Tag Archives: Twitter

Sharknado 2 at TCA: Legitimating the Sharknado

Sharknado2In the past few weeks, I’ve been highly skeptical regarding Sharknado 2: The Second One.

In truth, I have no strong emotional investment in Sharknado 2. I watched the first Sharknado a good week or so after it first aired, and so I missed the social media fever and ended up finding the film itself…dull. Sharknado is not a particularly engaging film—even by B-Movie (or C-Movie or whatever we’re calling it) standards—when it is removed from the context of the Twitter commentary generated around it. And yet you wouldn’t know that given how Syfy has fully committed to Sharknado as an ongoing franchise, diving into licensing opportunities and treating this as a huge cultural phenomenon based entirely on social media fever despite a fundamental lack of evidence anyone other than people on Twitter care about Sharknado (which didn’t make it a failure, but does keep it from being a definitive mainstream hit).

It’s specifically reminded me of the release of Snakes on a Plane: the online fan base that emerged around the film convinced New Line to add new footage and push the film for an R rating, but then the film was a huge box office disappointment, and even failed to generate any significant cult following on DVD. It was a cult film in reverse: rather than struggling to find an audience then building a community of people unearthing a forgotten gem, the cult audience latched onto the film quickly but built a set of expectations that the film couldn’t live up to, and that killed that cult audience potential before it could develop into a long-term commodity. I’ve been convinced for weeks that all of the money Syfy is spending to push Sharknado as something more than a slightly more resonant movie-of-the-week has the risk of throwing good money after a bad movie that won’t sustain this level of franchise-building.

And yet when I arrived poolside at the Beverly Hilton hotel for Syfy’s Sharknado 2 screening event as part of NBC Universal’s TCA presentation, I began to feel somewhat differently. The notion of Syfy bringing one of its monster movies to a press tour was absurd before Sharknado, and yet it felt perfectly natural for the critics to be gathering together to laugh their way through Ian Ziering and Tara Reid’s latest encounter with shark-related weather events. Themed as a drive-in theater, complete with popcorn and car-themed couches and drive-in-style speakers, it was not just “Sharknado at Press Tour”: it was Sharknado as a marquee event, one that brings the channel the very legitimacy this type of movie kept them from achieving in the past.

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Better Without The Bear: How The Cancellation Bear Damages Ratings Culture

CancelBearWantedOver the past year or so, I’ve engaged with what I would call a friendly feud with the Cancellation Bear, the—as far as we know—fictional mascot of ratings site TV By The Numbers. In truth, I have no substantive beef with the Bear or its overlords as individuals, but the Bear and I disagree on a number of issues tied to how ratings are reported and enjoy the occasional repartee. I will admit that it’s a silly thing, filled with wildly exaggerated responses—reflected in this Wanted poster—and certainly among the simpler, more juvenile pleasures one can partake in.

However, over the past year, my feud with @TheCancelBear has been tinged with a degree of legitimate concern for the state of the discourse. Originally, the feud emerged from an ambivalent relationship with the site and its approach to ratings reporting. The site’s role in making ratings data both highly visible and highly accessible makes it a valuable tool for teaching about and researching the television industry, but the Cancellation Bear represents the site’s other role: actively inciting fear and uncertainty among fans of series struggling in the ratings in an effort to both drive traffic and—especially in the past two years—crusade against what they see as “fan excuses” that have no traction compared to their sure-fire prognostications. The former has helped make it possible for a “ratings culture” to exist; the latter has made that “ratings culture” unnecessarily combative and unpleasant.

This ambivalence resulted in a rather epic conversation myself and Tyler Dinucci had with a representative of the site last year. Based on a consideration of Last Resort’s ratings, the conversation wasn’t really about the fate of Last Resort (and I’m not just saying that because I was on the side of optimism and the series was canceled after 13 episodes). The conversation was actually about how TV By The Numbers frames its analysis of ratings not simply as good on its own merits, but rather uses the Cancellation Bear as a front behind which it can insult “desperate fans” who would choose to look on the bright side.

More troll-like than ursine, the Cancellation Bear is the site’s Id, framing the site’s largely measured—and unquestionably educated—predictions through the contempt the site’s creators seem to have for many of their readers and fellow reporters/journalists; it’s a frame that risks turning TV By The Numbers into a disruptive force within ratings culture, more interested in loudly performing its distinction than participating in a meaningful discourse central to TV’s future.

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Interview: Hell On Wheels Showrunner John Wirth

JohnWirthWhen veteran writer/producer John Wirth took over as showrunner on AMC’s Hell on Wheels, it was a somewhat strangely public process. John Shiban, the showrunner for the show’s first two seasons, backed out unexpectedly after the series was renewed, leading AMC to make the series’ pickup contingent on finding a new showrunner. With series creators Joe and Tony Gayton departing as well, Wirth stepped into a series with established characters, existing storylines, and more or less complete creative freedom to take the show in whatever direction he desired.

That direction has made the show a strange sort of success story for AMC, shuffled off to the prestige-less refuge of Saturday nights where it’s been quietly outperforming expectations (see Kate Aurthur’s report at Buzzfeed for more). It concludes its third season tonight at 9/8c on AMC with the expectation that it has earned a fourth season, and having successfully transitioned from a slightly underperforming prestige AMC drama to a successful translation of their film western audience into original programming on a normally dead night.

At July’s TCA Press Tour before the season premiered, I had a chance to talk to Wirth about his perspective on showrunning, how he came to be involved with Hell on Wheels, his planned use of social media (which I’ll be reflecting on soon elsewhere), and how—despite the strange circumstances—Hell On Wheels marks a meaningful period in his career as a showrunner-for-hire.

This is far from your first time serving as showrunner on a series; in fact, the Internet suggests you were part of a “Showrunner Training Program” at some point? How do you train someone to be a showrunner?

JW: I put together a committee of writer-producer-showrunner types. We did a small book called A Television Writers’ Handbook. And it was the first time in the history of the Writers’ Guild that anybody had codified what it is to work on a TV show and what the various positions are and what’s expected of you when you’re in those positions. And we had a big chapter on showrunners, and how to behave as a showrunner, and so forth.

Out of that, Jeff Melvoin—who I had asked to be a part of that committee—had the idea: is this something we could teach? And I didn’t believe that it was, and he believed that it was. He said “I’m going to try to put together this program, will you work on it with me? “And I said sure, but I don’t want to be in charge—this little book we did took five years, and I thought it would take a couple months.

We put together the Showrunner Training Program, which has been enormously successful. I still don’t believe you can teach someone to be a showrunner, but you can expose them to the things they’re going to experience when they are showrunners. That’s really the goal of that program, to let people know what it is they’re going to be experiencing when they get that job.

What’s that job like?

The job itself is ridiculous. You’re the hardest working man or woman in show business – the hours are incredible, you have to be a writer/producer and manager, you have to manage up down and sideways, you have to be a priest, you have to be a magician, you have to be a wife – it’s nutty.

So why you do you think AMC came to you to fill that job on Hell on Wheels?

JW: I think they got to the Ws in their rolodex and were like “Damnit!” Who’s after this guy? We’d better like him. Continue reading

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A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones, Social Media, and the Uncertain Quest for Cultural Capital

GameOfThronesTitle2

A Box of Influence: Game of Thrones and Cultural Capital

March 22nd, 2013

Two years ago, HBO shipped a collection of critics, celebrities, and cultural observers a box designed to introduce them to the world of Westeros. The box, which I wrote about in detail here, served as a sensory journey into what was at that point a new televisual universe, one HBO hoped would become a centerpiece of their brand identity. By sending the box out to “opinion leaders,” the hope was that they would share their experiences with the intricately crafted artifact with their readers or followers, setting the tone for a series sold in part on its lavish production design and attention to detail.

KendrickBoxThis month, HBO shipped a collection of celebrities a box designed to initiate them into the world of Westeros. However, the Westeros of 2013 is different than the Westeros of 2011. If the “Scent Box” of 2011 was designed as an artifact of the fictional Westeros, the various personalized “Influencer” boxes being sent to people like Mindy Kaling, Anna Kendrick, Bruno Mars, Jaime King, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien are artifacts of the pop cultural Westeros. If the 2011 campaign was designed to establish the authenticity of Game of Thrones’ fictional world, the 2013 campaign seeks to reaffirm Game of Thrones’ status as a cultural phenomenon as its third season premiere beckons.

While the first campaign was largely heralded as a sign of HBO’s commitment to the series’ mythology and helped associate the show with quality discourses valuable to a premium cable channel, the latter campaign has been met with some criticism (although not by the celebrities themselves, most of whom have not been shy about performing their fannish [and NSFW] response to the delivery). To paraphrase sections of my Twitter feed in the past few weeks, HBO is effectively spending thousands of dollars to send rich celebrities personalized gifts to promote a show that is already wildly successful and likely to run for many seasons, all while smaller shows like Enlightened are canceled due to a lack of viewers (and, tied to this concern, a lack of promotional support). In addition, picking up on a discourse that was not uncommon during the initial campaign, some fans simply wonder why “celebrity” fandom is more valued than their own: one fan at WinterIsComing.net wrote “This is really unfair. Why do celebs get this sent to them? We’re the fans. The real fans.”

InfluencerInsideHowever, the “Influencer Box” reflects broader shifts in how television success is measured: even since 2011, the perceived value of Twitter and other forms of social media has dramatically increased, even if the industry as a whole remains uncertain as to how to monetize that value. HBO’s decision to turn Game of Thrones loose into the world of celebrity self-disclosure reflects their belief that the best strategy to draw new subscribers is not just to promote the show itself (which they continue to do), but rather the idea of the show as a social media event. While the Influencer Box features the first two seasons on Blu-Ray, ostensibly encouraging those who receive or read about the box to watch the series, it also includes “exclusive extras which the owner can use on their social media sites to show off their fandom,” which HBO is now extending out to the “real fans” through a collection of site-specific giveaways on sites like WinterIsComing.net or Slashfilm. While reminding viewers about the third season premiere is the stated goal of the box— as demonstrated by the “scroll” that accompanies the box urging celebrities to promote the March 31st return date—the larger goal is informing the world that Game of Thrones is bigger than just a television show.

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Now What?: Advance Screeners in the Digital Age

Advance Screeners in the Digital Age

March 31st, 2011

It is hardly a secret that television critics often receive advance screeners of popular television programs: after all, the role of the traditional critic has been to produce pre-air reviews of programs, which would necessitate seeing the program in question before publication.

However, we live in an era where the awareness of screeners is cultivated through more than simple logic: through Twitter, engaged users know when networks are sending out particular programs, as journalists/critics/bloggers often tweet when a screener package arrives (sometimes even taking pictures if the packaging is particularly novel). It’s like a wave if you’re following enough of these professionals, as various unboxing tweets fill our feeds.

In the interest of full disclosure, although this won’t be a surprise to those who follow me on Twitter, I’ve had my fair share of screeners this year; currently, for example, I have received considerable chunks of new series from Showtime and HBO, including United States of Tara and Game of Thrones. I point this out not to brag, although that seems like an inevitable byproduct of this discussion. Rather, I share in order to express my central dilemma, which is quite simple:

What, precisely, am I supposed to do with them?

And I figured I would turn the question over to you.

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Top Chef All Stars – “Feeding Fallon”

“Feeding Fallon”

February 9th, 2011

I actually have no idea if I’ve blogged about Top Chef All Stars yet, but it’s been pretty great, no? The show has bounced back from its weakest season to return to being incredibly enjoyable, introducing interesting challenges and avoiding mediocrity at nearly every turn. Even moments that I thought would negatively impact the series (like Jennifer being sent home so early) proved to be mere bumps in the road, as other contestants emerged to play their part in bringing the season together. The food has been pretty uniformly impressive, and when it hasn’t been those people have faced the music in the bottom. Outside of the lengthy period where Jamie remained in the competition despite her failures of execution, the show has just been about great chefs cooking in great challenges, which is what the show is all about.

Generally, I’ve been content to just enjoy the season on its own merits, but I want to focus on tonight’s episode because I have a nicely balanced pair of points I want to make about it. The first is an intellectual question about spoiler culture and Jimmy Fallon’s presence in the episode; the other, meanwhile, is just outright giddiness at one of the contestants in particular.

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“It’s Not Fantasy, it’s @HBO”: Going Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones

“It’s Not Fantasy, it’s @HBO”: Game of Thrones

December 5th, 2010

Tonight is the night that most people will be writing about Boardwalk Empire, which ends its first season on HBO, and The Walking Dead, which ends its first season on AMC.

In the former case, I’m actually incapable of writing about it: after watching the premiere, I have fallen entirely behind – my Mondays have been busy from the time the school year started, and as a result my Sunday evenings have been spent with an easy-going hour of The Amazing Race and work for the following morning. This also meant skipping Dexter, for what it’s worth – Sundays just haven’t been a space where I was able to focus on television.

And yet I find myself with some time this evening, which presents a choice: I could catch up on last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, since I am only an episode behind on the zombie series, but to be honest with you I don’t particularly care. This is not to say that I won’t watch tonight’s finale eventually, but with the show not returning for ten months, and with only six episodes, the accumulated interest is just woefully unsubstantial.

However, the night’s real event television took place before Boardwalk Empire, when HBO revealed a 10-minute glimpse into the production of Game of Thrones, their new fantasy series which is now officially debuting in April. Perhaps it is just that I’ve spent my weekend researching and writing about the HBO brand, or that I’ve been tempering my expectations for the series amidst the seemingly endless wait for an official date for the series’ arrival, but I think I’m officially excited about the show for the first time. I’ve always anticipated seeing what Weiss/Benioff would be doing with this story, and hearing the various casting announcements (most notably through the fantastic Winter is Coming) made the series a constant presence in my online existence, but something about a concrete date and our first substantial look at the world of Game of Thrones has turned anticipation…well, into hype.

And so, some thoughts on what we’ve seen to date, the way in which we’re seeing it, how HBO intends to sell the series, and how I expect to cover it.

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