The fandoms are revolting.
A month or so ago, it began with The 100. This teen apocalypse TV show killed off the wrong character, and fans tuned out of the show in droves, flooding twitter with negative thoughts directed at show creator Jason Rothenburg. Then came The Walking Dead, who’s year long build up to a cliffhanger with more questions than answers sent fans to the digital streets, pitchforks in hand. Arrow is dealing with a war in the hallowed halls of Star City, as shippers of Oliver and Felicity seemingly have turned the show from the Green Arrow hour to the Felicity show – with a major character death done the wrong way turning half the fans into an angry army. And just last week, struggling show Sleepy Hollow decided to end the season with a death so shocking, it took fans a good day to organize their rage. (Although that may have more to do with the fact that there just aren’t that many Sleepy Hollow fans left.)
In the past, when a show would make a series of bone headed decisions, the fans would have no recourse other than gathering around the watercooler or occasionally confronting creators at conventions. But in the age of social media, suddenly direct access to creators is a thing. Showrunners have active twitter accounts and tumblrs, and spend at least part of their busy days interacting with fans. This leaves fans with the ability to reach out when they feel like they’re not being listened to, or when they think the show has gotten horrifically off track. In an era where the source of your fandom sorrow is only a twitter mention away, fans are more and more eager to make their displeasure known.
For a show creator, this means that every decision you make could lead to the virtual sound of thousands of people standing in a big circle and screaming their displeasure at you. It sounds…almost familiar. Where have I heard this kind of thing before?
In other words, the rest of television is just now finally catching up to pro wrestling. And just like a raucous wrestling crowd, the online protests of these genre shows have their good moments and their bad. Sometimes you get fans peacefully humming Fandango’s theme, and sometimes, like the only RAW after Wrestlemania I’ve been able to attend live, fans fire obscene chants at the female wrestlers for who they choose to date. For every ten fans who respectfully tell The Walking Dead’s producers that they feel cheated by not finding out what happens in that pivotal scene, there is one who just jumps right to threatening the producers’ lives or families. There’s a dark side to all of this suddenly open fan interaction as well as a light.
So what can fans of genre TV learn from fans of pro wrestling? Two things:
It only works if you’re stubborn. There have been changes in the pro wrestling world, but they’ve only occurred when the fans have given pro wrestling’s writers a long, protracted revolt. Two minutes or one week of grumbling isn’t going to fix the problems you have with a show. The only way to do that is an organized protest that you plan for the long haul. Shows have been brought back from the dead or massively changed by showing the producers or network execs that your money and your attention can be taken away. And one night or one hashtag on twitter isn’t going to do that.
Be positive. There’s only one moment in history where the fans have truly, completely caused the WWE to change course. And that’s Wrestlemania 30. After a six month storyline of one of their favorite wrestlers, Daniel Bryan, being brought within tasting distance of the WWE championship only to lose it and be shoved aside, the fans wouldn’t let it go. The new heir apparent, Batista (yes, Drax the Destroyer Batista) was supposed to be the big good guy star of the company, but the fans wouldn’t stop chanting Daniel Bryan’s signature “Yes!” chant. Instead of tearing down the wrestlers they didn’t like (although they did a fair bit of that, it is a fandom, after all), the fans focused on elevating their guy. And the company eventually had no choice but to listen, leading to Bryan holding the WWE championship high at the end of the thirtieth Wrestlemania.
If you tell a creator that something they made sucks, you might make some progress if you’re loud enough. But if you tell them that something they made is good, they maybe they should focus on that part instead, well then you get real change. Just something to think about, as your crafting that next tweet to send Greg Berlanti’s way.