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!

11 comments:

Trish Milburn said...

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?)

Okay, I find that possibility really funny. I can see all kinds of comic possibilities. And I wonder if meeting the right woman might help Dean heal a little.

I think writers need to be aware of what fans are saying, just in case there is some unanimous outcry that they've gone off the deep end, but I think they need to take all those comments with a grain of salt and follow their own vision.

Tanya Michaels said...

And of course, if either of the boys attempted a relationship, it would probably something of a long-distance deal, so it's not like it would have to disrupt every episode. Again, not pushing it as my number one of what I want to see happen in the show, just saying I think there are ways to write scenarios well.

>>I think writers need to be aware of what fans are saying, just in case there is some unanimous outcry that they've gone off the deep end<<

LOL! That's a balanced way of looking at it, and I mostly agree. But 1) sometimes I think that outcry goes up waaaaay too soon, 2) I think that sometimes people with negative opinions are more vocal, which gives more a feeling of "unanimous" than might actually be accurate (perhaps this is colored by an event I once attended where only the haters could get a word in edgewise), and 3)realistically, can it even make an immediate difference?

Aren't actors contracted for a number of episodes and shows shot well in advance? If there is a nearly unanimous sentiment and a writer belatedly realizes he went off the reservation, how soon could he realistically change it? Some botched attempts at this are as bad as or worse than the original mistake.

(Although I laughed when the two Losties from a season or so ago that nobody cared about and most people railed against were finally killed off and Sawyer essentially said, "Who the heck are they?" and surmised that nobody cared about them. If it wasn't exactly a mea culpa from the writers, it was at least entertainingly wry.)

Trish Milburn said...

Tanya, I think you're right that sometimes that outcry comes too soon and how the haters are usually the vocals ones but might actually be a minority of the fandom.

LOL on Nikki and Paulo (are you surprised I remembered their names?) from LOST.

Oh, and I want to know where the frak the colonials are going too. :)

AuthorM said...

I am so with you on this -- how crippling it must be to have to "face the fans" who aren't at all shy about shouting their disapproval...and how hard it is to write, sometimes, knowing you're going to piss some folks off.

But in the end, I trust Supernatural's team to give me the story as it needs to be told, should be told. Maybe because I'm a writer I understand that *they get to pick!* NOT ME. I might think I know their characters enough to say "Dean would never..." but...really...do I?

Of course if a writer's going to have a story line or character do something that seems out of character, it better make sense, and so far for me, that's happened with Supernatural.

Actually, I'm going to be bold and blunt here: I get a little bent out of shape when I read fans saying they know better than the writers what a character would or should do. I get a little pissy myself with the assumption that just because you love something, you own it -- because unless YOU MADE IT, you don't own it.

The writers have an obligation to do their best to tell their story. Hopefully they do it in a way that makes us happy, but it will never make all of us happy. And sometimes they do a less than perfect job. But I'm not going to rain down hate if they step out of what I think the line should be. I'm not a writer there. (Oh, I can dream, though!)

I'm protective of the writer's right to decide what is right.

Right on!

As for Dean having a relationship, he totally needs a hot older woman who works from home, oh, say...writing novels...and after he saves her from something diabolical, she makes him pie and does his laundry, and then tells him to just "come on back around whenever you're able." And then he does, like, every third or fourth episode.

But I'm not telling the writers how to do their job or anything. :)

M

Trish Milburn said...

unless YOU MADE IT, you don't own it.

Totally agree, Author M.

As for Dean having a relationship, he totally needs a hot older woman who works from home, oh, say...writing novels...and after he saves her from something diabolical, she makes him pie and does his laundry, and then tells him to just "come on back around whenever you're able." And then he does, like, every third or fourth episode.

LOL!!! You wouldn't have anyone in mind, would you? :)

AuthorM said...

Trish -- oh, I could come up with someone if I really *had* to...

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Well, Tanya, you've said it so well--and the comments have, too--that I don't really have anything to add!

Except that one element of the "wank" (the negativity and vitriol that can build over something) is that it feeds itself. Like the whole demon/rape issue with Sam and Ruby. Someone postulated that if Sam slept with Ruby, he (they) was (were) raping the woman she was possessing. It caused explosions all over the Internet, even though none of us knew for sure that he HAD slept with her.

In person, the initial postulator would say "hey, you know..." and some people would say "maybe, but..." and others would say "no, because..." and it would be a reasonable discussion and then be done. But online, reasonable debate escalates because of the access of so many people to the topic, because it stretches out beyond real time, and because one heated side ignites heat on the other side, which flames up the first side, and so on.

Don't get me wrong, I am beyond thrilled that we have the opportunity for these kinds of discussions, but this is definitely one of the drawbacks to it.

Oh, yeah, and so far, Kripke and Co. have made me like everything I thought I wouldn't, so they have my full trust for the future. :)

TerriClark said...

Great write up! I don't usually go off the deep end. Typically I'll wait things out, but I must admit that Grey's is driving me batty. Seriouly. Enough already. LOL. And I'm a spoilerphobe. I don't like reading critical details in advance. A tease is okay but anything more takes the fun away for me.

Trish Milburn said...

Terri, I'm a bit of a spoilerphobe too. Once in a blue moon I'll peek (like when Tanya and I attended a Supernatural panel at Dragon*Con last fall), but typically I stay away. I want to be surprised. To me, it's like reading the end of a book before reading the rest of it.

Tanya Michaels said...

>>>To me, it's like reading the end of a book before reading the rest of it.
Yes, thank you! I was thinking of doing a blog on that in the future--polling on whether people were spoiler-hungry or spoiler-phobic. I hate knowing what happens ahead of time! I prefer to take the journey with the characters in real time.

Tanya

Ashley said...

"I might think I know their characters enough to say "Dean would never..." but...really...do I?"

Ahh, isn't that every fans dilemma? I truly believe that I know these guys (I even come up with my own eps. sometimes, ;]), but do we ever truly now them as a character?

As for the negative outcries, I agree with all of the above. People complain way too fast, before they even know how it plays out. Like for me, the heaven vs. hell thing was not my favorite plot added to the show, yet I really like where they are going with it. People need to wait it out before complaining.

Im definitely not a fan of spoilers, although I sometimes have difficulty staying away from them.

"I prefer to take the journey with the characters in real time."

You took the words out of my mouth!