Should TV Show Producers Control Characters Social-Media Voices?

My last post about Mad Men’s fake Peggy Olson character raises an interesting debate. Should the television show’s producers create the online-personas of the characters, or invite the public to assume them?

The first “gold standard” case study for television & web integration was Heroes, which launched character identities online 3 months prior to the show’s 2006 debut.

When HBO produced “Hooking Up,” they managed the online personas of our various characters. I played Professor Klein on video, but the HBO Labs folks managed the Professor Klein personality. Makes sense, since the writer’s had a better vision for Klein than me (and were already on payroll). But did the show fully exploit the collective audience of the cast (primarily online-video stars)?

As television shows recognize the power of social media, the producers may want the writers carrying the character voices. Clearly Dwight Schrute’s blog is the product of some of the junior writers from The Office, and not managed by Rainn Wilson. Or maybe they and their audience would enjoy the organic response of devoted fans?

Here are the options:

  1. The producers take a hands-on role in the show’s personalities, and have writers express the characters’ voice (ala Heroes). That’s not to say that anyone can’t assume a fake persona, but the show would market its own (and squat character names on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) before the show airs.
  2. The network or producers contract with third-parties (like to help them manage this strange new world. As an example of how well an agency can pull this off, see the still-active Sasquatch MySpace page (a promotion for Jack Links). Sasquatch recently kicked karate guy’s ass, but unfortunately it’s available only on this flash site that doesn’t play.
  3. Hands off. Let the show evangelists manage these efforts because they’ll be more devoted, cost a studio less, and probably promote the show with greater agility than one that must sift through attorneys. The producers could give the vocal fans early access to content like shows are already doing with bloggers, but allow a fake character to roam freely in lieu of promoting their own.

Whatya think? Jason Glaspey made a good argument for this earlier this year.

7 Replies to “Should TV Show Producers Control Characters Social-Media Voices?”

  1. The characters should be controlled by the writers. Fans can have some involvement, but ultimately the writers created the characters and deserve the right to continue to develop them.

  2. I agree with both Peter & Marilyn… I’m all for “fan suggestions,” but ultimately, it’s the writers…

    However, that being said, mayhap that someone can create characters right outta the gate who will be subject to the whimsy of the fans and/or viewers. But to let the general public essentially reach across the car and grab the wheel out of the writers’ hands seems a little too presumptuous.

    I wouldn’t let most people into my car at all, let alone allow them to drive it.

  3. I like the fan suggestions, but maybe it will would be wise to leave the writing to the writers?

  4. It’s not even a question as far as I’m concerned. User-generated content is one thing (sooooo 2007!), but you’re talking about fan-fiction which is a whole other kind of ugh! It’s the difference between having evangelists blog about you and having them blog as you. It’s a line I don’t think most brands could feel comfortable crossing.

    Yes it’s sad that Rainn Wilson doesn’t blog as Dwight Schrute. It’s terribly upsetting that his hilarious outpourings actually come from professional comedy writers. Nevertheless, it would be far worse if it was left to Doug Rabidfan from Stalker, CT to represent a beloved fictional character online.

    With reference to your previous post, Peggy Olson’s new business venture is no use to anyone if it can’t demonstrate clear ROI. I can’t see how such a business is scalable, sustainable or anything more than an opportunistic flash in the pan.

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