Is TV paying too much attention to fans?
The Net is bringing writers and fans closer, but there are perils in that proximity.
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Speaking to the website Digital Spy last fall, "Community" series creator Dan Harmon said, "Some people keep blogs ... angrily saying things they don't like about the show, other people praising things that they love. And all of it is something that, six or eight years ago, could have been looked at as an erosion of the television medium. But I think it's a way to keep these characters alive and give them more dimension."Skip to next paragraph
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Another cultish show that benefited from its online community was "Chuck," the NBC nerd-spy comedy that has just concluded a five-year run. Phil Klemmer, one of the writer/producers, thinks that fans helped prolong the show's life. "I want to believe it because I want fans to continue to be passionate about their television, that they have a say in the process. I think the fact that [the fan campaigns] became a news story, that [they] got people talking about Season 3, that's why it was valuable."
But did the fans influence the show in a more direct fashion? No, Mr. Klemmer says. "I don't think there's room for fans' voices in a writers' room. There [are] already so many voices trying to reach a consensus, inviting the whole world into a writers' room is more chaos than it can bear." Klemmer also points out a more pragmatic reason that fans can't influence plot and character to any great extent – the lag between when a show is written and when it airs. Since shows are written months before they run (or as much as a year in the case of "My Little Pony"), by the time fans react to a plot point, the scripts for many future episodes are already in production or completed. But that doesn't mean that fans can't influence shows in more subtle ways over time.
In the case of "My Little Pony," the relationship between an unexpected adult fan base (the show is targeted at 6-to-11-year-old girls) and the show's creative staff has evolved over the two years of the show's run. For example, the gray Pegasus pony mentioned earlier started life in the first episode as a random "background pony" who, due to an accident or mischief on the part of an animator, had crossed eyes. In spite of her short screen time, fans noticed her immediately and dubbed her Derpy Hooves ("derp" being Internet parlance for something stupid, or a stupid facial expression). Her character was quickly fleshed out by the fans and became a mascot of sorts for the brony community.