At a recent conference on branding called ‘The Next Big Idea: The Future of Branded Entertainment’, it was announced that Showtime and a company called FanLib are going to have a first ever ‘Official Fan Episode’ of the Showtime show ‘The L Word’
Over the course of the coming season, ‘L Word’ fans will have the chance to write multiple short scenes (with some minimal guidance from one of the show’s writers). Then ‘L Word’ fans will vote on which scenes their peers have written that they like the best and by the end of the show’s season they will have produced a script. The pro writer will polish the script and it will be available as an eZine and some recognition will be given to fans whose scenes are voted into the script (they’ll get some prizes). Showtime has the option to possibly shoot the script if they feel like it and think it’s any good (or will get them boffo ratings).
On balance I don’t think this is a good thing…
Some of this reminds me of the stunts NBC Uni, Wolf Films and the LOCI writing staff have pulled with the Nicole Warren character (played by VDO’s friend and a very talented actress, Olivia D’Abo). Warren was used to great effect in her first appearance on LOCI as Goren’s nemesis, but frankly after that first confrontation, the character was brought back too early and not really given anything to do that was particularly compelling. This has continued in every subsequent appearance of Warren and frankly it’s becoming embarassing and painful to watch.
I understand that part of the rationale to keeping Nicole Warren around is because VDO and D’Abo like acting together. But the decisions on *when* to reintroduce her character and *what* she was supposed to accomplish are really nothing more than pandering to ‘fangurl’ enthusiasm which hurts the overall quality of the writing of the show.
Balcer and his writing staff should have waited to bring Warren back after they had given them sufficient time to come up with a really good reason for her return, but they rushed ahead because of the Net buzz. They also have played the game with the fans of ‘should the Nicole Warren character live or die’ and let the fans vote (of course the fans and the ‘fangurls’ don’t have the heart to kill her off, so when the decision is left up to them, Nicole will keep reappearing at all the wrong times, for all the wrong reasons, with no particularly compelling let alone interesting reason for her to make Goren’s investigative life ‘difficult’ for the course of her appearances).
I have no problems with fan fiction, where fans make up their own alternate scenarios for established characters and write their own stories, largely for their own amusement. I’ve written a few myself, gotten them published online, even won awards for them. But frankly, I wouldn’t want my vision of LOCI or the Goren character superimposed over that of the show’s creators and writers. I’m the amateur, they’re the pros and I think they have a much better feel for how to entertain and surprise all the fans (myself included). Besides, while writing TV episodes must be hard, it’s even harder to write passable fan fiction that amuses even one person besides it’s author. If I thought I had more than a dozen fans of my own attempts at writing ‘stories’ using LOCI characters, I’d be posting fan fic here, not the stuff I write about these days.
With Nicole Warren, LOCI has taken baby steps into this ‘new interactive media’ arena, trying to ‘give fans what they [think they] want’, substituting fan judgment for their own good writing, their own willingness to brainstorm ideas for the show, for character arcs, etc. I suppose you get better ratings in the short term for episodes where fan input is allowed to prevail.
But what about the long term viability of the show. Will Warren seem so appealing 10 years from now in syndicated episodes shown for the umpteenth time? Or will it seem like tired gimmickry that doesn’t stand the test of time when it’s that far back in the audience’s rearview mirror? Will people keep paying (with money or their attention) or will they wonder ‘why did I think that was any good’?
And what happens when ratings for LOCI start to slip (which given the history of TV series, will happen someday, the fabled ‘jump the shark’ moment almost every TV series goes through). Will the show’s writers pander to the segment of ‘fangurls’ who want to make Goren and Eames into romantic partners as well as investigative partners (so called ‘shipping’ or the pairing off of two characters, in the world of fan fiction)? I don’t want to watch that happen on LOCI but what if majority fan vote gets substituted for minority or staff opinion? Wouldn’t it be better to kill off the show before it descends into mediocrity (or worse)?
This ‘The L Word’ collaboration to me feels more doomed to fail than succeed in essence because it’s so hard to write consistently good TV episodes when experienced writers do so (and they do so on a really tight schedule and with the threat of not getting paid if they fail). Turn loose the untrained ‘fangurls’ and lord only knows what weird direction ‘The L Word’ will go into, not to mention what kind of ‘fangurl’ catfighting there will be. I doubt Showtime will get anything out of it other than a few laughs and some worries about the sanity of some of their most dedicated viewers.
So my advice to TPTB at ‘LOCI’ is watch and learn from this ‘Official Fan Episode’ experiment and should you choose to seek fan input, have each of your staff writers produce a script or treatment and let your LOCI fans vote on which of the *pros* on your staff has written our ‘Official LOCI Fan Episode’, and *then* shoot that.
Better to let us maybe have a contest to give a pro a one-liner or two for Goren or Eames (or Logan or Barek or Deakins or Carver…you get the idea). That would be a reasonable expectation of us. After all it’s our job to watch, and we don’t want to get you all in trouble with the WGA (the Writers Guild of America, the screenwriter’s union). We know how hard it is for writers to get paying gigs these days, especially talented experienced ones.