Blood rewards their "Superfans" (as in, the ones writing fan fiction, etc) with prizes? Or that The Ghost Whisperer producers will seek out those who make Claymation animation of Jennifer Love Hewitt and use their craft to promote their show?

Is this for real? Are there actually industries out there that are REWARDING the Superfan?

For years, I have witnessed the eye-rolling in daytime, the assumption that we're writing for the lowest common denominator, the belief soap fans will swallow anything you throw at them, and any model as a recast, because they don't know any better. Hell, we even have executive producers saying "I don't care what they say on the Internet"

And today, I WATCHED THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF GHOST WHISPERER tell me the exact opposite. That yes, those people who are that hard-core are only ten percent of their audience - but they're an incredibly vocal and persistent ten percent that gain their show good buzz, ergo good ratings. And Gail, an academic next to her, said "The fans like to feel like they're part of the process - that by participating, they're fellow workers in the industry with the rest of us. And by empowering fans, they've seen ratings increases."

OH.

MY.

GOD.

For years, I have been looked down on in writers' rooms for even mentioning fan's opinions. But tonight, I watched prime-time refer to the "Super Fan" as someone they not only cherish, but they REWARD. And they ENCOURAGE. They know not everybody will devote that much time to the a show, but if they find somebody who's extremely talented, they'll pull them into the transmedia they're putting together to cross-promote the show.

WHY IN BLAZING HELL HAS DAYTIME NOT LATCHED ON TO THIS?!

Why are they so insistent that it doesn't matter how many times we see a Who's the Daddy? story, or a baby switch story, or a love triangle, fans will just accept it... and the ones who debate it on the Web are a bunch of loonies? I don't mean to generalize, because not EVERYBODY behind the scenes in daytime thinks that. But a lot of them do. They have a disdain for the fans that's incredibly frustrating.

And here are prime-time showrunners, talking about these fans like they're on the payroll. (They're not, by the way - but the showrunners feel that even though they're not paying these fans, they are spreading the word about their art form, be it fan fic or fine art, and that in and of itself is a form of payment)

These shows see the value in fans like this. And daytime shoves them aside like they're psychotics.

This whole MIT experience has been wonderful so far, but I am truly moved by how much they respect their fans. The way they talked about how "Superfans" are at the center of buzz for low rated shows, and can make all the difference? It's something I always believed (having been one once upon a time), and something I was also beaten down for all ten years I wrote in soaps.

I never use the word "flabbergasted". But there is no other word to use. True Blood sends T-SHIRTS to their favorite fan fic writers. I mean, it's just a T-shirt... but STILL! They ACKNOWLEDGE IT!

I knew soaps were not having their brightest moment these days... but I had no clue just how far off the mark they were. Today was truly eye-opening for me, and I can't wait for tomorrow now.

Unbelievable...

10 comments:

audreyhepburn said...

I don't understand why producers or writers in the soap industry wouldn't respect the "fans". Aren't the "fans" their target audience? Who are they writing their programs for if not for the audience?

rashad khan said...

If I'm not mistaken, Mere Smith, a writer/producer for "Angel," started as a member of the "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" fan community, posting on message boards and such. So, you never know the type of connections that could be made between showrunner(s) and superfan(s).

Can't wait to read the rest of your MIT experience, Toms! :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised about this at all.
I am a HUGE Burn Notice Fan and go on that site all of the time.
Matt Nix(Writer/Creator) goes on the B.N. Message board and Thanks the fans for watching the show.A poster started a thread called "Ask the Powers that be or Matt Nix". It was for anyone who had questions about the show to post there.No one believed anyone would answer the questions,but Matt Nix came on and said he use to "lurk" but decided to post the answers to the questions.
Also the primetime shows have on-line interactive games on their message boards to keep fans interested in the shows during the "off seasons".
I think it would be cool if soaps did that.
Also i'm one of those "superfans" of a few low rated shows. So Much so that When NBC canceled My Own Worst Enemy I E-Mailed Chevrolet to let them know how upset i was about it.They E-mailed me back the next day to tell me they were reviewing the situation.Other fans of that show said on the M.O.W.E message boards that did the same thing and they also got the same response. So it does NOT surprise me that Primetime cares more about the fans then daytime.

bl said...

This is the kind of stuff I've been waiting years for daytime to do. The people in charge of so-called "fringe" shows actually see their viewership or at least treat their viewers with a lot more respect. Maybe it is the "geek" versus "housewife" situation. Some people who work at soaps do respect the audience, sadly most of those seemingly have no power.

Years ago, some Star Trek fans went from viewers to writers on that show as in the old days they would read unsolicited scripts and then interview some people for staff jobs. Due to legal issues, they had to stop doing that.

Soaps have tried things like contests to boost viewership, like the Daytime Dollar thing P&G did. You give your information and you get a code number for every day. If the number appeared that day, you had to let them know and you would get money like they do now on Wheel of Fortune. The thing is while it may be good for market research, and you may get something out of it, it doesn't really enrich a viewing experience.

MarkH said...

Well, between your "focus groups" and this conference....maybe your purpose is become clearer and clearer.

Tom Casiello - bridge between TPTB and Superfans!

Now, how can we get the shows to pay for that role?

Anonymous said...

This is what so many of us who watch the soaps have been asking for years. We all know now about Days firing of John and Marlena. I don't want to get into whether its justified or not but you'd think the Executive producer would understand the word internet. Days of our Lives has a website, couldn't Ken Corday have written a personal letter to the fans on his website explaining the firing. It would have meant so much to the fans. Couldn't he have gone to the new internet soap forums like soap central and discussed the new budget realities, He choose to go to friendly Soap Opera Digest which is the old fashioned way of doing business. The lack of innovation, the insistance on staying the course as it was always done, the refusal to have an interactive dialog with the fans, the reliance on the old non contraversial soap press has almost killed this genre. I do like what All My Children is doing with its Fusion segments and I think soaps should have a mystery storyline where clues are scattered each day in a storyline and the first 100 hundered callers get prize money. Stuff like that might save the industry.

granola girl said...

More than any specific kind of marketing campaign or social networking tool, I think daytime would benefit from the kind of mind behind the scenes that thinks about how to use modern tools to re-engage with the audience. (I have to toss in the caveat that there is a healthy suspicion in some fan communities of these kinds of efforts -- look up the fan reaction to Fanlib last year to get an idea of how poorly they can be received.)

Just to have someone who considered the audience, though, and believed we deserved a quality product would be such a refreshing change. One of the biggest mistakes soaps have made, IMO, was buying into the popular cliched view of what they were supposed to be about. It's so frustrating watching them fade away when, if they were looking for ways to improve, there is so much low-hanging fruit to be gathered.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

If I'm not mistaken both Brian Frons and Bob Guza have gone on record saying that they don't care what the fans think. Which is why GH is so unwatchable these days. But I remember the days when that was not the case, when the producers actually cared about the fans.

Anonymous said...

"For years, I have witnessed the eye-rolling in daytime, the assumption that we're writing for the lowest common denominator, the belief soap fans will swallow anything you throw at them, and any model as a recast, because they don't know any better."

The abysmal opinion the people responsible for daytime have for the people watching daytime is exactly why the genre is failing. Supporting shows that clearly don't respect their viewers only proves them right. Daytime viewers are fed up. We want and deserve better.

Looking forward to more of your "Mythbusters, Soap Style" series.

BTW, you don't list Serial Drama in your Blog List. They are funny and usually on point with their commentary.

http://serialdrama.typepad.com/

Anonymous said...

I saw a link to your blog as I was browsing some sites to get info. on a character & actress that intrigued me in daytime, of which I'm STILL embarassed to admit that I do. But lo & behold! It's confirmed that the soap industry on large part also looks down on soapfans. It's sad really b/c as I've come to know this community a little more, I've found such a diversity of people, backgrounds, qualificiations, intellect, etc. Your blog really was surprising to me as the experience from those panels seemed to you!

And it's coming from MIT, a school known for the student population that are among the highest in intellectuals & likely very successful in their own right! Why NOT listen to something that was brought about by a panel at that school?

It's sad how the soap industry is itself considered so subpar nowadays & almost laughable for their repetitive & bad writing. Even sadder than they're essentially the uncool kids sitting in the corner laughing at others who could help them, while not acknowledging they need all the help they can get. Thanks for posting this info. in your blog. It was truly informative & an eye-opener!