One of Long’s key components to transmedia storytelling is that each extension should be designed as canonical from the outset.[1] That way, he argues, audiences have a better sense of how each component relates to one another and thus can create a more complete fictional encyclopedia in their head. However, a television show is always considered to be official, while secondary components are usually apocryphal at best. There are a few reasons why canonical transmedia texts are so infrequent in television.

First, one of the major sources of contention in the 2007-2008 Writer’s Strike was distinguishing between promotional and original content. Because they considered streaming video and ancillary content to be promotional, studios did not provide television writers adequate residual rates for online content. For example, NBC Universal asked the writers of the Battlestar Galactica to develop a webisodes series, but the network did not want to pay the writers for their work, claiming such content was ‘promotional.’ [2] This debate continues to hinder the possibility for a fully canonized transmedia story. Television writers are not willing to devote their time and energy to produce content that might be considered promotional and thus not worthy of compensation.

Most often, a third party team writes and develops transmedia extensions, leaving the possibility for damaging inconsistencies and contradictions. To guard against these “insincere mistakes”[3] producers either disregard an extension as non-canon, or pick out some canon elements from it. Most fans accept the showrunner’s decision about what is canon and what is not. Joss Whedon, for example, has publicly stated the Season 8 Buffy comic book series is canon.[4] Of course, because Buffy is no longer on the air, Whedon has the luxury of writing storylines without worrying about future inconsistencies in the show.

Secondary texts are also considered non-canonical so that traditional television viewers do not feel required to consume them in order to enjoy the show. However, by considering the television show the only official text, television producers risk stamping all additional media components as “optional cash-grabbing fluff.”[5] While this may indeed be the case, a lack of authenticity hurts a loyal fan’s opportunity to deepen their experience of the world and come away with a fuller understanding of it.  For this reason, in Chapter 4 I argue that balancing the demands of loyal and casual fans is not a function of the canonicity of the information, but rather the type of narrative information addressed.

[1] Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics, and Production at the Jim Henson Company.
[2] Goldman, Eric. “Battlestar Galactica Producer Talks Strike.” Ign.com. 7 November 2007. <http://tv.ign.com/articles/833/833633p1.html>
[3] Paul Levitz, President of DC Comics, describes two types of “continuity mismatches.” He says there are sincere mistakes and insincere mistakes. Sincere mistakes are minor and easily forgivable. Insincere mistakes damage the brand, forcing the viewer to ask, “Didn't the moron read anything that happened before?” In Ford, Sam. “Transmedia Properties.” Convergence Culture Consortium.
[4] Vineyard, Jennifer. “Joss Whedon Sends Buffy Back To The Future In New Season-Eight Comic.” VH1.com. 2 July 2008. <http://www.vh1.com/movies/news/articles/1590279/20080701/story.jhtml>
[5] Long, Geoffrey. Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics, and Production at the Jim Henson Company, 40.

Posted by Aaron Smith on June 17, 2009
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