Twitter Telelevision?

During my two summers working at MySpace I saw a great deal of frustration towards the insular nature of the “webisode.”

Try as they may, internet hits could not make the transition into successful full length television series. Why? Too many reasons. One: web series tend to have unknown, sometimes untrained, actors. Two: they lack the production connections to perpetuate growth and funding opportunities. Three? People discredit anything birthed on the internet to be unfit for anywhere but the internet – it’s a cultural pigeonholing that has yet to be proved un-founded, for the few webseries who have attempted to cross over into real television (Quarterlife anyone?) failed miserably.

Yet recently, Twitter has been spawning movie and television deals one after another. Why? Because Twitter is selling ideas, pitches, not pre-packaged, actor attached, already produced content.

Great success Tweeters. Now you don’t even need an appointment to sell a script.

The Hidden Power of Cult.

I’m always surprised when it takes me more than two seasons to catch onto a good show – yet it happens ALL the time. Arrested Development and Veronica Mars didn’t become two of my all-time favorite shows until YEARS after they were cancelled. Supernatural had started it’s sixth season by the time I became enamoured, Dexter was in its fourth.

How is it that certain TV shows become mainstream hits overnight, while others silently succeed in the dark? Supernatural is a widely popular show, with a highly dedicated fanbase, yet it receives very little mainstream attention – even in it’s 6th season.

So in order to understand this phenomenon, I try and dissect why people watch what they watch.

At the network level, NBC, FOX, ABC, HBO all have their flagship programs, the big buzz, money making series – and it is these shows that that the advertising funds are poured into. These are the summer blockbusters of television. Spectacle cultural phenonmena like Glee and Mad Men. Low budget animation series like Family Guy, The Simpson, South Park. Things that have either proven formulas for success or instant niche explosions. Wide reaching content. The hit programs on any network in turn tend to define audience perception of what the given company is all about. 30 Rock and the Office have defined NBC as the “quirky off beat indie” network. FOX, because of it’s a member of the Newscorp family is known for its conflicting image of hyper-conservatism, coming from its news programming, and crass animated humor (Family Guy and The Simpsons) and semi-wholesome hit family programming (Glee.) ABC, owned by Disney? Family television. CW? Gossip Girl. Sex and blood, baby! That shiz sells.

While these network trends/stereotypes aren’t always true, they limit the openness of viewership and hinder the widening of their demographics. For the longest time I rejected the possibility that Supernatural could be a quality television program because it was on the CW. Boy was I wrong.

Furthermore, the hyper success of one television show tends to funnel the resources and attention of both the industry and the viewers away from the other less-hyped programs that are out there.

Then, not everyone has, or can afford to have, premium television – putting Starz, HBO and Showtime at an inherent disadvantage for viewership numbers. Furthermore, the edgier type of programming put on premium television limits itself to an older less conservative fan base, forcing it into a 18-40 year old liberal demographic, considerably less widespread than “easy a” cable programming.

But this is all the technical stuff, television fandom is much more than numbers and time slots, it’s the heart and soul of millions.

This is what makes the idea of “cult” media so fascinating – it separates from the technical, the structural and the industrial constraints and parameters of it’s network or context and succeeds without million dollar advertising campaigns, big stars or prime time slots – they succeed because of the passion of their fans and the intensity of viewer participation.

And if that ain’t love? I don’t know what is.

Ross: Power to the People? Or to the Industry?

As filmic technology improves and methods of tele-participation grow and evolve, the lines between the industry and the audience shift and blur. It seems, generally speaking, that over time, the people have gained more control in what the industry produces, keeps in the line up, and renews at the end of each season, yet how is it that the “Man” has relinquished so much of his power to us little people in a world controlled by profit? Well, simply put – he hasn’t.

The studio, the network, the industrial machine of digital and HD, they want us THINK we hold the fate of television in our hands, the truth is, as soon as we forge ahead towards viewer independence, they find a new way to market, package, and manipulate our tastes – turning the false security of personal choice into the profitable systematic production of mainstream consumerist drivel. It’s the same thing media does to trends in music, fashion, and other forms of culture, the mainstreaming of the counterculture, and the adaptation of independent desires into hetero-normative profit driven industry.

Yet it remains VERY important to those in charge that we feel important in the production process. Not to use the same old tired examples over and over again but FOX’s response of denial to rumors of Arrested Development’s cancellation in 2005 is a prime example of the industry’s false empathy for the viewer; the show was cancelled 6 months later. In the end, the network will always make the choices that result in profit.

However, that doesn’t mean we’re moving in reverse; the audience has certainly made notable headway in our ability to control the direction of television and filmic content. Increased fan visibility on the internet has lead to better industry measurements of viewership, and the prevalence of multi-media conversational platforms has allowed for constant the constant debate and remixing of preexisting content.

So the networks are listening, yes, but then why are critically acclaimed shows taken off the air? The real indication of viewer power would be a world in which GOOD shows, well written, witty, and unique shows got the chance to grow into their fan bases. Terribly imbalanced advertising funds, strange time slots and lack of network support are only a few of the obstacles facing any show’s chance at success.

There are too many industy factors outside the bound of audience control for the “little people,” the fans, to gain real or substantial input in the televisual process.

Yet this is not to say we are powerless, if our voices are loud enough we may be able to make a dent in what is produced and consumed, how large a dent it is however, depends on if the numbers align with our passion.

“It’s called breaking, and it’s unprofessional!” …poking through the fourth wall.

Tina Fey is no stranger to the world of live television, consequently, it didn’t exactly come as a surprise when she and NBC decided to air live versions of an episode of “30 Rock” last month. This choice did several things for the already popular series; first off, it made an attempt at reasserting the power of television scheduling – asking viewers who normally stream online content at their leisure to revert back to the days of traditional network determined time slots. Did it work? No way. At least not for anyone under 30. Every person I spoke to about the episode streamed it off Hulu a day or two after it aired, partially, I’m sure because our school doesn’t offer us basic cable, but even more so because at Middlebury, Thursday nights are religiously dedicated to drinking too much and making a fool out of oneself.

Even now, I had to look up what day of the week and time “30 Rock” airs because I have grown dependent on constructing my televisual life around my own convenience and rapidly evolving schedule.

Yet, “30 Rock’s” rebooting of live viewing was not meant in any way to inspire us backward towards old audience habits – instead it was a call to the acknowledgment of the nature of the medium itself. It was a call to “meta.”

But what exactly is this META thing? Hell, I had no idea until the beginning of this semester, when Mr. Toren Hardee, the media savvy king of all things current and hip, explained it to me (with just a hint of filmic pretension): Meta is self-reference for the sake of self-reference. It knowingly creates an extra dimension of audience interaction that blurs the lines between the medium and reality thusly altering audience relationship to the content.

This however, is not a new concept; the idea of purposefully self-referential media has been around for quite some time, take for example some of the early “cinema verites” where intrigue into the medium produced the filming of filming. Or the evolution of an interest in the lexicon of the “Stars” as seen in Keaton’s knowing nod to the audience when trying on hats in Steamboat Bill Jr. “Meta” filmmaking can take on several different forms, though each involves some sort of acknowledgment of film as film. This breaking down of the fourth wall can exist in an addressing of the medium itself (the camera, the audience) or in the admission of an outside context, unmasking characters as actors. In many cases, such meta exposition overlaps medium and context, creating a separate space for extended audience connection or advanced understanding of the medium, shifting viewership from passive to personal and active.

The live episode of “30 Rock” is a perfect example of multi-dimensional meta; the cast frequently acknowledges the fact that things look different, and that there is something off about the episode, the title of the show itself references the change in film style (live episode), and the narrative follows the concept of breaking character on live television – it’s meta upon meta upon meta.

What “30 Rock” succeeds in doing in it’s live episode is providing the audience with the true benefits of self-referential cinema, it strengthens audience connection with the characters and the narrative, and allows us a feeling of commitment to the both the source text, and the outside world it exists in.

Another blazing example of this appears in season 2 episode 8 of the series Supernatural, “Hollywood Babylon.” It is here that the two protagonists visit the very studio lot where the series does their post production work within the context of their narrative, and then, when taking a tour of the lot, pass the set of “Gilmore Girls,” one of the former stars first shows, causing the actor to make a knowing face and hop off the tour tram.

Meta is an inside joke between the audience and the actors, a secret between a director and fans, a shared moment or glance or scene that breaks the wall between viewer and creator. It doesn’t have to be funny, or overtly obvious, but it blurs the lines between the consumer and the consumed, allowing for a renewed sense of free viewership.

So, “What’s the Future of TV?”

Pay money for TELEVISION? PAH. Yeah right.

While interning at Showtime this past summer, I participated in an on-going study of the evolving TV audience; a focus group dissecting the rapidly progressive viewership trends of my generation – and more specifically, the effects of the internet on said viewership. The funny this is, there is a huge, seemingly irreconcilable disconnect between the old and new audiences. Most people over 30 aren’t satisfied with watching their shows off of a thirteen-inch screen; the youth’s demands of free dissemination and easily accessible content is the anomaly of our society. We are holding the industry hostage. Give us liberty or give us death.

But where did this sense of entitled entertainment come from?

Well, isn’t it obvious? It’s the fault of the platform, not the industry – we were introduced to the Internet as a place for free expression, a source of endless knowledge… as long as you pay your phone bill on tim of course

AOL for just 9.99/$ a MONTH! FREE TRIAL INSIDE!

Free. F-R-E-E. The birth of the Internet was the liberating revolution of information/expression and inter-personal connectivity. Think about what the original subscription expansion web-form was. Pornography; something outside of mainstream acceptability, outside of the realm acceptable entitlement – something with a very narrow and specific ad-market and cultural demographic.

And as with all technological and creative platforms, the internet has had to evolve to suit our cultural expectations and desires, finding new ways to spread entertainment and content – new platforms and structures, new pulls towards active participation and consumption.

The Internet is has quickly become “The Blob” of artistic socialism. It’s absorbed and encroached on the territory of all other forms of media, creating a culture of instant gratification and the deconstruction of traditionally paid-for content.

We want to watch WHATEVER we want, WHENEVER we want it… for FREE. Not only because of the traditional roots of the platform, but because of our recently growing participation within the medium. Thanks to the evolution of feel like partners in the perpetuation and the evolution of the web – we exist within the form as active creators, remixers and ethereal fans and artists – even if our format is on a Facebook page or on a youtube video, a blog or a p2p streaming website.

We live in a “post-network” era, at least structurally – where Showtime and HBO and FOX can’t hold on to their own content.

The internet is the commune, the network is a marriage. TV is going to have to embrace the chaos and look for new revenue streams. Sorry guys.

Rajwinder Kaur and MC Hentz Present: DRABBLE.

It’s: HIGHper-Sexed Semi-Political allegory sweetened by Southern Hospitality and the just right amount of… “What the hell was that?”

It’s: Creatures of the night, Ghoulish Greek Mythology and the endangered Nymph-Dandelion-battle for the BRIGHT POWER SOURCE of the working class girl, who… pumps liquid life and Love through her beer-tapped short-short veins and whose… accent isn’t even mildly believable during those emotionally EXPLOSIVE self-righteous post-feminist monologues.

It’s: the love of a Drainer-Transformer, cold and pale, trend-inducing, hip cannibalistic Civil War Era sexual encounters that sell in bottles of O-Positive and A-Negative high definition.

Romeo DRINKS Juliet.

Normative’s “Evolution of Remix Culture”

Limewire died this week.

The last foot soldier in the fight against the big bad music industry. An industry that sucks money from artists directly, and apparently doesn’t want that to change. The vicious war on p2p sharing is NOT in the name of the musician. The musicians are getting fleeced by the labels anyhow. Radiohead understands that, so why can’t the government? Instead of fighting the inevitable, we need to look into new revenue streams and create a better system of open possibilities.

As Normative says, infinite and inflexible copywrite laws stifle the new wave of viewer participation and social integration. My adolescence was defined by a stagnant relationship to technological entertainment and viewership. TV was a vegetative distraction that kept me from doing my homework, it was a mind numbing, fantastical, sedating experience. The computer was equally as isolating, before we had the internet I would sit for hours traversing the Oregon Trail until I died of dysentery, or Doodling on Kid Pix. Now, I’m not saying this interaction with entertainment was entirely fruitless – I learned some very valuable lessons about morality from re-runs of “The Facts of Life,” and Oregon Trail taught me a great deal about Manifest Destiny – but while I was interacting with my entertainment consciously, I wasn’t creating – I wasn’t sharing this experience with others.

Then… sometime in the midst of my long four years in high school, the world changed; the internet became personal. Myspace, Facebook, Youtube all introduced me to the idea that I could live and breathe my thoughts and feelings through the wires and cables that lead to the outside world endless possibilities. I could exist outside myself – I could publish, propagate, inspire and learn, all at once, without leaving my chair. And then there were the connections, the mere idea of interacting and sharing with millions of people all over the world with the same interests, passions and ideas, the same need to create, was overwhelming. This was a whole new world of thought.

Contrary wise, many people today seem mourn the death of personal connection. I can honestly say that there are times when I find our culture superficially bound together by the simple tweets and facebook posts that take seconds to send. If we really cared that much about so and so, wouldn’t we call? Wouldn’t we send an email or, God forbid, a letter? I am the girl that collects typewriters and Polaroid cameras because I fear our culture is shifting towards a world of intangible forces. Celluloid film is dead. Coffee table photo albums are an endangered species. And craftsmanship ain’t what it used to be. I strive to live in a world where there is love in everything. In our words, in our work, in our art. And good news, I think we’re on our way.

Easily accessible video and other creative online platforms lead to the equal and fast dissemination of ideas and projects. Good work can be seen and passed along; the people, not the media, has the power to speak up and support what we want and like. We are our own tour guides in the chaotic world of mass culture. We don’t have to prescribe to the constructs of mainstream passive viewership anymore.

And even when our YouTube generation isn’t trying to relay a specific message or goal, we participate to be seen, to be recognized and appreciated for what we have to offer in our multi-national/cultural/intellectual/hyper individualistic society. We seek connection with friends and others like us around the country, around the world.

We all want to be seen, we all want to be loved. It’s human nature that thrives on connection, and in a world perpetually divided by isolationist technologies, we must make our media connect; we must fight the impulse to separate and embrace the possibilities of a shared technological culture.

Viral video changed everything

I’ve recently stumbled upon some wonderfully high-larious web series based/celebrity impersonations which personify how deep this whole remix culture really goes. Not only is content out there to be remastered and reimagined, but the people themselves… given it’s a little mean, but still, wonderfully creative and funny none-the-less.

Very Mary Kate:
…And a fan remix: ReMIX!

Chloe (Sevigny): “Resolutions, by Chloe”

Brilliant. : the Epitome of REmix

“In everything I do, I endeavour to espouse and inspire enthusiastic novelty. My intention is for that to come through loud and clear in my interactions with everybody I meet. Especially you.” – Burning Dan

Last year I spent the very end of my J-term in Park City Utah, by myself, at Sundance.

Why? Well aside from my overwhelming desire to spend all my time watching off-beat indie films and animated shorts – this was a trip spurred on by an overwhelming sense that I, Mary-Caitlin Hentz, was floating. I had gotten into a pattern of artistic passivity, subconscious complacency. I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t creating; I was asleep. I was stuck with one foot in college and the other in daydreams that sat at least a full year outside my reach. I was frustrated with my transience and my perceived inability to be doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

So I packed a suitcase, bought a ticket, and left.

Days go by, and all of a sudden I’m getting my sparkle back, that insatiable need to put words on paper, to paint, to sing, to swim. Screening after screening, lecture after lecture, bar conversations and sidewalk talk with people like me, people who can’t imagine another path or course ahead of them – people who know themselves too well to fight their daydreams.

This wholeness, however, didn’t reach it’s full potential until the very end of my trip. The night I found Lexy and the rest of the hitRECord team. The very second I met Lexy, a whimsical mess of red lipstick and 40’s flair, I knew it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. She shimmered and smiled like a disney princess, her spirit overtaking everyone she met with optimism and beauty – she’s the one that introduced me to the endless possibilities of the world of remix culture.

Her boyfriend Joe, an actor, had started a hitRECord five years earlier with the help of his brother (Burning) Dan and friends. The idea behind the website is stated by Joe as such:

“We create and develop art and media collaboratively here on our site. So rather than just exhibiting and admiring each other’s work as isolated individuals, we gather here to collectively work on projects together. Videos, writing, photography, music, anything — we call them all RECords. Now and then, when I think something we’ve made has come out especially well, I approach the traditional entertainment industry to turn our work into money-making productions; and then we share any profits with the contributing artists.”

I logged on, and the passivity dissolved. hitRECord allows us to work together as artists and as people to create lasting relationships and beauty across oceans and time-zones, culture and class -this is what I had been looking for all along. A playground for my own overactive imagination, were whimsy and passion are born and bred, upheld and revered.

This is art. This is active viewership.

DJ Spooky.

And then there was light.

…and Sight. Sound. Feeling. Color. Air and Earth and Sea.

Notes, words, words and more words, more notes, scales, chords, phrases, sentences and paragraphs, languages, more languages. The Old Testament, the New Testament, the Torah and Koran. The great American novel. The pop song. Gregorian chant. Ballet, jazz and tap. Break dancing, indie rock, slam poetry and a sonnet or two. There was Taming of the Shrew, Ten Things I Hate About You and seven hundred different cross-media adaptations of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Ironman. Man, man, man. How bout a film about Wonder Woman? But without the hot pants. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

And outside, animals tempted by the Darwinian promise of bigger and better leap towards like lemmings towards the “E” word – some succeed, some… splat.

Evolution/Adaptation, the foundation of creation – we take what we know and grow bigger, brighter, shinier truths with more megabytes and sleeker packaging. Laundry detergent is laundry detergent, air is air, words are words and all brands of dish soap are born out of the same elemental components and “Leave it to Beaver” functionality.

There are only so many notes, so many sounds, so many chemical-compounds that shift like quicksand to suit the mood, our bank account, chore wheels, time tables and…

We are the revolution. The high-speed internet and social networking soldiers raised on a steady diet of copy-written sugar cereal and those Napster-Megavideo Ghost stories, that never quite scared us kids – though our parents seemed afraid enough, and yes we are tired. Tired of being tired, tired of Fruit Roll Up comas and the condescending art-attacks that filter through the high definition TV screens that we don’t even watch anymore. Instead letting the blue-white glow of our smaller screens serve as our chariots into the raging battle of whens and whys and what to watches – the hows and the rights and the wrongs.

So we fight for the right to… party… no – to use bigger building blocks to create an amalgamated, mish-mashed, remixed, international, inter-intellectual, cross-generational, emotionally charged culture of “I refuse to sit on my ass and consume this crap you call television.” There’s a reason The Simple Life isn’t on air anymore.

…Welcome to the Renaissance of culture.