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The Powerful Influence of Passionate Fans

Posted At: May 20, 2011 12:26 PM
by Miriam Fry

From the 1950s — when one had to get off the couch and manually change the channel on the TV — to 2011 — when we can watch TV on demand and online — TV shows and the roles their fan bases play have changed immensely. TV shows create watering-hole topics that facilitate strangers’ bonding and provide something for families to do together. Today, with limitless online information, chat rooms and blogs, fan bases are becoming more organized and are providing free PR for network producers.

When American Movie Classics announced on January 7, 2011, that it was in negotiations with “Mad Men” producer Matthew Weiner about the fate of the show, fans were heartbroken with the possibility it could be cancelled. It became apparent that there was an abundance of fans who were ready to defend the show, and some took action.

Dedicated fans Therese Bohn and Judy Brown created a petition to let AMC know their wants and to share their love for “Mad Men.”

The last line of the petition conveys fans’ strong support for the continuance of the show: “This is Matt Weiner’s baby. Please let it grow and thrive. Now.” The petition letter was posted on the Facebook page of Basket of Kisses, an AMC fan blog. As of March 19, 2011, 198 people had “liked” the link and at least 1,000 signatures had been obtained. By using social media, the show’s fan base was able to quickly disseminate the urgency of their message.

Other “Mad Men” lovers posted comments on AMC’s website detailing their frustration and happiness with the network’s decision. Blogger ‘zerelda’ posted, “We have to wait another whole year…….please, can we have some Mad Men re-runs on Sunday nights until then? AMC, are you listening?”

Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands, a PR firm based in Chicago, said that fans’ conversations on the Internet can be responsible for a show’s success if it happens to receive less than favorable ratings when it premieres.

“With the rise of the online community, fan networks for television have become even more important. Word of mouth has always driven show popularity, but the Internet gives fans a voice that is equivalent to word of mouth on steroids. If your show starts and the Twitterati hate it, be prepared for your show to fail. Likewise, if your show opens under the radar, but you have fans posting on blogs and forums, you could be headed for mass success very quickly,” Santoro said.

Santoro’s point was upheld by a fan with the username ‘lkd711.’ He showed his happiness upon hearing the news that there will in fact be a fifth season with the comment, “‘Lord what happiness! I’m mad with joy!’If you know this film quote, go to the Quote Game and play! We have lots of time to fill until season 5!”

While fan networks can be responsible for a show’s success and the absence of one can contribute to its failure, Santoro said that “a lot of ‘Mad Men’s’ growth has been due to the fans evangelizing the show. Man Men has won a number of awards, and done a lot of smart marketing, but I truly believe that a lot of their growth is due entirely to the passion of their fans constantly saying, ‘You have to watch Mad Men. It’s the best show on TV!’”

Ultimately AMC announced on March 29, 2011, that the show will continue in 2012. “For ‘Mad Men,’ in particular, their fan base has been very critical,” said Santoro.

While fan bases are powerful for dramas like “Mad Men,” reality TV has taken fan bases and the influence they can have on a show’s ratings to the next level. Take for example, “American Idol.” The reality TV show, which gives ordinary people the chance of a lifetime to perform on a national stage and compete week after week, premiered in the U.S. in 2002 after a UK version grew to popularity.

“As a producer it’s not enough to make shows funny but instead for them to be interactive,” said Kevin Wolf, president of TGPR, LLC, a Silicon Valley boutique PR firm. “Fans of ‘American Idol’ not only share their thoughts of approval or disapproval on websites and in chat rooms; they directly affect which singers will advance to the next round of the show.”

According to Wolf, “The producers of ‘Idol’ have created a very interactive atmosphere, and that has made the show iconic.”

No one can argue that the best PR is that which comes candid from ordinary people. “Mad Men” and “Idol” fans who share their unprompted thoughts on the Internet, whether or not they realize it, are creating quality PR for the shows they love, as well as the networks. The fan bases of “Mad Men” and “American Idol” have proven to be powerful. Both shows have fostered passionate communities of fans who, perhaps unknowingly, engage in PR with every move they make.

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