Hart Hanson has a lot of reasons to be grateful for Bones fans. They helped turn the show he created into an indisputable, if unassuming, hit: it was FOX’s number one scripted series for the 2010/11 season, and its spinoff, The Finder has been picked up for next season. But there’s also a downside to success, especially on social media sites where some of the most passionate fans can be less than sociable.
Hanson joined the microblogging site Twitter after encouragement from Bones guest star Stephen Fry, as well as from a desire to be on the vanguard of “how the world was going to digest content in the future,” he said in a recent interview conducted before the news that both The Finder and Bones were picked up for next season.
Did he find that vanguard? “Not at all. My overwhelming impression of Twitter became it’s like being shouted at all the time by about 32,000 people.”
After getting into 140-character battles with fans — and finding himself despairing of humanity — Hanson stopped looking at his replies page, reading only the tweets of the 375 or so people he chooses to follow. “I just don’t look at it at all anymore because it was crazy-ass people shouting at me.”
He doesn’t shy away from expressing his annoyance either on Twitter or in an interview. “The trait I came up against that I could not stand, that I could not deal with in a humorous way, was the number of people out there who believe that what they feel is what everyone feels. They’re humorless, slightly dim, maybe a little insane, and they don’t understand that there are alternate views of the universe.”
He did the math, calculating the tiny percentage of a percentage of Bones viewers who follow him on Twitter. And of those followers, only a fraction of a percent actually respond to him. “It becomes a very, very small portion of the viewers and they stop being representative of the fans, both statistically — under a certain size a sample is not valid — and even emotionally.”
“These people do not represent the average fan. They might in some cases represent the superfan, or someone who has invested more in Bones than the average viewer does,” he posited, before adding: “Or they’re nuts.”
“I know many other showrunners on Twitter who have had the same or worse experiences than I have. In essence you are exposing yourself to a certain kind of stalker. Where you would say you’re listening to the fans — no, you’re listening to your stalkers.”
He found the fawning fans difficult to take, too, shaking off claims of his genius or comparisons to Shakespeare. “I’d do anything to have much less attention. That’s why I became a writer instead of an actor.”
Despite the negative experiences, Hanson remains an active Twitter user. “I am very interested in social networking and what it means, and I’m interested in other people’s opinions,” he explained, saying he’ll follow any TV writer he can find, from creators to critics.
Now that he’s filtered out some of the noise, he finds Twitter has become a clearinghouse of interesting links and, sadly, an obituary channel. For example, he discovered one of his favourite singer/songwriters, John Bottomley, died — news he suspects wouldn’t have reached him for months otherwise.
“Let’s call it an illusion of knowing what’s going on that I like,” he added, saying he checks in on Twitter five or six times a day.
“And let’s say there’s a couple hundred people who holler at me on Twitter. I have thousands and thousands who might be interested in photos from the set, or musings on what happened this day on Bones, or what it’s like to be a TV writer in LA, or what it’s like to be a Canadian living in LA. That’s generally what I tweet about for that quiet audience of 32,000 who are interested for whatever reason in what I have to say about what my day-to-day life is like.”
If The Finder is a success he may find his quiet audience numbers burgeoning even further — and find himself being hollered at by two shows’ fanbases. But that seems a better alternative than having no shows at all. That was a remote possibility in the weeks leading up to the network upfronts, when the renewals of seemingly sure-thing Bones and FOX-mate House were held up by licensing issues.