Showrunners on Twitter – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Negotiating Authorship: Showrunners on Twitter VI Thu, 19 Dec 2013 15:00:25 +0000 SleepyHollowTwitterTo this point, my analysis of showrunners on Twitter has focused on exceptional circumstances defined by controversy or conflict. They have also focused on showrunners—Harmon, Sutter, Lawrence, Lindelof—who have translated their professional identities into tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, gaining fame—or infamy—for their social media presence.

However, while these showrunners and others like them have cultivated active and expansive social media profiles, the work of framing professional identity through Twitter is not reserved for the famous or infamous. While we can—and should—think of this in terms of below-the-line laborers, I also want to use this as an opportunity to explore the varied jobs under the “showrunner” umbrella. Although this title has become associated with those who create and subsequently shape the creative vision of a television series, showrunner also applies to the producers hired to “run” a show alongside its initial creator, laborers who are often less commonly associated with the rise of “showrunner” discourse within the industry.

Popular discourses on TV authorship have focused on figures like Matthew Weiner or Vince Gilligan who are decidedly “TV authors” in their control over the visions of their respective series. However, in the instance that the creator of a series lacks the experience, aptitude, or time necessary to fill the role of showrunner, more experienced writer/producers are brought in to shepherd the ship. While their labor is far from invisible, these showrunners are nonetheless unable to access certain authorship positions given that they are executing someone else’s vision, most often brought on after the pilot stage; similarly, those who created a series but are not serving the role of showrunner have limited access to discourses of authorship as the series moves forward. In the former case, although the rise of showrunner discourse has traditionally been associated with questions of authorship, here we see the day-to-day role of a showrunner imagined primarily through management, despite the fact that management involves considerable creative input; in the latter case, although creators maintain access to narratives of vision and creativity, they must also navigate the labor of those running the show day-to-day.

This reality reframes Twitter as a space where the respective roles of creators and “post-pilot showrunners” are negotiated. Fox’s Sleepy Hollow is the first credit for co-creator Phillip Iscove, who remains a supervising producer alongside showrunner Mark Goffman (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). Both are on Twitter, and both engage and interact with fans from a position of authorship by answering questions or offering teases of future episodes. However, both consistently avoid claiming sole authorship over the series: in these similar tweets sent to fans, they each emphasize the collaborative nature of the series’ development, with neither having full access to the sole-authored television ideal we imagine when evoking terms like creator or showrunner.

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Their careful deference to the other’s labor—and the labor of mega-producers Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Len Weisman—is a necessary trait when working in a situation like this one. John Wirth has become known for playing a part in such situations, recently stepping in as the post-pilot showrunner for Fox’s Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and NBC’s The Cape. In a recent conversation, Wirth spoke of his experience working alongside creator Josh Friedman on Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, and said “my job on that show was to help him make [his vision] happen, and fight all the studio battles and network battles on his behalf to promote his vision of the show.” At the same time, of course, Wirth was simultaneously contributing to his own professional identity, which this past year led AMC to hire Wirth to take over as showrunner on western Hell on Wheels for its third season.

Wirth’s experience on Hell on Wheels reinforces the need to consider the production culture surrounding showrunners on a case-by-case basis. While similar to Wirth’s past experience given that he is taking over a series created by someone else, the situation is unique in the complete absence of the original creators: Wirth is replacing the departing showrunner who previously worked alongside creators Joe and Tony Gayton, whose own contract on the series was not renewed after season two. As a result, although Wirth may not have created the series, he is not tied to someone else’s vision, and has access to sole authorship of its narrative direction moving forward in its recently completed third and upcoming fourth seasons.


An image Wirth shared from the set of Hell on Wheels, featuring series script supervisor Sabrina Paradis.

Wirth is not among the more active showrunners on Twitter, but it has nonetheless become a space—along with interviews like the one I conducted—where he can make these claims to authorship. He interacts with fans, tweets photos taken on the set in Calgary, Alberta, offers teases regarding his plans for the upcoming fourth season, and livetweeted Saturday night broadcasts of the series, all practices that are common among showrunners who have always been the sole creative vision behind a series. While these tweets serve a purpose as promotion for the series and as community-building exercises for the show’s fans, they also give Wirth to ability to separate his labor from discourses of management toward discourses of vision and creativity, a task that becomes easier without the need to defer to others’ labor.

As we head further into a period where showrunners engaging in self-disclosures through Twitter has become a common practice within the television industry, those self-disclosures are inevitably intersecting with parallel realities of the television industry. In the case of Iscove, Goffman, and Wirth, we are seeing existing, nuanced discourses of authorship functioning within the industry being reframed through social media practices not necessarily designed to communicate said nuance (unless we count the limited affordances of the biography section on Twitter, highlighted in the above image), requiring specific negotiation and investigation that will remain throughout the runs of their respective series.


The Personal Stakes of Social Media: Showrunners [Off] Twitter V Wed, 16 Oct 2013 20:09:44 +0000 LindelofTwitterIn considering Showrunners on Twitter over the past three years, my focus has been primarily on Twitter feeds as a space for professional identity and fan engagement. However, it is also important to acknowledge how Twitter feeds function as a liminal space in which creative industries workers not only define themselves as workers but also exercise their creativity. We can consider showrunners like Dan Harmon or Kurt Sutter not simply as showrunners who use Twitter as a form of engagement, but also individuals who use Twitter as an outlet for personal opinions and personal expression.

The deletion of Damon Lindelof’s Twitter account is similar to yet distinct from Sutter’s—ultimately temporary—hiatus from Twitter back in 2011. Both left Twitter after feeling their presence was becoming a drain on them both personally and professionally, but the difference is where that drain was coming from. While Sutter was largely dealing with the media reporting on his tweets as provocations and amplifying their inherent antagonism (often without proper context), Lindelof faced consistent and intensive criticism on Twitter for his role in divisive projects like Lost and Prometheus.

Rightfully, media reports on Lindelof’s departure foreground his engagement with his critics; Lindelof himself wrote a highly personal piece in The Hollywood Reporter about his experience responding to a new wave of criticism regarding Lost’s ending in the wake of Breaking Bad’s more linear—and some argued more satisfying—conclusion. In the piece, he frames himself as an addict, suggesting “alcoholics are smart enough to not walk into a bar. My bar is Twitter.” He used the piece to strike a deal with the “haters”: he will stop discussing the end of Lost, and they will stop badgering him about it. He acknowledges “there’s no way everyone is going to read, let alone agree with this deal,” while nonetheless promising to hold up his end of the bargain.

Sutter’s Twitter experience revealed how showrunners face a distinct level of scrutiny when sharing opinions on social media, but Sutter has rarely faced intense, highly public criticism from viewers of Sons of Anarchy or other series he has worked on like The Shield. Lindelof’s Twitter account, by comparison, became a lightning rod for spurned Lost fans or jilted Prometheus viewers who saw the service as a relatively anonymous—or at least consequence-free—space in which to air their frustrations directly to the creator. What he said on social media was on some level beside the point; what drove him off Twitter—at least based on the evidence available—was not a response to what he said, but rather a response to his Twitter feed existing as a rallying point for his critics.

Considered in terms of professional identity, Lindelof’s departure from Twitter removes a space where he could frame his professional identity and engage with fans, which may have been useful when expanding to his first post-Lost television project The Leftovers on HBO next year. In an age where a Twitter presence is expected, and where the value of Twitter has been capitalized on by showrunners like Scandal’s Shonda Rhimes, Lindelof’s choice is contrary to dominant industry logics.

However, I want to rearticulate showrunner Twitter accounts away from their professional use and toward their personal utility. Showrunners are often on Twitter for professional reasons, but these are more often than not combined with a personal interest in social media as a form of creative expression. Although all tweets function as a form of labor, which remains tied to and thus contributes to a professional identity, much of that labor is also understood as pleasure. When a showrunner chooses to remove themselves from Twitter, they are removing themselves from not only professional opportunity but also a space for self-expression.

d1772786e588dafb97c19b1f3b298e36Damon Lindelof was an active Twitter user in contexts beyond tweeting about his labor. In one of his most infamous runs in February of this year, he became obsessed with a studded yellow baseball hat worn by Justin Bieber. In a day-long riff, Lindelof told joke after joke, enraging fans in the middle of the “Lindelof-Bieber” venn diagram and drawing major media coverage; he even changed his Twitter profile photo to an image of him wearing the hat in question. Lindelof also sarcastically retweeted the official Twitter account for cat food brand Fancy Feast, obsessed with the idea someone was being paid to tweet about cat food, and livetweeted Syfy’s Sharknado.

Lindelof’s Twitter identity was that of the benevolent troll, a cultural commentator as much as a professional television writer; commenting on popular culture and issues pertaining to social media, Lindelof’s tweets were neither about nor tied to his labor directly, and instead offered a different form of expression than that offered through his day-to-day employment. Shawn Ryan, who like Lindelof is currently a showrunner without a show on the air, uses his Twitter account to engage with his sports fandom, even organizing a fantasy football league for followers with prizes from his shows. These uses of social media marry the professional with the personal, offering a space for not only the performance or management of distinctly professional identities but also the negotiation of those identities within a more casual, personalized space.

It remains possible that Lindelof—like Sutter—will return to social media, perhaps around the time when The Leftovers debuts on HBO and the channel pressures him to leverage his following to help launch the series. However, Lindelof’s case offers a distinct blending of the professional and personal, where his Twitter account became both a space of personal expression valuable to Lindelof and as a space in which audience frustration with his professional output could latch itself onto a specific person. In leaving Twitter, Lindelof sacrifices the—messy, perhaps unhealthy—personal value of Twitter in order to remove the personal from the criticism swirling outside of his control online, a sacrifice more meaningful to his identity as a showrunner than the inability to remind people Lost is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix.


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Promoting an Uncertain Future: Showrunners (on Hiatus) on Twitter IV Thu, 05 Jan 2012 14:38:39 +0000 Community and ABC's Cougar Town on hiatus, their respective showrunners' Twitter accounts become key outlets for implicitly or explicitly encouraging fan involvement and/or activism.]]> Although not every showrunner explicitly positions his or her tweets as promotional in nature, a showrunner’s Twitter account is nonetheless a way viewers gain information that might enhance their connection with that series. While many showrunners avoid appearing as outright shills, only selling their show in a self-aware manner which can be passed off as a public performance of sorts, there is nonetheless an implicit expectation that part of a showrunner’s Twitter mandate is to encourage people to watch his or her show (and thus support his or her livelihood).

In recent months, however, a number of showrunners have faced a new challenge, in that they suddenly (or still) don’t have a show on the air to promote. In November, NBC announced its midseason schedule and neglected to provide a place for Community (a show created by Dan Harmon, who I discussed in the second installment of this series), while ABC announced its midseason schedule and still had no official starting date for Cougar Town, which sat on the bench for the fall season as co-creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel kept tweeting. Neither show has been canceled, although the latter did suffer an episode reduction, but the spectre of the “h-word” – hiatus – nonetheless looms large.

Part of the value of Twitter during such a hiatus is that you have the ability to keep your show in the public eye. Immediately upon news of Community’s hiatus, a #SaveCommunity hashtag emerged (in addition to #sixseasonsandamovie, which directly references a joke from an episode of the show, among others), which continues to be used a few months later as users link to fan petitions, YouTube videos, and other forms of audience engagement with the series.

However, while Harmon has not been silent regarding the series’ hiatus, these efforts have been driven largely by fans themselves. Harmon has certainly engaged with the discussions, like responding to a fan suggestion that the show be funded through a model similar to Louis C.K.’s recent successful self-distribution experiment, but he has not taken an active role in getting #SaveCommunity trending and has not dramatically changed his Twitter behavior to reflect the show’s new position.

By comparison, Lawrence and Biegel have chosen a more proactive approach, taking promotion into their own hands. When ABC announced their schedule for midseason and neglected to find a place for Cougar Town, instead choosing to push critically reviled Work It onto the air earlier this week, Lawrence was – and remains – unflinching in his frustration with the situation, and together with Biegel organized a multi-city screening event in which select groups of fans (chosen through Twitter and other social networks) are invited to special screeenings where they can hang out with cast and crew and, perhaps more importantly, watch a collection of Cougar Town episodes that ABC is choosing to keep on the shelf until later in the Spring.

There is a longer post to be written about these viewing parties in and of themselves, including their geographic dispersion (driven at least initially by the location of cast and crew over the holidays as opposed to traditional metrics like population) and the kinds of spaces (including wine bars, fitting given the role of wine-drinking in the series) chosen, but I am primarily interested in the leveraging of Twitter as a promotional tool (and suggest anyone interested in these questions more generally check out Candace Moore’s essay on parties organized for The L Word in Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries). This is not the first such campaign the two have organized on Twitter, although it is unquestionably the most involved (including custom Cougar Town Tour 2012 t-shirts for the lucky winners who have been able to attend the screenings, intended as promotional tools for them to wear in the months ahead). They recently organized a campaign soliciting fan-made promos when they felt that ABC was under-promoting the return of their series last April, offering signed scripts and other rewards to those who made the best amateur promos and posted them to YouTube.

While this use of fan labor practices is not uncommon, it is important to note that this is the showrunners interacting directly with fans rather than an officially sanctioned network marketing campaign. While not quite as organized, Harmon and other showrunners equally support this kind of behavior by linking to mash-up videos and other fan-made material, thus contributing to their spreadability and supporting non-traditional modes of promotion.

While the future of both shows remains uncertain, and it’s possible both will be renewed despite their respective hiatuses, that uncertainty nonetheless pushes fans into an activist mode, especially after the recent success of campaigns both before (CBS’ Jericho) and after (NBC’s Chuck) Twitter became a prominent discourse. While Lawrence and Biegel may be playing a more active role in cultivating this activism through their interactions with fans (and critics, planning their own renegade event at the annual January Press Tour after ABC chose not to offer a panel), directly involving them in organized efforts to promote the series’ eventual (but unclear) return, Harmon’s previous interactions with fans nonetheless position him as a central figure in encouraging and facilitating the activism that fans hope will keep the show alive – many Twitter users will tag Harmon in their posts using the #SaveCommunity hashtag in the hopes that he will retweet them (or, less cynically, simply to let him know that they are supportive of his show).

Indeed, for a showrunner to be on Twitter at all creates a regular interaction between show and audience which lays the foundation for simple involvement to become full-blown activism in the unfortunate circumstance that the series finds itself on the brink of cancellation. While we have not yet seen a full-blown fan campaign emerge predominantly on Twitter – with Chuck spreading largely through blogs and other social networks – and I would personally hope (given my appreciation for these two shows) that we are not on the verge of two full-blown case studies, showrunners on Twitter have helped create the networks necessary for those campaigns to exist and, potentially, flourish.


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The Rise and Fall of @Sutterink: Showrunners [Off] Twitter III Sun, 14 Aug 2011 12:55:48 +0000 With Sons of Anarchy showrunner Kurt Sutter’s announcement on Saturday that he would be “pulling the plug” on his now deleted Twitter feed, it is the end of an era (albeit a short one).

When I looked at Sutter’s twitter feed in the first installment of this series last fall, I posited that there might come a time when Sutter’s brash online persona would overshadow his own show, and it seems that we have reached that point. However, while it was perhaps inevitable that Sutter’s lack of a filter would result in his Twitter account becoming a liability, I can’t shake this feeling that the rise and fall of “@sutterink” has more to do with public perceptions of Twitter than with his actual commentary.

In recent months, online media outlets have taken a sudden interest in Sutter’s Twitter feed, with sites ranging from The Hollywood Reporter to TMZ taking series of tweets and presenting them as news. It started in July when Sutter went on an extended rant regarding the Emmy nominations (where his show, including his wife Katey Sagal, was ignored), and it continued last week, when Sutter shared his opinion on the recent controversy surrounding AMC and The Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont. TMZ shared the former story with the headline “’Anarchy’ Creator PISSED Over Emmy Snub,” while pitched the latter tweets as “‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Kurt Sutter Goes Off on Frank Darabont’s Firing,” and both stories were picked up by multiple outlets.

What’s interesting is that Sutter’s rants have not really become more prominent in the past year. As I noted in my initial post, Sutter has ranted about the Emmys before, just in the form of a blog post instead of a series of tweets. Sutter has even recently added outlets for his rants, including a YouTube series entitled “WTF Sutter” that features the same kind of profanity-laden honesty his fans have come to expect. However, Sutter’s blog has not been subject to the same media scrutiny, and these outlets have also ignored his YouTube videos.

In what Sutter has pitched as his final tweet, he suggests that Twitter is simply the wrong outlet for someone without a filter. He writes that “ultimately, me having an instantaneous outlet for my darker impulses is not a good thing. i’m a guy who needs filters. lots of them.” In his latest WTF Sutter video, where he foreshadowed his departure from Twitter, he expands on this logic before answering some fan questions:

Sutter’s departure from Twitter says less about Sutter and more about the ways in which Twitter is perceived by media outlets and by the public at large. Over the course of the past year, we’ve seen the media start to notice Twitter, and they’re starting to find ways to use it: the service has become a resource for cable news outlets (which Jon Stewart has criticized on The Daily Show), and I’d argue that the increased attention to Sutter’s tweets is a product of the media’s search for the best way to leverage this form of social media.

However, I’d also argue that the way Sutter’s tweets were presented is a reflection of a public understanding of Twitter as a soapbox. Sutter’s lament in his YouTube video is that he is no longer able to have a “conversation,” which might refer to the fact that the reports about his tweets rarely include any discussion of the context in which they appeared: TMZ wasn’t talking about the people on Twitter who were encouraging Sutter’s comments about the Emmys (including critics and other showrunners), and The Hollywood Reporter wasn’t interested in the fact that Sutter retweeted a number of critical responses to his AMC-related comments in the days following his initial statements.

I would not necessarily say that this has resulted in Sutter’s comments being taken “out of context,” because even he argues that he has not necessarily been misrepresented by these reports. What I would say is that Sutter’s comments have been filtered through a perception of Twitter as a place for rants and provocations, a place where a Twitter feed is a direct glimpse into the Id (as reflected by coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal). The story isn’t the actual nature of Sutter’s comments or what they say about the Academy system and the situation at AMC: rather, the story is that someone famous has said something controversial in an outlet that has become known for its controversy, and that has now become publicized based on this perception.

As someone who has written about Sutter’s tweets in the past, I am not suggesting that his tweets should be beyond reproach: he is responsible for what he says within this online space, and I think holding him accountable for that is perfectly reasonable. However, these news reports aren’t interested in holding him accountable; they’re interested in exploiting his comments as gossip, turning them into news without exploring the context of the conversation or even considering their veracity.

Kurt Sutter hasn’t changed since his Twitter feed first appeared, or since my first Antenna piece about it was published. What has changed is the amount of attention paid to Twitter outside of Twitter – Sutter has four times as many followers now than he did then, but that doesn’t take into account (as Sean Duncan noted in the comments on the initial piece) the people who are made aware through outside sources reporting these tweets. And now that this includes major media outlets interested in tapping into the zeitgeist, public figures like television showrunners must reconcile their comments with a mass media that is still trying to figure out what Twitter is, what it’s used for, and how they can best exploit it.

And when you’re Kurt Sutter, that’s a situation in which pulling the plug might be the only viable option if you don’t want your Twitter feed to become a story in and of itself. While it’s possible that Sutter is simply posturing, and that this is a bluff designed to reframe the media narrative (and draw the sympathy of his followers who are pleading him to reconsider), it nonetheless reflects on the changing state of Twitter as discourse.

Addendum – September 7th, 2011

Today, after the ratings for the fourth season premiere of Sons of Anarchy showed a 20% increase, Sutter officially returned to Twitter – this was after an initial pledge to return at 250,000 followers and a subsequent pledge to return at 66,666 were both suggested and then altered.

On his blog, Sutter discussed his logic behind his early return before it happened, suggesting that “I’m…looking for a graceful re-entry into Twitter that doesn’t make me look like a complete f**king douchebag for pulling the plug, then a month later, coming back.  Truth is, I miss the fan interaction and since my Facebook hacking, unplugging from Twitter has been counter-intuitive to keeping an SOA presence in social media.”

While his return does reflect the performance elements of Sutter’s Twitter feed which led to the media attention and the earlier departure, and could be considered hypocritical by some, his justification focuses on the importance of social media in terms of communicating with fans and promoting the series to potential viewers within these social media spaces.


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Replying with the Enemy: Showrunners on Twitter II Thu, 11 Nov 2010 13:54:44 +0000 In my last piece on television showrunners active on Twitter I was focusing on their overall use of the social media tool, but this piece will focus on the direct interaction between showrunners and viewers – through “@ replies” – which Twitter makes possible. While most Twitter users (myself included) would tout this conversational potential as the service’s greatest value, creating a dialogue which can help form stronger relationships with your followers, it is also inherently risky: attempts at humor or sarcasm can be lost without context, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts which sour that relationship.

For showrunners, these risks and rewards are both magnified: replying could create a sense of a personal relationship with their followers, encouraging them to become even more connected to the text itself, but getting into long conversations with fans (especially antagonistic fans) could exacerbate the problem of viewers feeling turned off by showrunners’ Twitter behavior.

While the majority of showrunners will respond to an occasional comment, the one who seems most willing to engage in debate is Community’s Dan Harmon. Admittedly, some might characterize this debate as fairly sophomoric: bodily humor is a favorite of Harmon’s, and some of his replies are personal attacks played largely for comic effect.

Here is an example from early November:

There are two interesting things to note about this conversation. The first is that Harmon initiated it himself: since the initial tweet was not directed to him, it appears that Harmon found the tweet by searching the show’s hashtag, #Community (which is quite common). The other interesting insight is that only people who were following Harmon and the other user would read this tweet: the vast majority of Harmon’s followers, who are unlikely following this particular individual, would only find this tweet on Harmon’s home page, which users do not tend to visit on a regular basis. Thus, while this may be intended a sort of comic release of showrunner frustration, it is a very narrow form of comedy: Harmon could, if he desired, adjust the tweet so that all of his followers could see it, but this particular confrontation is only visible if you’re willing to dig for it.

However, while Harmon mounts several conversations of this nature in a given week, one of these dialogues is actually a long-running feud. @gwynnifer began tweeting to – or, more accurately, at – Harmon in 2009, before Community had even debuted and before the show gained a considerable online presence; however, most of Harmon’s followers became aware that these conversations were taking place just this year (mostly through his own efforts to publicize the feud, which also include making many of her tweets a “favorite”).

For the most part, Gwynnifer displays the traditional signs of what is referred to on the internet as a troll, someone whose posts are intentionally provocative to the point of obscuring their content: she swears, she makes unfounded claims, etc. Of course, one could argue that some of Harmon’s twitter replies meet the same criteria, but they have a clear comic sensibility (and are coming from a comedy showrunner). Gwynnifer, by comparison, is arguing that Harmon is a bigot, and that Community (like, according to Gwynnifer, his previous work) is inherently racist, topics of conversation which are not typically comic in nature.

While I would argue that racial representation on television is an important subject of conversation (for the reason Gwynnifer herself points out), Gwynnifer’s argument suffers from both a shallow reading of the series and a lack of context: not only does she seem to hold Community – with a regular cast featuring four minority characters – to a problematic standard relative to television as a whole (which is considerably less diverse), but her focus on personal attacks leaves little room for evidence or even any real argumentation.

There is a discussion to be had about the series’ depiction of race, and how its racial elements merge with its focus on satire, parody, and meta humor; this is certainly not that discussion. However, what happens when something we generally consider to be a “serious” subject becomes part of this type of discourse? Even if her arguments do not necessarily have merit, the conversation does have some value, so to see it trapped in a series of insults seems like an injustice.

However, while this particular conversation may result in a lesser discourse, Harmon’s Twitter account seems to have been influenced by it in what I would argue are positive ways. Recently, he linked to a post at Diversity Awareness as an extension of this debate, and its author argues that Community “needs a Mexican character” since people of Latin descent make up a large percentage of community college students. It’s a purposefully flawed piece, throwing out unfounded conspiracy theories – including that Harmon is “ignorant” – not dissimilar from Gwynnifer’s for comic value, but it led Harmon to offer the following comments:

While Gwynnifer’s argument may lack sufficient evidence, and the Diversity Awareness piece may fail to make any real contribution to this discussion, the conversation they sparked led to some insight into how Harmon views issues relating to class and race (and thus how those issues might fit into Community as a whole); regardless of whether you agree with him, that insight is a valuable discourse. Of course, this has since turned into a topic of comedy for Harmon, but this moment of “seriousness” speaks to the ways in which this sort of showrunner/viewer engagement can reveal something more than a showrunner’s love of humor related to fecal matter.

Not that there isn’t a place for that, of course.


When I posted this piece yesterday, a number of critics alerted me that my timing was particularly good: in last night’s episode of Community, “Cooperative Calligraphy,” Gwynnifer became part of the series’ primary narrative.

While it may be a nod towards this Twitter conflict, it is not an extension: Gwynnifer is simply a name, in this case the name of Jeff’s date, which means that the majority of the audience is not likely to understand the context (which is why you might be here). It also resists the temptation to use the name for some sort of an attack: instead of naming the ringleader of the college “mean girls” after her in last week’s “Aerodynamics of Gender,” she is simply a girl that Jeff is going on a date with.

One could argue that the reputation of a girl who would date Jeff (and which Jeff would call a catch) is not precisely a positive reputation, but the relatively passive nature of the reference is an intriguing twist. And, speaking of intriguing twists, do check Jason Mittell’s comment below for another example of the above phenomenon from last evening.


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Tweets of Anarchy: Showrunners on Twitter Fri, 17 Sep 2010 12:29:38 +0000 While there have always been strong personalities behind-the-scenes in television, including recent examples such as David Milch and Aaron Sorkin, until recently there were very few outlets in which the general public could directly bear witness to the character of television showrunners; stories were written about their personalities and how they influenced the creative process of their respective series, but it was predominantly second hand information. Outside of award show acceptance speeches, occasional interviews, DVD commentaries, or (in Sorkin’s case) run-ins with the law, the television showrunner was a largely private figure during the day-to-day airing of their series.

However, showrunners are now becoming active participants in conversations surrounding their shows, both formally (Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s Lost podcasts) and informally (Louis C.K.’s decision to wade into comment threads of Louie reviews); combined with their more prominent role in DVD bonus features and the proliferation of television journalism online, showrunners are becoming veritable celebrities among viewers of television. This is perhaps no more apparent than on Twitter, where showrunners (including Lindelof, Cuse, ,C.K., and numerous others) gain tens of thousands of followers who desire to know more about who is behind their favourite series.

In many ways, Twitter is a fantastic opportunity for showrunners. The Big Bang Theory’s Bill Prady has been using his Twitter feed to remind viewers that the show is moving to Thursday night, while Community’s Dan Harmon has been using his Twitter feed to help bolster the show’s viewers against the insurrection of Prady’s series to their timeslot (the two even collaborated on matching avatars, each featuring “THU 8/7c,” to build hype for their impending battle). With this sort of behaviour, often done in conjunction with answering fan questions or offering insights into the production of the series, showrunners directly facilitate fan community.

However, as most showrunners have discovered, Twitter can be a double-edged sword. While BonesHart Hanson is an active participant on Twitter in promoting his series, he also bears the brunt of the attack when fans become frustrated with the series (in particular the drawn out romantic tension between its leads). And while Lindelof and Cuse were showered with praise when Lost hit its high notes, they were inundated with frustration following the divisive series finale.

By putting their reputations on the line – and online – showrunners open the door to potential rewards (viewer loyalty, new viewers, professional transparency), but as they also face definite risk. There is perhaps no better example of this risk/reward principle than Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter, who one would likely classify as television’s renegade showrunner. Giving voice to every showrunner’s id, Sutter uses Twitter and his personal blog to criticize the television industry and his critics through a mix of cogent analysis and four-letter words; where other showrunners avoid calling out the Emmy Awards when their show is ignored, or resist responding to critics who write negative reviews, Sutter has made a conscious decision to present his own perspective without any sort of filter.

The question, at this point, is whether or not his “larger than life” personality has become larger than the show itself. While his notoriety has been a source of promotion for the series, which has only grown in popularity since he began blogging and tweeting in earnest, there is a risk that his actions could overpower the series’ narrative; the Los Angeles Times, for example, chose to profile Sutter rather than his series ahead of its third season premiere.

Some would argue this is actually valuable: the brash masculinity of Sutter’s online persona is heavily echoed within the series itself, meaning that the association could be seen as an effective (and novel) way to market the series. However, if Sutter’s extra-curricular activity becomes a primary association for potential viewers – which is happening more as his Twitter feed and blog posts are extending beyond social media to a more general audience (as the L.A. Times profile and mainstream coverage of his criticism suggest) – it is possible that the series’ subtleties, which include strong female characters, could be obfuscated. What fans could read as refreshing honesty could be read as outright arrogance by others, and while Sutter would likely argue that those put off would be unlikely to watch the show in the first place there remains the potential for lines to blur between the series and its creator.

For the most part, of course, these kinds of issues will largely remain confined within a small subsection of the viewing public – Sutter has 12,000 followers on Twitter, compared to Sons of Anarchy’s 4.1 Million viewers. However, the active participation made possible by Twitter and other forms of social media has changed the dynamics of audience/showrunner relationships, and as showrunners like Sutter test the boundaries of this new dialogue we learn more about where this relationship may be headed in the future.

Editors’ Note: a reminder that we like to keep comments civil and constructive here at Antenna. Those comments that seek to insult or vent, or that don’t materially contribute to the discussion, will be withheld.


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