When I spoke with Pretty Little Liars showrunner Marlene King a few weeks ago, she surprised me by telling me how much she and all of the other writers in her writers room love interacting with fans on Twitter. She told me the instant feedback is “just plain fun,” and even went as far as to indicate that Twitter criticism (Twittercism?) helps them keep the show on track.
The reason King’s enthusiasm amazed me is because, well, I know Twitter.
Now, look: I love Twitter. I love interacting with you guys on Twitter. I love complaining about how I’m out of ketchup on Twitter. I love, love, triple love reading our AfterEllen-specific hash tags on Twitter. (#GaySharks, #BooRadleyVanCullen, etc.) But I also follow along in real time, sometimes, when I’m watching certain TV shows — #Bones, #Chuck, #Glee — and there’s plenty of inanity to sift through if a person wants to read anything worthwhile.
And, inevitably, after every single episode of every single show, Tweeters start hurling hate at showrunners in 140-character chunks.
We all know the Internet can be a foul place sometimes, like a sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland where mummies are actually fueled by the skills of the noble ninjas who fight against them. (That was supposed to mean “Internet trolls only get meaner when you speak rationally to them” but I don’t think I landed the metaphor.) Not long ago, Internet nastiness was confined to blog comments and message boards. TV writers were never going to see how much you hated their guts for ruining your favorite character/couple unless they were willing to scroll through a hundred pages of snark and fury on Television Without Pity’s forums. But thanks to Twitter’s global takeover, we suddenly have unfettered access to the people who write the plots.
And that can only be a good thing, right?
The only other showrunner I personally know who Tweets is Skins‘ Jamie Brittain. Last season when Skins killed off a major character, fans went ballistic. I took the entire writing team to task in my recap, not because they killed a guy, but because of how they killed a guy. I felt (and still feel) like the Skins writing team is better than that. But at the end of the day, it’s his show, and Jamie and I hugged it out. Fans on Twitter, however, were not so resilient. Tweets directed at Jamie went from shocked to outraged to vicious to downright vile. Some fans just weren’t able to separate Jamie the Writer from Jamie the Regular Guy, and he was finally forced to delete his Twitter account to distance himself from the personal attacks.
The Daily Beast talked to Bones showrunner Hart Hanson and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes about similar Twitter experiences. Hanson recently announced that he will only be interacting with the 300 people he follows on Twitter, instead of interacting with the 25,000 people who follow him. It’s not hard to see why: on any given Thursday night, you can find Booth and Brennan shippers calling into question Hanson’s sanity, his intelligence, his integrity, his looks, his motive, his virtue, and even his value as a citizen of the planet.
So does all that Tweeting matter?
When I asked Marlene King about Twitter she said, “We’re big Twitter fans here, so if we make a mistake, we read about it instantly. And so we’re like, ‘OK, we won’t do that again!’”
Jamie Brittain expressed a similar sentiment, and while he stood by his decision to kill off a main character last season on Skins — and is on record repeatedly as saying that, ultimately, television shows belong to the writers — he did tell me, “Some people thought [the decision to kill off a main character] was just crap. And I have to listen to that. If I don’t, what am I? An arrogant arsehole convinced he’s a genius and that everyone else is an idiot.”