Apr 292006

L Word ©ShowtimeEver since I line produced the ‘personalized’ interactive pilot of the L Word with the AFI and Showtime I have been keeping an eye on initiatives that Showtime have been trying out – many via the web given iTV, 3G and IPTV are still just coming out of the woods in US. It was fabulous to see therefore that yet another world first (not again!) – an episode of a major scripted drama, produced to air but wait for it…written by a loyal fan base through the L Word Website. PR News article “First-Ever ‘Fanisode’ Successfully Scripted by Fans of ‘THE L WORD(R)’” has good coverage

The collaborative writing contest launched on February 3, when millions of fans of THE L WORD(R) were invited to write, read, rate and discuss short scenes based on an instructive “scene mission” provided by a member of the writing team from the hit cable series. Fans submitted their original scenes, the online community voted, and at the end of each week, the most popular fan-submitted scene was added to the script in progress. The process repeated each week with a new “scene mission” until the entire script was completed.”

L word ©Showtime“People Powered Entertainment” -LOVE IT! Proudly rings on the FanLib website. I am pretty sure that this has been done before, I know of several BBC and Channel 4 collaborative script initiatives (will get details later) but this looks like a successful variation on the theme, kind of like those, write line-by-line, cover and reveal games you play with friends and family. The most important aspect of this of course is the fact that the media professionals are nurturing the latent creativity in its audience – drawing out in essence where the best stories are. Another aspect to this is that it is difficult to keep team writing a drama over 3 or 4 series, in the case of the L Word after every character has slept and split up with every other character ones narrative options start to diminish, so throw it open to the fans that write with a real passion. The fans carrots are fame, fortune (some prizes) and social currency (which is different from fame of course) – the later being the big one. Opening the doors had many other benefits:

“Showtime announced that ratings jumped 51% over the previous season. “Fans of THE L WORD(R) are among the most creative and passionate around,” said Rob Hayes, General Manager, Digital Media at Showtime Networks Inc. “The success of this event proves that the combination of fan fiction and network support creates a powerful two-way relationship between the fans and their favorite series…The fanisode was tremendously engaging to the online community. During the eight week contest the site logged 175,000 visits and generated over 3,000,000 page views. Fans spent tremendous amounts of time on the site creating over 18 page views per visit.”

So there we have it folks, simple, get the fans involved in the story world, not just extending the world with exploratory/puzzle based web quests but actually involved in the construction of the main show plot and your ratings start to escalate (of course involving viewers in the creation of webquest shows is already being done). We are seeing more and more of the “create our ad campaign”, “help design our website”, “draw up our strategy papers” – well probably not the last one directly 😉 But calling out to those who can do (they now have the tools), and can do with passion (they have the inclination) makes so much sense. Well done to Chris and Rob at Showtime!

Given that there must have been hundreds of alternative routes generated by this exercise I suddenly realised that we have a great way to generate non-linear narratives here. You know follow this path or this story etc: Showtime have released an eZine with some of these alternatives but hey show creators out there how about a multi-path, or at least a call out for story ideas with character maps/traits, plot structures, so the next phase of dramatic narrative (AI based) has some good raw material – perhaps that is a little too much for the audience at the moment. Here is a link to the actual Call to Action website the L Word a ‘fanisode’.

Contributors of highly-rated scenes and other winners were featured prominently online during the event, giving them a taste of online fame. Showtime and FanLib will publish a free commemorative eZine (a downloadable digital magazine) featuring the completed script, plus a number of alternative scenes and editorial features including profiles of the winning contributors and other participants.

and from the site itself

Thanks to all participants!
What an incredible journey. After seven exciting rounds, 1,258 scene submissions and over 124,000 votes and 30,000 comments, almost 20,000 L Word fans have collectively created the world’s very first Fanisode.

Will talk more on this because it has more far reaching consequences but for now a final word. I think given the subject matter of the programme that ‘fanisode’ may not be the best term to describe this format outside of the US 😉 Just kidding, get trademarking CBS.
Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006