By Brian Shea
[Editor’s Note: Brandi DeLancey is out making a difference in the world, so this week we bring you a special guest column by former HoboTrashcan writer Brian Shea.]
I settled in front of the computer on a Saturday morning. My daughter wanted nothing to do with me, and my wife had left for work. I tried to get a few things done, but kept going back to Twitter and Facebook.
This is typical. I have the attention span of a 10-year-old and a Sheen-like need for attention and validation. Since I have been married 15 years and have a 10-year-old in the house, I need to get those things on the Internet.
So between trying to figure out what music to upload the Amazon Cloud thing and wavering on whether I should actually write something useful, I had an interesting back-and-forth on Twitter about the moods of 10-year-old girls with a guy who is part of a group currently saving television comedy through Twitter.
Bill Lawrence (@vdoozer), the creator of Spin City, Scrubs and Cougar Town (which even he admits is a terrible title for a great show) has a daughter the same age as I do, and he regularly engages his fans in conversation, 140 characters at a time. Apparently, he had as much free time on his hands that morning as I did, so we commiserated.
But he also uses the platform to joke about the regularity of the sex he has with his wife, actress Christa Miller (@ChristaBMiller), trades friendly barbs with Community creator Dan Harmon (@DanHarmon) and promotes an upcoming show featuring former Scrubs star John C. McGinley (@RealJohnnymcG).
I joke when I say that Lawrence – who I have a huge man crush on for full disclosure – is saving television comedy through Twitter, but the efforts of show runners like him, Harmon and Mike Schur of Parks and Recreation (@kentremedous) indicate that shows can reach their fiercely loyal and obsessive audiences through Twitter in a way like never before.
Most fans of The Office have probably read about Steve Carell’s departure from the show online or in a magazine or newspaper. But only the people who follow Schur and Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling, of course) who plays Kelly on the show and serves as one of the main writers, got a glimpse into Michael Scott stories which never managed to get past the writer’s room.
Since the fans who follow these sort of conversations are likely the ones to make sure they watch each week, DVR the show in case they get distracted and buy the DVDs to hear the commentary tracks from the stars and creators, I don’t think I overstate the importance of Twitter for those in the comedy game.
The hard-core fans generally have a pretty solid understanding of what it takes to make a successful comedy. We bristle at the longevity of According to Jim and Two and a Half Men because we appreciate the creative genius it takes to pull off the meta humor of Community and the in-season revamp which allowed Cougar Town to avoid a disastrous end.
This group also connects to like-minded people through services such as Twitter. When Lawrence and Miller jab each other through Twitter or Kaling tells us about her favorite Michael Scott moments, we might pass them on to friends who may give the show a try or develop a greater connection because they got a chance to peek behind the curtain.
But we’re also easily distracted. We have a lot of channels and know how to find something on Netflix or OnDemand when networks mess with the regular schedule or we just can’t wait for the next new episode. Some rush to declare something has “jumped the shark” before it has aired even 40 episodes. This group has a very high percentage of people who think that they can do better than the people currently writing, acting and directing.
So when the people in those positions try and connect with the online hordes as equals, it can go a long way. Sure, you have the rare asshole who just wants to puff their chest and toss around insults, but most fans really appreciate this outreach and develop an even stronger affinity for the shows which value this interaction. Lawrence has jumped on this trend by trying to tap into the 9,000,000 people who follow the Scrubs page on Facebook in an effort to generate more interest in Cougar Town even though his show has received a renewal for next season.
That could mean more viewers or better DVD sales or an increased buzz about a series. Since comedies have to continually fight moronic reality shows for space on prime-time schedules, this could mean the difference between survival and cancellation. What’s more genuine – a letter writing campaign to save a show organized by a magazine or fans having questions answered directly by creators and actors online?
Of course, we all may just be wasting time together. I’m okay if it’s nothing more than that because when I read about the insanity of some people in Hollywood, it’s nice knowing that at least some of them like to spend their Saturday mornings goofing off and annoying their kids.
Brian Shea used to write for HoboTrashcan, but like Gladys Knight, he left us Pips behind to write for his own site, Regular Guy Column.