I remember TV before social media — and I’m not even 30 years old. A lot has changed in how TV is viewed and how fans interact with programming, especially in the last few years. Once upon a time, a family sat down in the living room and watched a show, and talked about it with their close friends or coworkers. Today, there’s a global community, and you can talk to someone on the opposite side of the world about your shared love of “Supernatural.”
If you have an account with Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, you have probably come into contact with someone who has posted about a television show and their opinion on it. Some of us even follow shows on social media sites for updates, behind the scenes photos, and to connect with other fans.
Instead of the television show being the only source of story, it has become the primary, canon source amidst a plethora of fan created work, scholarly essays, other visual media on set and during conventions, and even tweets from the actors as they watch live with us.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with Robin Lord Taylor, The Penguin from “Gotham” about the pros and cons of promoting the show and tweeting to fans while the episode is being watched for the first time.
I admit, it always gives me a thrill to know that the actors are joining us in watching the show and even re-tweeting or commenting on our reactions. It’s fun to see their point of view, read their impressions of the episode, and to know that they’re having just as good a time as we are.
Juggling social media and watching live television does have its challenges, however. A viewer’s attention may be more tuned to the social media platform, and the episode may require another viewing — or it may even get spoiled by someone in a different time zone.
Ultimately, it’s our decision how much social media we imbibe, and where, and when. I tend to prefer to catch up on social media while commercials are playing, so as not to interrupt my first-time viewing of the episode.
If you aren’t much of a Facebooker or Twitterer, you might find you enjoy the world of Tumblr, which is its own sort of beast. For the most hardcore of fans, it’s a delightful playground filled with photo manips, fan fiction prompts, drabbles, and chapters, fan art, fan pairings, passionate discussions on the meaning behind certain character facial expressions, and show-centric sites you can follow to keep up with everything pertaining to the show and its fans.
If you’re a casual fan, you might find it overwhelming, intimidating, or downright scary. Some of us appear to have way too much time on our hands, and allow a television show to swallow large portions of our lives with little (or no) regret.
I think the way social media has changed the way we view television can be pared down to this: social media has enabled TV viewers to expand their community from local to global, which has afforded both the shows and their fans a longer reach and a way in which to more deeply connect.
Shows now have accounts across multiple platforms, allowing for a more in depth interaction with fans. We can tweet them, comment on their posts on Tumblr and Facebook, and sometimes even get the chance to ask them questions via Reddit or Twitter.
How does this enrich our viewership? It gives us a more intimate connection to the story. If fans care about the actors and the story so much they’re watching the show live while tweeting or posting about it on Facebook, that shows the world how they feel about the show. Multiply that by the thousands, even millions, and that’s what it’s like to navigate the world of TV fans on social media.
It’s good for business, of course, which is why shows have their own sites, but it’s also a way to gauge how the story is affecting people, who the audience is, and why the show matters. This might be the latest way to promote a show, but it’s also the most relational way to do so.
Instead of watching television alone, I can hop online and find people who share my love of television. We can explore the themes of the show, share our thoughts on season finales, and talk about the moment we fell in love with a character.
Television used to be viewed as a shallow pastime for people who didn’t want to interact socially. Now, it has become an extremely social and even scholarly medium, with books and essays written about shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “Community.” With the growing outlets for sharing our love of television, I can only imagine what the future holds for those of us who love interacting on social media and discussing this wonderful medium.Image Credits: Photodune