Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pay No Attention to the Fandom Behind the Curtain

So yesterday, Natalie talked about Supernatural's passionate fandom. Isn't that the dream of every writer/creator/showrunner--to build a base of fans who care so much about the characters that they never miss an episode, dissect every plotpoint, perhaps even set up a blog to discuss it? *g* Now, please understand, I am part of that passionate fandom, very much a fangirl. Yet, as a writer, I cannot imagine the creative pressure such a fanbase might put on you. Is it tempting to second-guess yourself mid-stream if hundreds of people go on line to hate on a character? Do your own ideas get muddled in the bombardment of input?

I think that the Internet has revolutionized the way people watch TV and the interaction between viewers and writers. Ten-fifteen years ago, was there even any mainstream interaction? For most of the shows I watched in high school and college, I could barely name any of the writers. But then mentions cropped up more and more in chat forums, on-line reviews and website interviews; you didn't just hear about Buffy and Angel, people were throwing around the name "Joss" like we know him personally; people didn't just argue whether they thought Rory should be with Jess or Dean (of course Dean! *g*), they would actually say stuff like "what is ASP thinking?" ASP being Amy Sherman-Palladino). Now I realize that with television series, there's often a team of writers and maybe even some freelance scripts, but there's usually one name that you recognize as being in charge of the whole thing and where it's going--Shonda, Sorkin, Team Darlton, Kripke. In rare instances, the writers become stars themselves; a lot of BSG fans would be as excited about going to hear Ronald Moore and David Eick talk as they would Edward James Olmos (esp. if Moore and Eick were to spill where the frack the colonists go from here...)

At the best of times, it's a two-way street. Writers not only reach out through their shows, but directly, personally, to the audience--they blog, they go to events like ComicCon and DragonCon, they do interviews with sites like Television Without Pity. They show their appreciation for the passionate fans and sometimes give us gifts like inside jokes in an episode or shout outs, making the show feel almost like a collaborative process.

Except, it's not. Is it? More importantly, should it be?

Fans start to feel proprietary about "their" show. To the extent where they have very strong feelings about where plotlines should or should not be going. And oh boy do they make their feelings known! (Natalie, you're excused from this rant since yesterday's blog proved you to be more forgiving than hypercritical *g)

Before I sold my first book, I worked with a critique group--I was writing mostly comedies at the time and met each week with four wonderful women. Who happened to have different senses of humor. Two might smile at a joke, one would laugh uproariously, the other would strike the entire paragraph with a red pen because she found it politically incorrect. I learned quickly that if I left in only the stuff that the majority of people smiled at, eliminating anything "risky" that could offend, I watered down my stories. I shudder to think what we'd be left with if showrunners tried to accomodate all the "advice" hurled at them from fans. (Who can write a story with a critique group of hundreds second-guessing them? Besides, not even all the fans agree on what they want to happen or which episode they like/dislikes.) Exacerbating the issue is that TV series unfold one episode at a time, unlike a book you can sit down and read straight through. TV Guide critic Matt Roush has noted before audiences' tendency to pounce on a show they claim to love after one episode they hated; he'll get all kinds of mail demanding to know if he thought the show "jumped the shark." I for one prefer to see how a storyline plays out. Sometimes people react negatively before something even airs!

I never really understood why, whenever a rumor surfaced of a possible love interest for Sam or Dean, a large number of SPN fans came unglued. Okay, wait, I take that back. It's because the dynamic between the brothers is so crucial and we don't want that to take a backseat to something else. Still, we don't want that dynamic to stagnate either, do we? So far, the boys have only been allowed hasty one nighters--a little Impala action just before the girl goes all nuclear angel, falling for a girl in one episode and having to kill her werewolf butt in the same forty seven minute time span. It might be fun to watch Dean try to have an actual relationship. (Can't you just hear the sensitive advice Sammy would try to give? And Dean's subsequent mocking of said advice?) Not that I'm saying they both need girlfriends, but I trust the writers. If writers I like think they can bring a story, I'm willing to wait and see where it's going. (And, if where a show is going is that four episodes later a neurotic surgical resident is still trying to sleep with the ghost of her deceased boyfriend/patient, I change the channel--no matter how much I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan!)

There has always been entertainment reporting, of course, but I think another area where the Internet has changed the television viewing dynamic is in the amount of spoilers we recieve. Some of my fellow fans come unglued after a hint of something that might happen, decrying it as terrible months in advance. (Which in my humble opinion is a lot like my seven year old insisting he doesn't like a food before he's even tried it.) Obviously, this wouldn't be the fans Natalie discussed yesterday, but different, less rational ones. If WE do nothing but bash our show, how can we expect to win over new fans?

Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy good discussion and heated debate and that sometimes I think the angry fandom is right--why, yes, perhaps a certain episode of Heroes was a muddled mess, perhaps the addition of a certain pair on Lost was not only flat but unnecessary. But so far, Kripke & Co. have not committed, IMO, any unforgivable errors, so I'm willing to gripe to friends about an episode I didn't like but hope that, when it's time to sit down and plot the next story arc, those writers ignore me completely and just go about doing what they do best!