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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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Once it became clear to the showrunners that Derpy was becoming a phenomenon, they played along. "We thought, you know what, maybe we can see this person again," says Mr. Thiessen. "It was a fun little nod to how the fans had reacted to her."

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Derpy became a sort of "Where's Waldo?" character, showing up in background scenes in the second half of the first season and onward. None of her appearances were scripted; they were gags inserted during the process of creating storyboards or animation for the episodes. But in the episode "The Last Roundup," Derpy made her big debut with speaking lines, completing her transition from fan meme to a full-fledged character.

Thiessen cautions that fans shouldn't make too much of Derpy's appearance. "It was a one-time thing because it was a spot where it seemed it would work." He believes that fans spend a lot of time searching for hidden meanings, especially in background characters. "The fans read into things that I never would have [seen] coming."

Relating so closely with the fans can have its perils, as well. Soon after the "The Last Roundup" ran, some fans who claimed to represent the disabled community began to complain that Derpy was a negative stereotype of individuals with mental disabilities. Hasbro responded by editing the episode to change the voice and remove the name, which then led to a huge backlash from the fan community.

Hasbro explained in an official statement: "Some viewers felt that aspects of the episode 'The Last Roundup' did not stay true to the core message of friendship which is the heart and soul of the series. Hasbro Studios decided to make slight audio alterations to this single episode."

In the future, the line between commercial production and fan-created content may blur, especially for a show like "My Little Pony," where the production tools, such as Adobe Flash, are readily available. Thiessen says that he has seen fan-created content that approaches the level of quality seen in the show, and is intrigued by the idea of shows crowdsourcing part of their production. "It's so new that it's kind of unprecedented. So who knows?"

Another enticing idea is that fans might directly fund shows. Buchanan notes that when "Firefly" was canceled, some fans made serious inquiries about continuing it as an audience-funded program, although the logistics didn't pan out. Thiessen has also considered crowdfunding for private projects. "But the budgets for these shows are so high," he says. "I think that you might be able to get a short film, but not a series."

For fans who want more say in the direction that a show takes, paying for it themselves would have one big advantage, Klemmer says. "If fans were putting in the money, they're no different than Warner Bros. I'd take a notes call [where the studio funding a show gives its input on a script] for a fan-funded show. That's the way it works."


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