Met with a YouTube star yesterday — was very friendly, had some great suggestions for the new web series I’m going to launch.
Among other things, we spoke about the relationship of the filmmaker to her audience, and how very personal that relationship is online, as opposed to the eighteen layers of buffers and oversight to be found on mainstream TV.
In fact, I’ve actually worked on a couple shows where Writers were forbidden to interact with fans on the Net (yes! “forbidden”! I hadn’t been “forbidden” to do anything since I was twelve, and that involved Mom’s slice of pound cake in the fridge!) — and I felt then — and feel now — that the studios/networks didn’t understand the opportunity they were missing.
You see, for some viewers, Hollywood is a mythical land in which Spielberg lunches with Snoop Dogg every day at the Fox commissary, where waitrons in gilded aprons and 24-karat rollerblades serve them rainbow steak and unicorn soup. It’s not a real PLACE, in the real WORLD, with real PEOPLE. God, no! It’s Willy Wonka’s factory, where Lindsay Lohan manages the Oompah-Loompahs (still wondering why they’re spray-tanned orange and their growth is stunted?). To them, Hollywood is a fairy-realm, where ice cream never melts, teen starlets really DO love their 85-year-old billionaire boyfriends, and everyone commutes to work in their flying Jetsons’ cars. And these poor, deluded viewers are called…
Specifically, higher-up Hollywood people.
The higher-ups think they’re just that: higher-up than the Normies (anyway, this is what I imagine them calling everyone not in the Bizness). They think they live in an enchanted world that ooh, just everyone would love to inhabit, if they were special enough, or smart enough, or had enough charisma. Which is utter falsehood, of course; my sister (who comes fully loaded with specialness, smartness, and charismaness) is perfectly happy in her non-Bizness life — to the contrary, speaking as someone in the Bizness, I am often incredibly jealous of her non-Bizness life. It must be nice to only encounter life’s Usual Assholes, as opposed to Hollywood’s Super-Strength Assholes, who think the more assholey they are, the more super and strengthy they become.
And so to preserve this sense of their own awesomehood, the higher-ups try to create a barrier between them/their “property” (the show), and the Normies — because if they were to confront the truth (i.e., that Barney the grocer is probably a specialer, smarter, charismier, and better person than a lot of them), their whole unicorn soup world would come crumbling down. Hence, the forbidding of their underlings (and yes, I do qualify for underling status, according to their rubrics — hell, MOST people in Hollywood qualify for underling status according to their rubrics: strictly to prevent us from jumping into and polluting their emerald-encrusted swimming pools) from talking to the Normies outside of carefully-PR-controlled settings.
After all, we might say something dangerously stupid… like… this entire blog entry.
Talking to the Normies online cuts the higher-ups out of the loop completely. Or worse (to their way of thinking) obviates any need for them at all. Making them a little less special. A little less unicorn-soupy. Not to mention it sends them screaming to their therapists about the control-freak issues they vehemently deny they have.
Which I find just godfuckingdamn hilarious.
The point is, creating a bond between show and audience is key. The higher-ups used to think this was their domain: that they were personally responsible for creating smash successes (out of thin air, apparently)(Writer who?).
But these days, the shortest route between two points is the Internet.
The Net inspires a type of loyalty — a fierce, avid loyalty — that the higher-ups only wish they could command — because it’s based on a personal connection between Writer (/Star/Director/Gaffer/etc.) and Viewer. Back in Ye Olde Days (when we Writers were kept caged in the dark lower depths of the Tower of London), they could only hope for this loyalty when a show became a “hit”.
However, now — given how many shows there are to choose from on any of 500 channels at any given moment of the day or night — not to mention the advent of the DVR — more and more niches have been created to appeal to smaller and smaller demographics. So that “hit” has suddenly morphed into “critically acclaimed hit,” or “Tuesday night hit,” or “cult hit.”
It’s my opinion that ratings have less to do with a show’s success than ever before — and that the Nielsens are now an antiquated formality along the lines of a man standing up when a woman leaves the table to go to the “powder room.”
Nice gesture… but necessary? Not so much.
Granted, the Nielsens still inform the nearly-as-antiquated advertising business on where to place their bets — but as more advertisers move online (hello, Google, hello Amazon, hello YouTube itself), the Nielsens are going to start losing their 1950’s Ozzie-and-Harriet appeal. The advertisers will find out they don’t need an arbiter of popularity. When TV finally merges with the Net — and I give it, conservatively, on the long side, seven years — they’ll be able to find out who’s popular on their own.
It will become about page views, not hand-picked Nielsen family Viewer’s logs. They’ll discover how much more popular behind-the-scenes .AVI’s are than the Universal backlot tour. How Writers’ blogs and Twitterfeeds draw more eyes than 4-question interviews in TV Guide (which, as I’m sure you know, is now online, as well as in print).
It’s only a matter of time before the higher-ups get… well, brought down a little lower toward this thing the rest of us live in, called reality.
Now in all honesty, I have to admit that the idea of becoming solely responsible for my own content — as opposed to its being strained through unicorn soup — is very intimidating for someone like me, someone who’s most comfortable alone, wearing rags, in the dark lower depths I call my office. Yet I have talked to good, solid, real people — like the YouTuber I met yesterday — who make me feel as if it’s possible to crawl out of the hole and see the daylight for myself.
I might even glimpse a rainbow.