Last year, I wrote about how television networks don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to figuring out how to deal with Internet technology (in that example, it was The CW’s lame decision to not put Season 2 episodes of Gossip Girl on their web site — a decision they later reversed).
This year, it seems that the networks have started getting savvier about using the tools they fear so greatly. Or, at least, Fox has. With their upcoming show Glee, Fox seems to be doing everything right in how they are leveraging technology to build an audience for a very quirky show.
It’s a hard show to explain, but it’s basically about a high school show choir. It’s got Jane Lynch in it. It’s funny and brilliant. But, weird. And a little hard to explain. Which means, if things were to go as they usually do, it would be off the air within a year.
There’s a reason why quirky shows die: they can’t build an audience fast enough. Arrested Development is more popular now than it was when it was on television. And don’t get me started on the tragic death of Pushing Daisies. These shows can’t generate the same audience right out of the gate as extensions of popular franchises (and seriously, how long until they start airing CSI: Des Moines and Law & Order: Animal Control?).
Shows that don’t fit neatly into the cop, hospital or lawyer genres attract a different kind of audience. GEEKS. Theater geeks, band geeks, computer geeks, book geeks. Most geeks — no matter their geek genre — use computers and social media. And they use those things a lot more than everyone else. We tend to be the early adopters and the heavy users.
It seems like Fox did the math.
So, Fox’s first smart move was to air the pilot after the American Idol finale. First, the potential to reach a staggering number of eyes and second, the likelihood that that audience would be open to a show that includes musical numbers (Yeah, you heard me. MUSICAL NUMBERS.)
After the pilot aired, it was made available on Hulu and the Fox web site (and perhaps other places as well), allowing it to build an audience in the months between the Idol finale and early September, when it premieres. By doing this, Fox is allowing Glee to build a passionate audience (mainly through word of mouth) before the show even starts.
To help things along, Fox has also released sneak peeks from the upcoming season (like Bust Your Windows), character outlines, and audition videos. The show’s Facebook page includes regular bits of news and photos, and each of the characters has a Facebook page of their own. (Okay, that one is less cool to me. I dislike it when characters act like people in the real world, but I’ll let it slide.) They’re on MySpace, Twitter, and there’s even a Glee Wiki. Jeebus!
Here’s why I think all of this is noteworthy, though: usually, fans of oddball shows don’t get a chance to rally around their show until it’s time to write letters to the network begging them to bring it back. Fox is using the social web to harness that energy on the front end to build an audience, and they don’t seem scared to put that content wherever we want to consume it: Hulu, Fox, Facebook, you name it.
I only watched the show because Nancy saw it on Hulu, and then texted me that it ruled. I watched it, agreed, and then made my husband watch it. I tweeted and posted to Facebook about it. I told co-workers about it. I’ve told countless people to go check out the show on Hulu. I’m even planning a Glee premiere party at a local bar. Now, perhaps you’re thinking that I have too much time on my hands. But, I prefer to think that it’s because I’ve loved and lost enough shows (I miss you, Ned the pie man!) that if I find something I like, I’m willing to spread the word in the interests of keeping it on the air. I have no interest in seeing another reality show; I’d rather encourage the networks to produce stuff that’s creative. Maybe even a little risky.
So, good job, Fox. I like your moxie.
As for the rest of you, I’ll expect you’ll be watching the first episode of Glee with me on September 9. Send me a note if you’re in Minneapolis and want in on the party.