Does Eric Millegan's fate in the Bones finale still have you fuming? Can't stop talking about Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, and Anne Dudek's powerful performances in the House season ender? Pondering Swingtown, looking forward to Sanctuary, and can't wait for the boys of Entourage to return?
Like many fans, maybe you're expressing those thoughts online… and maybe the people behind those shows are reading. During various sessions at the Banff World Television Festival, TV writers, directors and producers commented on their reaction to that kind of audience reaction.
Martin Wood, currently executive producing and directing the upcoming science fiction show Sanctuary, reflected on the number of fansites and social networks his previous series, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, spawned. "You learn that the majority of your audience is not responding on those things," he warned in our interview. "So a relatively small number of people are being very loud about what they want. If you respond to it the way you think you should, it's not necessarily the best thing for the show."
House writer David Hoselton echoed those comments during his festival session on the craft of writing in response to an audience member question. "(House creator) David Shore doesn't care about what people say on the Internet. He doesn't want to hear it; he doesn't want to know about it. He doesn't want to pander to that audience, whatever it is. The idea is that out of an audience of 20 million, I don't know what that represents, half a million or something like that? He wants nothing to do with it."
However, Hoselton confessed he has to browse forum comments the day after his own episodes air, sifting through the "three pages on Chase's pants" to find the insightful ones… until he has to back away when they turn into online fights. Still, "there are these incredibly intelligent, observant people who catch every mistake you could possibly make," he laughed.
Creator Doug Ellin of Entourage, on the other hand, believes that the online commenters who complain about his show's unbelievability simply aren't familiar with the craziness of Hollywood. "People who know the business think it's realistic," he claimed during his Master Class.
Searching for fan reaction online isn't necessarily an ego boost. In fact, it can often be an ego deflater. But Alan Poul, executive producer and director of Swingtown and Six Feet Under, sees the benefit to even negative reactions.
One storyline that meant the most to him was in the "notorious" episode of Six Feet Under, "That's My Dog," which saw David carjacked and held hostage – and the audience polarized. While Poul is very proud of it, the episode led to some harsh fan reaction, some saying "you have broken your bond with the audience," he recalled during his festival Master Class.
"It's hard to get anything made. It's just as hard to make something that's mediocre or bad as it is to make something good," Poul pointed out. "You can't do your job well unless you invest, you attach, you bond to the material. Therefore everything you make is your baby. So when somebody attacks your baby, you go into maternal protection mode."
"My first reaction is: 'those bastards, how dare they?' Then I try to be open minded and look for the person's point of view … before I trash it," he joked before getting serious. "Somebody cares enough. That's much better than indifference. You have to honour that."
Bones creator Hart Hanson also looks at negative comments as a sign of fan passion, something his show, sitting somewhere "between a cult hit and a real hit," needs to survive. He faced a virtual firing squad after the controversial season finale, when he dared turn naïve "squint" Zack Addy (Eric Millegan) into a serial killer's apprentice, sending him into a mental hospital and out of the regular ensemble. It was a storyline Hanson admits was too compressed, but not one he regrets overall.
"Oh boy, when you mess with an ensemble," Hanson began before trailing off. "To be honest, it was great." Not only was that one of the highest rated episodes, but the number of hits to the show's website doubled. "The network doesn't care if comments are good or bad. They count the hits."
"Do we listen to the fans? Oh, no," Hanson said adamantly during the audience Q&A portion of his Master Class. Besides, given the outcry over the finale, "Right now, if we listened to them, I'd have to quit."
He even tells his actors not to look at message boards. "They're really mean about every one of our actors. The ones who have an axe to grind will write and the ones who love them won't. Our Internet presence is fairly negative. But we don't care about that, because they're all watching."
Hanson says "we don't know who they are" because the demographics of the show are so broad, though actor David Boreanaz (Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and novelist Kathy Reichs clearly add their own fandoms to the mysterious but loyal mix.
"No, we don't listen to them," Hanson reiterated. "And they're really vociferous and passionate and we are very, very glad they're there."Powered by Sidelines