The little blue birdie has fluttered into the writers room on
These shows are just a sample of the sorts of experimentation being done as network executives and producers navigate social media (and interactivity) to attract viewers to the living room TV and keep them engaged. About one-third of all prime-time shows employ some Twitter element — from
In a nutshell: @Twitter is #trendingwithTV more than ever b4.
"What has popped up in the last five years is TV viewers have a connection to show runners and actors that is more immediate and transparent," said Geoffrey Long, who explores transmedia experiences for USC's Annenberg Innovation Lab. "There's an active dialogue that is no longer heavily one-sided. We're still in the early stages of how that changes things."
The social network has carefully cultivated the Twitter-TV association. The San Francisco company forged a partnership with Nielsen to produce ratings based on the audience for TV-related conversations. It struck partnerships with major networks, including
"It's past experimental for many agencies. It's proven to drive engagement at scale," said Mike Margolin, senior vice president of audience strategy for Santa Monica-based RPA, Honda's ad agency.
Twitter's head of television, Fred Graver, said 85% of the network shows that premiered last fall were accompanied by live tweeting, and 30% to 40% of prime-time shows continue to maintain a presence on the social network. Hashtags, those short phrases that follow a pound sign, are plastered on corners of the TV screen, not-so-subtly guiding viewers on their episodic tweeting adventure.
Television network executives have sought to reach viewers on a variety of social media platforms, from Facebook to visually oriented sites such as
Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel on the long-running
"Jared and Jensen started going to fan conventions early on. It fed this live interaction with the fans," said Collins, who has amassed a following of 1.3 million people on Twitter. "When I came on, I started a Twitter account. That sort of moved that live interaction into the virtual environment."
And it's not just the stars — the creative minds behind TV's most popular shows have awoken from their deep slumber to the sound of the chirping. Some writers rooms have adopted Twitter accounts to engage with viewers, cognizant of its pervasiveness and how it applies to 21st century storytelling.
"It's become an essential part of our storytelling and our shows," said Alex Kurtzman, executive producer of Fox's supernatural drama "Sleepy Hollow." "There [once was] a distinction between that thing that used to be off to the side, and other people handled, and the way we're actually breaking stories in the room for the episodes that air on television. It's all part of the same process now."
The show's writers take turns tweeting during each broadcast, opening the door to the writers room and giving viewers insights into story choices and character motivation. The writers pay attention to fan discussions — and in some cases, have introduced plot elements in response to comments about the show, a modern retelling of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
Crane's appearance in skinny jeans was a signal to the viewers that the writers were paying attention to their comments. "We all felt very strongly that it's like asking Superman to take off his cape. Then he's not Superman," Kurtzman said. "But there were so many people online who had so much to say about his clothes, we sat down in the writers room and tried to come up with creative ways to address those concerns."
The backlash on Twitter and on other online platforms was part of what prompted
"They said to write Maya back into the show," King recalled. "Although we couldn't do that for various reasons, we did let them know we heard them." A subsequent episode features a scene where a stack of those pens made a cameo.
Long foresees a day when the format of the medium — 140 or fewer characters — influences how beats of a story are told.
"I think what we're going to see more and more of, are TV writers thinking and writing in ways that lend themselves to quotability and spreadability?" he said.
The evolution to that has already begun.
"Mob City" creator Frank Darabont adapted the script for the
But not everyone is sold on drinking from the digital water cooler.
Scott Gimple, show runner and executive producer of
"You'll see a tweet that's like, 'Ugh! This show is so boring,' and filtering in right after it is one that's like 'That scene had me on the edge of my seat!'" Gimple said. "It's a very popular show and people have all sorts of opinions, and their opinions are valid, and their opinions are theirs.... But you can't go in trying to serve that one guy who said that or this girl that said this. That's a slippery slope."
Reality shows, particularly competitions such as
In a twist, the medium that has become a tool for comedians to experiment with jokes has, in some ways, proved to be a challenge when it comes to being a tool for TV comedies. The format still allows for pre-show buildup in the form of sharing memes or teasers, but when it comes to live-tweeting, things get tricky.
"It's a weird thing because you don't want to miss a joke," said
The Syfy network found itself caught up in the conversational tsunami that is Twitter last summer with the release of the made-for-TV disaster movie "Sharknado." The New York Daily News published an image from the film, sparking a social media phenomenon that, at one point, produced more than 5,000 tweets per minute. Health and Human Services Secretary
The network tried tro harness that power with its recently concluded "Opposite Worlds," which incorporated social media into its premise. It factored into the selection of the show's host, Luke Tipple, who has more than 136,000 followers on Twitter.
Participation on the social media platform was a central element of the show, in which two teams shared a house divided into different environments — one which boasted all the trappings of contemporary civilization, while the other was set in the Stone Age — and competed for a shot at a $100,000 grand prize.
Syfy hired Georgetown University Yahoo Fellow in Residence Kalev H. Leetaru to analyze Twitter conversations in real time to produce a leader board that dynamically ranked the contestants, based on their popularity. It was a sophisticated task that involved recognizing tweets that contained any of 100 hashtags and extracted the meaning of viewer comments that may contain abbreviations, slang and misspellings.
In a page borrowed from
"The object of the exercise [was] to create urgent, appointment viewing," Syfy President Dave Howe said of the network's first reality show. "It becomes that much more urgent, because, in terms of the social media and the storytelling, you have to be in on it at the time it's happening, otherwise you're really out of touch with what's been going on."