The L Word

The L Word

Adventures in Storytelling pt. 4 – The L Word
By Brian Seth Hurst

Though not in 2007’s Emmy® crop, Showtime’s cross media programming for The L Word is another wonderful example of a brilliantly executed cross media property rooted deeply in the culture and social behavior of its audience. The approach taken by Showtime’s Digital Media Group and Senior Vice President and General Manager Rob Hayes seemed to achieve the perfect balance of promotion for the on air show and cross platform story telling.

It began by making the show available for download on iTunes, Movielink, Cinema Now etc. so that viewers, even those not subscribed to Showtime, could have access anytime and anywhere. Fans were passionate, and a community formed online instantly. Showtime became a part of that community and then literally gave ownership of the show brand over to the fans.

First, through a company called FanLib, the community had a chance to take the characters of the show and write their own stories and situations. Known as fan fiction (a growing industry unto itself) the stories are based on the original work. According to FanLib Founder and CEO Chris M. Williams, this season an actual fan scripted scene will be shot and incorporated into an episode. It is the first time this has ever been done. The show also has a MySpace page, and clips available on Youtube, and other video sharing sites, and fans building their own tribute pages.

But, the best playground was yet to come- L-Word in Second Life. A virtual world with all the locations, characters, parties – everything you need to live the L-Life. Like any virtual world, fans choose an avatar and an identity and enter the world that was established by Showtime but that they now own and create. And, Showtime has now entered the world of social media with “Our Chart” , a Web 2.0 network for the lesbian community. Showtime watched the trends among their demographic and simply integrated itself into those trends.

We do need to tip our hats to non-fiction producers for breaking down the forth wall and allowing viewers to participate in the telling of the story. Back in 2004, FX’s ToddTV offered the audience the chance to control Todd’s life through their T-Mobile phones. The hook wasn’t enough and the show tanked. But bigger brands with bigger audiences can succeed where smaller ones cannot. Flash forward to this season on CBS’ Big Brother 8 and “America’s Player”. Housemate Eric was handed tasks to complete in each episode by the viewers votes at or via text messaging. And, each task completed not only affected proceedings in the house but earned Eric $10,000. As of this writing Eric has completed 20 out of 27 tasks and has one task left – to cast America’s vote for who should be the winner. Additionally, CBS gave fans more – the Big Brother broadband talk show House Calls and, for the things that you can’t show on network television, Big Brother After Dark on Showtime Too.

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Brian Seth Hurst is CEO of the Opportunity Management Company, Inc. a cross media strategy and production company. Hurst served two terms as Chairman of the Producers Guild of America New Media Council (’03-’05) while simultaneously serving on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors. Currently, he is Second Vice Chair of the Television Academy and sits on the National Board of the PGA.