Carlton Cuse – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Lost Wednesdays: A Very Special Episode Wed, 12 May 2010 13:39:49 +0000 I knew this episode was coming for a couple of months, with rumors of a deep Jacob backstory in the works, with anticipation that it would deviate from Lost‘s storytelling norms and feature a notable guest star. But it’s worth pausing to recognize how bold and unconventional this episode was, especially coming in the final hours of a six-season series. It features no regular characters, aside from a brief flashback to a five-year-old episode. It takes place in an unspecified time, probably around the time of ancient Egypt Rome.* It focuses on three characters, only one of whom has a name (at least until the end), and one who has never been seen before. And it is one of only two episodes of the series that tells its story in chronological order (along with season 2’s “The Other 48 Days“) – conventional for other shows, but radical for Lost.

* UPDATE: Per Sean’s comment and blog link below, I buy that the shipwreck was Roman era. But that leaves the island’s Egyptian symbolism unclear, suggesting a previous habitation yet unseen.

Thus it’s not a surprise that the immediate reaction, at least on The Twitter, was highly divisive. Some celebrated the revelations, while many decried the lack of answers; while many saw it as a distraction from the main story, others enjoyed its mythic sweep. For me, the episode worked very well – not an all-time classic (yet), but an impressive attempt to fill-in vast swaths of backstory without getting too expositional. What stood out was how it truly embraced its mythological tone – we frequently refer to the longform backstory of serialized television as “mythology” (I believe this stems from X-Files fandom), but this episode was literally mythological. Littered with symbols and drawing upon a range of religious and mythic sources – twins! games of fate! murderous mothers! – “Across the Sea” paints the background for the island setting where we’ve spent so much time, but never knew how to find the glowing core. While the answers it provides may not be fully revelatory, they frame the show decisively as a modern myth, much like the sources that the producers frequently cite as role models: Star Wars and The Stand.

The idea that Jacob and Adam (the only name given to him in the episode) are brothers isn’t a huge shock, although I doubt many people anticipated that they would be twins raised by a murderous island protector looking for an heir. For a show steeped in tales of Bad Daddies, the origin story being centered around a Murderous Mommy (now Eve) was a shift. Though the show’s recent treatment of women has been problematic, a point made eloquently by Mo Ryan on her podcast two weeks ago,** making the island’s previous protector a woman makes me more convinced that Kate will end up in a similar role by the end of the series and that Locke’s willingness to dismiss her candidacy (and Claire’s usefulness) stems from centuries of stewing in his Mommy issues. As it often is with serial narrative, it’s hard to judge a show’s politics (and aesthetics) without the full arc in place.

** UPDATE: Mo continued her gender analysis in reviewing this week’s ep – but avoid the comments unless you want to get infuriated.

Much of the episode’s mythological chatter would read horribly on the page, but Lost‘s frequent ace-in-the-hole has been the quality of its actors being able to make hokum sound sincere. Even though Jacob and Adam are infrequent guest stars, and this is Allison Janney’s sole appearance, all three of them completely sell the stakes of their conversations, making me buy it despite the silliness of glowing streams, enchanted wine, and obscure rules. The tone of the episode was purposely broad, framing the mythic narrative as a pre-modern tale of archetypes and supernatural forces preceding science. I was on board with that tone, but it’s certainly not everyone’s taste – and for the viewers who are primarily invested in the arcs of the main characters, this was surely an annoyance and distraction from the show they thought they were watching.

But what about viewers who claim to want “answers”? I’m guessing for many, this episode was frustrating on that front as well. Rather than the style of explicit answers that annoyed me regarding the whispers, the deep mythology created a sense of understanding rather than explication. I have a much better sense of what the island is, why Jacob is tasked with its protection, and what the smoke monster represents – but I really can’t explain it in any way that would make any sense. Many fans want things more explicitly answered, but if that’s your goal, I think Lostpedia is a better site for rattling off answers – the show’s sense of mythic storytelling is more about grounding the narrative in a consistent world rather than filling in every gap.

Of course some answers were given. The origin of the donkey wheel was alluded to – I assume that Smokey worked with future inhabitants to install the wheel, only to discover that it didn’t allow him to escape, but rather moved the island in time and space. And Adam and Eve were clearly identified in a true surprise – not castaways travelled back in time, but truly the original figures of our story. I found that revelation quite satisfying (although I could have done without the replays from season 1), and the more I’ve thought about it, I think tying island’s the mythic sweep to one of the show’s first mysteries is pretty impressive – I have no illusions that the producers knew all this back in 2004 when we first discovered Adam and Eve, but they planted an open-ended seed that could yield a satisfying narrative payoff in the long-run.

The risk that doesn’t payoff was choosing to place “Across the Sea” as Lost‘s antepenultimate episode (sorry, but I had to slip that in…). It break-ups the narrative momentum from last week’s bloodbath, and risks pissing off viewers leading into the finale. Is there a reason why we couldn’t have known the backstory of Jacob and Smokey prior to now? As the only true stand-alone episode in the series history, it seems better suited to midway through the final season to deepen our understanding of the complex relationship and motivation between the dueling brothers. As is, it seems like Cuse & Lindelof wanted to keep it up their sleeve for a grand reveal, but I doubt it functioned quite as they’d hoped. But I still quite like the episode, grading on a curve for its audacity and degree of difficulty, and finding myself enjoying it even more as I think and write about it. And let’s hope that next week provides a more typical Lost experience to get the haters back on board.

Random favorite fanboy moment: “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” Thanks for giving me an epigraph to use in my book!


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