Tag Archives: FOE4

When Worlds Converge: Futures of Entertainment at Cultural Learnings

One of the reasons I write about television is in order to engage with a larger community of both television viewers and television critics. While there is no doubt a personal desire to consider the medium more carefully nearly every day, it’s also about contributing to a broader critical discourse on television that extends from traditional critics to television bloggers to message board commenters.

However, one of the things that has been missing within my academic experience (which is only rarely a topic of discussion on the blog, as regular readers will know) is that same sense of community when it comes to analyzing television. Working within an English department as an island of television studies has made me more defensive than I’d like to admit, and while being forced to justify my projects has helped shape my perspectives on television it has also led to a lack of considerable outside input.

So, this weekend was one of those moments where my current academic work was put on hold as I took advantage of the wonders of Twitter to participate from afar in discussions occurring during Futures of Entertainment 4, a conference hosted by MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium and designed to engage scholars and industry figures in discussions about, well, the future of entertainment. And, as lame as it sounds, it really did feel like a convergence of my academic interest in television and my work here at Cultural Learnings. While the discussions used theoretical ideas that are uncommon in television criticism, the conversation always went beyond theory to application, with panel members including representatives from the BBC and from companies that actually produce the types of content being discussed.

The resulting conversationswere  different from what I’m used to but not entirely foreign: there was a lengthy discussion about Joss Whedon’s future in television considering Dollhouse’s cancellation, and while the discussion jettisoned subjective analysis of the series it nonetheless considered the potential of online business models and the changing metrics networks use to determine a series’ fate, the same types of things that critics and bloggers alike have been discussing since the show was axed. It was one of many conversations that made me both appreciative of the chance to contribute to the amazing discussion between these top academic/industry minds in Cambridge and extremely proud to be part of a similar sort of community through my regular reviews and analysis here at Cultural Learnings each day.

As a result, I wanted to be able to reflect the convergence of sorts between the two worlds, so I put together a series of “FOE4 Musings” that focus on shows/situations I cover here on the blog from some new perspectives inspired by the crosstalk on Twitter during the conference.

Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation analyzed the failure of NBC, in the wake of the “Save Chuck” campaign, to leverage this fan support in a substantial fashion, inspired by a distinction made between management and facilitation by Henry Jenkins.

Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative analyzed the degree to which Glee’s storytelling, along with its business strategy, refers to the successful formula of American Idol, inspired by a tweet from Ivan Askwith.

AMC’s The Prisoner and Transmedia Participation analyzed the potential for transmedia storytelling within AMC’s remake, and the ways the show’s schedule/writing worked against audience expectations, inspired by the panel on Transmedia play.

These articles are also all collected on the new “Articles” page, where readers old and new can visit (or revisit) some of the broad pieces of analysis that I’ve written over the past three years here at Cultural Learnings.

I don’t pretend that any of these pieces from this weekend are comprehensive, but they allowed me to consider some subjects common to the blog in a new light, and I can only hope that they stimulate 1/1000th of the discussion that some of the tweets from this weekend did. Any comments, from both old and new readers alike, are more than welcome.

I want to thank everyone who took part in the conversation at FOE4 for helping create a really fantastic experience that offered me far more inspiration than could be put into three posts; I can only hope that I’ll be able to attend FOE5 in person, and be able to offer more considerable insight into these fascinating discussions.

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FOE4 Musings: AMC’s The Prisoner and Transmedia Participation

AMC’s The Prisoner and Transmedia Paticipation

November 21st, 2009

In this week’s review of AMC’s remake of The Prisoner, I wrote at length about what I saw as a failure of the show’s narrative: in my eyes, the series struggled due to a lack of information that resulted in no emotional connection with the characters and, as a result, no real connection to the story. I resisted the argument that the series’ sense of mystery, and its complex thematic conclusion, justify this structure, and friend of the blog David J. Loehr brought up a great example to support my point:

It makes me think of Hitchcock’s example of the “bomb under the table” idea, that you can show ten minutes of two men having the most boring lunchtime conversation ever and BOOM, their table blows up. That’s a cheap thrill at the end of ten boring minutes. Or you could show the bomb under the table, then continue the exact same scene, boring conversation and all, except now it’s fraught with tension as you wait for the bomb to go off. The sixth episode is the bomb, at least in this example if not in modern lingo.

However, based on conversations I had with some of the always great posters at NeoGAF and today’s Futures of Entertainment 4 panel on Producing Transmedia Experiences: Participation and Play, I’m starting to understand why some have argued that the series was actually a success. It seems that those who enjoyed the miniseries are those who so inherently bought into the sense of mystery and intrigue (inspired both by the density of this miniseries and the decades of debate over the meaning of the original series) to the point where they began to see narrative gaps as clues, and inconsistencies as paradoxes meant to be seen as part of the broader narrative.

I would argue this was not by design, and that these viewers are taking poor execution and turning it into a game that the writers and directors didn’t actually create. They have effectively “gamed” the miniseries, taking a trend that is popular within serial dramas like Lost and applying it regardless of whether it is actually part of an intended transmedia experience.

It’s a behaviour that indicates television has become an environment of “game” (by providing a clear sense of how audience can participate in the construction of narrative) or be “gamed,” and that AMC missed an opportunity to improve the response and increase the impact of the miniseries by not actively pursuing this avenue.

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FOE4 Musings: FOX’s Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative

Glee and the Limitations of Reality Competition Narrative

November 21st, 2009

Following along with this weekend’s Futures of Entertainment 4 Conference at MIT (through the Twitter Hashtag #foe4) has been a really unique experience in many ways, engaging with an academic community I’ve only seen from afar in the past, but there are times when the topics being discussed feel almost too familiar.

By nature of the number of reviews I write about particular shows, I usually end up attacking them from nearly every conceivable angle, but there’s something about Glee that seems to inspire more angles than seem physically possible. The show has created a lot of controversy with its struggle to find a clear sense of its identity from the narratological point of view, which is the angle we television critics have been considering most carefully, but as discussed both yesterday (in the context of its use of music/iTunes to create transmedia engagement) and today (in its engagement with culture) during the conference its brand strategy has never had the same identity crisis.

I want to pick up on something that Ivan Askwith said during the discussion of the series’ engagement with culture, as he argued the following:

I am going to investigate this further, as it implicitly argues that the series’ narrative struggles are the result of an attempt to engage with a manufactured narrative structure (that will in the Spring be the show’s lead-in), a fact which is both understandable (network synergy and business logic) and complicated by the needs of serialized drama over reality programming from a narrative point of view.

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FOE4 Musings: Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation

Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation

November 20th, 2009

Currently ongoing at MIT, the Futures of Entertainment 4 Conference is a gathering of academics, industry leaders, and interested parties for a discussion of how “the creation of transmedia storyworlds, understanding how to appeal to migratory audiences, and the production of digital extensions for traditional materials are becoming the bread and butter of working in the media.” And while I’m not at the conference myself, through the joys of the #FoE4 Hashtag on Twitter and some extensive liveblogging it’s as if I am, which is a wonderful feeling for an academic who is isolated from these types of major conferences by geography and funding both.

However, as regular readers of Cultural Learnings know, I rarely engage in wholly academic discussions in this setting, and in terms of this conference I’m particularly interested in the convergence between the discussions being held at the conference and my own experience looking at both television and the culture that surrounds it. In particular, this morning’s panel (moderated by friend of the blog Jason Mittell) on transmedia storytelling from the perspective of the producers (both in terms of third party companies who work on tie-in websites, etc., and those who are in charge of organizing those efforts) raised an important question that perhaps Henry Jenkins put best in a tweet:

There’s obviously an ideological difference between the two terms, one designed to control and the other designed to empower, and in an example like NBC’s Chuck (which, as announced yesterday, is returning in January) we can use these terms to describe the challenge facing the show’s relaunch.. The successful fan campaign which “saved” the show and earned it a third season was facilitated indirectly, as fans created their own transmedia experience by taking product placement and turning it into their own mini-marketing campaign.

And, as a result, NBC is in a position where Fan Facilitation and Fan Management start to blur, as the existence of an existing fan base more often inspires networks to attempt to control and manipulate that group rather than understanding the intelligence implied in their earlier behaviour and using that to their advantage, risking turning them away and squandering the potential they offer.

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