Clip above from the earlier Australian version of The Phone in Feb 09 & interview with its producer Chris Berry here

Interesting timing to receive a prod from the publicist of this show as I am in the middle of mentoring groups of AFTRS directing students who are developing ARG/Social Media drama. The tendency is to always over author the story environments and they turn into endless quests through fixed content but in this new hybrid form The Phone, described below, starts to mash-up urban locative quests with high production value TV crime/spy drama – a true development of form & innovation?

“The game starts… now.”

The sound of a ringing telephone is nothing out of the ordinary. But for those who dare to answer The Phone, you can be certain that a hair-raising adventure awaits. An intense thriller of action and suspense, The Phone is unlike any show you’ve ever seen. In each episode, players will see their day go from average to insane as they’re plunged into a dangerous high-stakes game with $50,000 on the line. One minute they might be sipping on a latte, watching the world go by. One phone call later, they could find themselves hanging from the edge of Seattle’s Space Needle or racing into a burning building to save the life of a man about to be executed.


This show tries to combine social media with reality TV with emergent real time short form communication (twitter & mobile) and rolls this together into a TV connected, soft Alternate Reality Game. The ultimate mash-up, or struggling TV hype? Many viewers are claiming it to be the most exciting thing they have seen on TV in a long while – the contestants live inside a deepening world of 24, CSI, James Bond, Spooks and so on. A big step forward in combining reality TV with the Cop Show? It is a little like watching someone else play an ARG to win $50 000, but decently shot and edited (vs the usual shaky cam stuff!) The description continues on the main site

In each episode, four strangers will get a call. Soon after they answer, they’ll be paired off to create two teams that will go head-to-head as they race to survive a potentially deadly game. There’s no studio audience, no wheels to spin and no canned ham behind the curtain. There are only perilous predicaments and the real possibility of walking away with 50 grand if you complete the mission … and survive.

Could you stop a mad bomber before he strikes again? Can you take down the mob to save a police officer’s life? Will you recover a piece of secret military technology before it lands in the hands of terrorists? Some players will rise to the challenge of The Phone , while others will crack under the pressure. The true nature of each player will be revealed as their courage is measured, their loyalty examined and their resolve put to the test under the most extreme circumstances imaginable.

From executive producer Justin Timberlake, The Phone is nothing short of the most dangerous game on television. Will you answer the call?

Sounds intriguing . This format (which is based on a Dutch reality show format) has been executively produced by Justin Timberlake and FreMantleMedia North America working to the Emerging Media arm of MTV and the social/twitter component developed by a company called Fanscape. You can actually watch the first episode on MTV online here (if you live in the US!), read about various episodes on the blog (example here) and embedded below is Justin describing the show in more detail and makes references to how this is a kind of Bourne Identity, where you play the protagonist – while being watched by the TV audience.

The surprises don’t stop there — for the contestants, at least. In addition to explosions and last-minute decisions, the contestants also face plot twists and turns. “Just like a thriller or suspense film at the end of the show, every show, there is a twist that we put on the contestants,” Timberlake explained. “And as the show goes on, you, as the viewer, will know, but it’s fun to see. We really test their morale. We really test their character.”

Given that it feels like several of the new style of reality show, put the audience in ‘unbelievable – filmic’ situations and see what ensues what is in it for the rest of the audience. Watching your peers in dramatic scenarios is compelling viewing and is a few rungs in the ladder above Candid Camera, which was out to embarrass rather than celebrate but how does it engage the ingenuity of a much larger co-creative play-along audience? This is where the Fanscape press release I was sent kicks in

Fanscape Also Building Buzz for MTV’s Nick Lachey-Produced Reality Show “Taking the Stage”

Los Angeles, CA – April 29, 2009: Fanscape (, the leading Digital Word of Mouth Marketing Agency, has been hired once again by MTV, this time to build buzz and awareness for the premiere and overall viewership of the new Justin Timberlake-produced reality show, “The Phone,” airing Tuesdays at 10 PM ET/PT. Fanscape has launched an interactive Twitter-based game, similar to the popular kids’ game “Telephone,” in which a message is crafted and then told to a chain of people who in turn change the message. Users can follow the tweets at MTV has also tapped Fanscape to lead digital marketing for its Nick Lachey-produced reality show, “Taking the Stage.” Both partnerships come on the heels of Fanscape’s campaign for the third season of MTV’s “Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew,” which garnered more than 3 million viewers for the show’s finale and its highest rated telecast of the season among 12-34 year olds, surpassing the second season’s ratings by 67%.

So it seems the way to bring the rest of the audience in is to feed them a ‘tweet’ and ask them to RT (re tweet it) changing one word each time, with the message apparently becoming funnier each time. Nipping over to there are a few tweets which suggest this game is only just starting (32 minutes before this post) so will be interesting to see how it will pan out.

phone-kristijasoncrashMTV’s The Phone Telephone game coming now

When you get a call from Justin Timberlake answer and listen carefully #thephone Please RT and change 1 word. Keep #thephone.

Shudlow115: When you get a heart-attack from Justin Timberlake answer and listen carefully #thephone
jivid: RT @MTV Justin Timberlake has left Britney Spears underneath the stairs #thephone Please RT and change 1 word. Keep #thephone
MarleyLike: When you get a popsicle from Justin Timberlake answer and listen carefully #thephone Please RT and change 1 word. Keep #thephone

Not sure this is going to produce Shakespeare (1000 monkey’s anyone!) but given the wider audience to the show something to play in a similar story environment (confused messages) to the show is a good idea. I am not sure though that a simple twitter game really cuts the mustard unless they incorporate some of the tweet codified conversation into the actual TV show – this is really level 1 empowerment and more about marketing (spreading the hastag across Twitter) than social transmedia in it’s most powerful form. Of course without hammering too hard into the relatively low level of interactivity for the broader audience the power of this is obviously about the relatively passive audience, in true reality TV style, living vicariously through the ‘real people’ put into ‘TV Cop’ scenarios, in real cities and with high production value settings (at least the US one has put money into that). I do hope they have their safety standards up to scratch, there is a lot that could go wrong here, but isn’t that what this is all about – those who dare win, or something like that. Risk (or apparent risk) entices the audience and a good outcome here will be the Amazing Race effect, sowing the seeds in peoples minds that they may want to play the next locative ARG when they pick up a dangling trail head in the branded sponsors premises 🙂 To finish (gotta get to work and will add more opinion later!) more from the press release

Each episode of “The Phone” begins with four strangers receiving a phone call. Soon after they answer, these strangers are paired off to create two teams that will go head-to-head as they race to survive a potentially deadly game with a prize of $50,000. For the Twitter-based “Telephone” game, Fanscape tweets MTV’s audience weekly with abstract messages, asking them to change one word and retweet the message to create progressively funnier conversation. Since the game’s launch, the MTV Twitter account has grown by more than 27% with “Telephone” tweets having reached over 200,000 people to date.

Fanscape manages influencer and blogger relations, promotions and incentives, user-generated content uploads and all conversational, digital content and social network marketing for “The Phone.” Fanscape is seeding and disseminating polls, quizzes, photo slideshows and exclusive video features across various social networks, microblogs, fan sites and user-generated content channels.

“Fanscape has worked with MTV for more than two years across multiple projects, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the relationship,” said Terry Dry, co-founder and president of Fanscape. “This time around, Fanscape was asked to apply its digital expertise to drive viewer tune-in for ‘The Phone’ because we genuinely understand how to connect, interact and engage consumers in conversation. Emerging media strategies like our original, first-of-its-kind Twitter game are the true future of entertainment marketing.”

About Fanscape
Fanscape is the leading Digital Word of Mouth Marketing Agency with more than a decade of experience reaching and activating consumers through targeted online and emerging media campaigns. Fanscape’s online influencer marketing experts have in-depth understanding of niche audiences and consumer behaviors across the Web, providing highly measurable, earned media strategies for major corporations and leading entertainment, technology and mobile companies, including: AT&T; Samsung; Paramount Pictures; M&M’S®; State Farm Insurance; MTV, Universal Music Group and more. Fanscape’s specialty services include: social media marketing; digital communications; new media promotions and integrations; creative strategies for Web concepts and executions, and activating mobile marketing initiatives. Fanscape is located in Los Angeles, CA and is a member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. For more information on the company please visit Fanscape on the Web, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About MTV
MTV is the dynamic, vibrant experiment at the intersection of music, creativity and youth culture. For over 26 years, MTV has evolved, challenged the norm and detonated boundaries — giving each new generation a creative outlet and voice that entertains, informs and unites on every platform and screen. On-air, MTV has been the number one rated 24 hour ad-supported cable network P12-24 for 16 straight years. Online, scored double-digit growth in 2007 and MTV launched ten dynamic online communities and six new virtual worlds. On the go, MTV Mobile is the #1 music brand in the wireless space – delivering 90% more streams than in 2006. And MTV’s successful sibling networks MTV2, mtvU and MTV Tr3s each deliver unprecedented customized content, super-serving music fans, college students and young American Latinos like no one else.  MTV is part of MTV Networks, a unit of Viacom (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), one of the world’s leading creators of programming and content across all media platforms.  Wanna know more?  Come on in…

Press Contacts:
The Morris + King Company and SeisMK for Fanscape
Chris Macowski / Lane Buschel
212-561-7459 / 212-561-7454