Why Don't More TV Shows Try To Connect With Fans?

from the it's-always-sunny-in-philadelphia dept

We've talked about different aspects of the content business have been shifting to do more "connecting with fans" and giving them "reasons to buy," from the music, movie, newspaper, book and even photography industries. But we haven't talked that much about television -- and that's because TV shows still really don't do all that much to try to embrace their fans. There are a few shows (The Office comes to mind) that have creative online presences, but Dave Title highlights how the cast of the "cult hit" It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is doing a live tour:
Now, to both reward their rather rabid fanbase and to attract new folks to the fold, the gang from Sunny is doing a live tour version of the musical "The Night Man" and screening a new episode from this season at theaters across the country. This not only builds excitement for the new season but creates a far stronger bond with their viewers -- the people most likely to spread the word and build the audience.
Title asks how come other TV shows don't do this sort of thing... and it's a great question. Why aren't TV shows more actively working to connect with fans? Is it because TV shows are often more about selling directly to advertisers than to fans? Or is there some other reason? Or... am I just not paying enough attention to creative TV promotions?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    johnjac (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 9:21am

    Family Guy Live

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 9:49am

    sci-fi TV shows do this all the time. It's probably a lot harder for the mega-popular tv shows to do it because the actors probably don't want to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 9:59am

    The Office rocks, and I think a little of it is BJ Novak's doing. You know, he did go to Harvard, and did some work for the Harvard Lampoon.

    It takes balls of steel to go to Harvard and come out a comedian. But his comedic style certainly reflects a certain type of "Smart Humor" which resonates well.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Ed C., Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:02am

    "Is it because TV shows are often more about selling directly to advertisers than to fans?"

    Considering broadcasters give more ad time while stuffing schedules with cheaper shows, is there even a question?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    José, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:23am


    Come on, man. You're not giving Greg Daniels any credit. He's a major part of The Office, SNL (when it was good- up until 1990) and has other credits.

    And, he also wrote for The Lampoon, man.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    R. Miles (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:26am


    Why aren't TV shows more actively working to connect with fans?
    Because people would get upset the connection's interrupted with a 4 minute block of advertising.

    I jest, of course.

    I had to think about this for a second. I know the tour is an example, but I just don't see myself attending a touring show from cast members of a TV series.

    I'm sure there are some who'd love to meet the actors, and that's great for them. As for me, I can't think of a way which would "connect" me to a show moreso than ensuring the episode is marked for recording on my DVR.

    For me, it's the story I'm tuning it for. The actor has nothing to do with it, really. Case in point: Law & Order, which no longer retains the original cast but I still tune in.

    With that, I would still like to see ideas. Just because I can't think of anything doesn't mean it should be ignored.

    Side note: the creators of Battlestar Galactica did a good job with interviews of the creators and stars, as well as auctioning off memorabilia from the show when it ended.

    A connection, sadly, I missed out on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Melanie, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:39am

    This one falls somewhere between traditional advertising and the kind of event put on by the 'Philadelphia' folks. I was listening to Pandora at work recently, when one of the ads on the site caught my eye. The makers of the new 90210 show (which I have never seen) created Pandora stations for some of the characters on the show, and then linked to those stations in a banner advertisement. I normally find 'interactive' advertising beyond annoying, but this seemed not only perfectly appropriate for its setting, but also likely to create a stronger connection between the characters and fans, or draw in music lovers who may not have considered watching a silly remake of a silly show.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Gryffin, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:47am

    This is the Big Secret of the TV business:

    You are not the customer. You are the product. Advertisers are the customer.

    The business makes a lot more sense once you understand that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Hugh Guiney (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:49am

    I think it's an emerging trend that only the cleverer programs/stations are doing.

    E.g., HGTV just posted this on Facebook:

    Antonio fans: this just in! Antonio is joining us LIVE Sunday night on Facebook to chat during his special, "The Antonio Project". Be here at 10/9c to ask him questions during the show or just say hi.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    jsl4980 (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 10:54am

    What shows are worth it?

    There aren't many good shows out there that fans would want to connect with. Lost has done a great job of connecting with fans between seasons online and with fun TV commercials for the Dharma Initiative (and also listening to their fans). Not many other shows are as good as Lost and I really really don't want to connect to The Hills...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:02am


    You are not the customer. You are the product. Advertisers are the customer.

    Hey Merv,

    So, hypothetically speaking (of course), what happens when some folks get together and say "Hey, my product wants a better customer?"

    You could probably get some interesting things, if you think about it. But to me, it sounds like a new business model, and complete realignment needs to emerge to facilitate that change, no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:09am

    Re: ---

    I'm with you.

    What I want out of a TV show is an interesting/funny viewing experience on demand with less commercials. I don't want to meet anyone, get memorabilia or anything else.

    I watch a show to watch a show. Not much to connect on. :

    But, I'm not even willing to pay for any form of cable, so maybe I'm not the kind of guy anyone would want to ask this to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    jilocasin (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:23am

    Definately more popular with Science Fiction shows

    I hadn't heard of a non-science fiction show doing this until now.

    Let's see (off the top of my head);
    Star Trek
    Babylon 5
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    FireFly (amazing as it only lasted 1 season)

    Television shows connecting with their fans in a big way. In fact I believe it was the fans that kept Babylon 5 alive for all five seasons, Buffy for all seven and it was the fan base that got Serenity made after FireFly was canceled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    hegemon13, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:28am

    Often the opposite

    It's interesting that, with TV shows, often the opposite takes place. When a show is threatened, fans connect with the studio/network of the show to sell them on continuing the series.

    I think this type of marketing would be pretty smart with niche or cult shows -- those who have a limited but extremely loyal audience. I think that strong efforts to connect could expand that loyal core. The core audience also tends to be a more focused demographic, so the attempts to connect could be more targeted.

    On the other hand, I can't imagine the big hit shows doing much to connect. The viewer base is too broad a demographic, the content too formulated and generic, and the shows too commercial. Imagine CSI on tour. Gag.

    Overall, I don't think it works as well as for music. With music, listeners are relating to real people--the members of the group. With a TV show, they are relating to fictional characters. The fiction generally doesn't work well off the screen, as actor personalities often vary greatly from the characters they play.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Verve (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:29am


    There is no doubt in my mind this is true.

    However, The Product influences The Customer. If your company (The Customer) sees more revenue from consumers (The Product) because of a direct correlation to a TV show, then they will continue to advertise with that show, that show will get funding from the network, and then the network will broadcast the show to The Product. Rinse and repeat.

    To Mike's point - there are other shows out there that are making an effort to connect with fans, like the show Chuck on NBC, and their fanbase is responding in kind.

    Example 1: The fanbase, via twitter and fan sites, got together on the night of the season finale, and purchased subs from Subway, dropped comment cards in the name of Chuck Bartowski (lead character) to Save Chuck. It also happened that the main character's actor, Zachary Levi, joined 400 fans at a Subway shop and made sandwhiches for everyone who came. (http://chucktv.net/2009/04/26/video-zac-plus-400-fans-go-to-subway/) You can't connect better with fans than by feeding them. ;-)

    Example 2: The fanbase is streaming episodes of Chuck weekly until the new season begins. The cast sent a video thanks to the fanbase upon the 1 millionth stream.(http://chucktv.net/2009/09/11/video-chuck-cast-co-creator-say-thanks/)

    The cast realizes that it was a bubble-show, and that 13 more episodes were ordered by NBC because of fans being creative and instead of only bombarding the network (a la Jericho and CBS) but also bombarding a major sponsor... and showing the major sponsor that their ad campaign is reaching the consumer. Here is a link to the announcement that the show was renewed because Subway signed on... http://chucktv.net/2009/05/19/breaking-nbc-officially-renews-chuck/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Patty, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:33am

    TV shows connecting with fans

    As I am still fuming about the cancellation of Defying Gravity this comment really struck home. Whedon knows the importance of connecting with fans but none of the networks have a clue - they are still suing people for using clips and so forth.

    The network is an intermediary. It brings potential buyers to the product. But as we have seen before is an intermediary even necessary? It may be convenient for the product manufacturers to have such a thing but it is no longer necessary. The sponsors could create their own shows on the internet and build little universes around them. Branded products, games, contests, comic book extensions based on specific characters or different story lines. They could even incorporate Other products…for a price.

    Also, the sponsors and networks should stop viewing the internet as enemy and start using it as a tool. Rather than turning purple and sending someone to prison for leaking a video they should be leaking it themselves. The producers could see before they had spent all that money on a final product if they were going in the right direction, get feedback on how to improve the story, which characters connected with viewers and which did not. Sure, they have pre-screenings to do this but voluntary feedback is far more accurate and useful.

    If the networks want to stay in business they might want to consider branding themselves, deciding on a certain flavor for themselves instead of the one size fits all personality they aim for now (culminating on the unfortunate decision to put Leno on at 10!). Go comedy, go cops and robbers, go scifi – get a Face. (This would not be as limiting as it might seem at first – there could be a crime drama set in space or a soap opera, for instance) Build an internet presence around that, incorporate fan material and artwork and Help the sponsors adapt to that personality, to Market to that audience instead of Every audience.

    This means a breaking up of the generalized megaliths which exist today but I see it as pretty much inevitable. The players can either jump in with both feet and make more money than ever or they can die.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Stephen, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    it's not sunny in nyc

    everyday i hope ticketron releases some tickets to the live sunny show. no dice. god that will be awesome.

    and chuck is back on because of the fans connecting with the network.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Re: What shows are worth it?

    Actually, the CW appears to be one of the leading networks in this area. I appear to remember several shows promoting relatively intimate appearences with fans, as well as contests in which fans either get to meet stars, attend filming on set, or occasionally actually be IN the show.

    I'm ashamed to say it, but I'm a huge fan of Supernatural, which is why I remember most of this....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    PRMan, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 12:18pm

    You have the cart before the horse...

    Why don't more TV Shows have ratings that families could watch together?

    You know, like all the shows that are the all-time classics?

    There is almost NOTHING on broadcast TV for a family to watch together and very little on cable, either.

    I don't need "connection". I just need something appropriate for families.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 12:19pm

    That is because it is called "Jumping the Shark."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Verve (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    Re: it's not sunny in nyc

    Chuck is back because the fans connected with the network directly AND through the major sponsor, Subway. They sent their Subway receipts to the network, made donations to the Subway's partner charity in the name of Chuck's main character, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Carolyn Wood, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    TV & fans

    The old model is broken. Most shows watched today are DVRd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    kyle clements (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 5:37pm

    been done.

    I believe the Canadian TV show "trailer Park Boys" did something similar to this.

    Members of the cast went on tour with a rock band. Rather than an opening band, the cast went on stage, and did a comedy routine completely in-character. other members of the cast would go around to universities on FROSH week and do in0character skits, as well.

    of course, Trailer Park Boys was a mocumentary-format show, so these performances could be very in-line with what appeared on screen, but I always thought that was an excellent blending of television and real life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Jon Lawrence (profile), Sep 18th, 2009 @ 7:02pm

    because if we put a real conversation online...

    As show producers, most of us are pretty thin-skinned in reality, and feel lucky if we've convinced a network to pay us a lot of money to make a show, then run away.

    To find producers who actually *want* to connect with their fans in a way, is the real trick.

    The more a producer or network opens the conversation with fans, the more able to constructively react to criticism you have to be. Very very few people are able to do that, much less the fairly narcissistic bunch that make films and television.

    Additionally, and this is a big hurdle, if a producer DOES want to open up the conversation, the network legal folks usually have a fit. An open conversation is one they cannot control, or redact; and as such, legal departments typically react very badly to suggestions that would actually allow us to reach out and be real. I would love to have conversations directly with my audiences, and be real and honest in answering questions; but the liability that introduces on the network completely freaks out the lawyers.

    Those two things taken together are on the only nails in the coffin of an open conversation; but they are big nails.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Nick Coghlan, Sep 18th, 2009 @ 7:05pm

    Joss Whedon

    Joss Whedon seems to do a pretty good job of building up rabid fan bases for his shows. (I'm pretty sure TD already commented on Dr Horrible when he did it).

    Also, take a look at the sci-fi convention circuit - there's heaps of money in that and connecting with fans is exactly what it is all about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anon., Sep 18th, 2009 @ 8:05pm


    CBS should have had fans reply to a twitter account,& tell their favorite sponsor(s) of The Guiding Light. It might still be on and selling well. Thx 4 the years P&G.
    Back to radio?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    John, Aug 15th, 2014 @ 9:53am


    I do not understand why hit shows with a great fan base has to be screwed up by greedy producers. I watch to relaxe and and get involved with the plot and the characters. I do not like commercials I put up with them if I enjoy the show. UI feel we have no choice with anything we end up paying for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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