Community – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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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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