Although I am in the middle of writing another blog post, I was inspired to delay it a week to discuss the NBC television series Smash which premiered in Canada on CTV last night (although there were online sneak peeks throughout this past Super Bowl weekend). The series is about the creation of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe and is scheduled to run 15 episodes in its first season. Smash has been promoted like crazy through conventional TV ads for months (rumours have NBC’s marketing costs sitting at between $10 and $22 million) but I propose this series is the perfect vehicle for over-the-top social media integration and storytelling. If I was God, aka Steven Spielberg, executive producer of Smash, this is what I would want to see for the promotion of this television show and why.
Why Smash Should Be More Social
Of all the fictional series I have seen on North American television, Smash seems perfectly poised to take advantage of the social TV craze to attract and grow audience and loyalty.
Competition Loves Social TV
Statistics show that reality shows like X Factor and The Voice, awards shows like the Golden Globes, and sports event like the Super Bowl have been the most successful at engaging fans through the social networks. (A recent article on CNN spoke about this phenomenon as “must-tweet” TV.) The competitive element seems to encourage people to get vocal online with fans pulling for their favourites and watching synchronous to broadcast. Smash is the first fiction show I have seen that has competition as a strong story arc through the first season – who ultimately gets the role of Marilyn Monroe. I say, “Use it!”
Rare Opportunity for Authentic Audience Involvement
While I understand Smash is likely going to cast the role of Marilyn in next week’s episode, it has been implied this is not a final decision. What if the audience decided who took the role? Ingenue Karen Cartright (played by American Idol grad Katherine McPhee) or Broadway ensemble veteran Ivy Lynn (played by Broadway star Megan Hilty)? Here in Canada, CTV played with this a little bit this weekend, encouraging fans to tweet for #teamivy or #teamkaren to win prizes. But what if the fans could actually decide the outcome of this competition and feel real ownership in the show and its storyline?
Brilliant Social TV Lead-In
NBC has also put Smash following The Voice in its programming lineup. The logic is to carry over those who love music to the new series. However, The Voice also has a very social media savvy audience and leveraged Twitter brilliantly during its premiere season last summer (it was my first experience of social TV). Right now Smash invites fan interaction through the use of the #smash hashtag and a few cast and show feeds on Twitter, a discussion forum and Facebook page. But I think this could be leveraged even more effectively.
How Smash Could Be More Social
Here are my ideas for five ways in which Smash could step out of the box and get creative with the social TV experience:
1. Insider Blog
There is actually the beginnings of this already on the NBC Smash page, a Broadway gossip blog that combines some info about real shows with juicier bits about the characters in Smash and their fictional Marilyn Monroe show. Although there is not much there yet, it does promises weekly postings (corresponding to episode air dates no doubt). It includes the “leaked” clip of Ivy singing but it was posted after the show aired. If this could have been a completely separate site for a seemingly real gossip blog that actually leaked this clip ahead of time (perhaps on YouTube instead of fake YouLenz) that might have generated some interesting buzz for them. My idea would also have the character of Ellis (the new personal assistant of the composer Tom Levitt who seems too good to be true) as being the one who would eventually be revealed to be behind it all. This kind of detail would help make the storyworld in which Smash exists all the more real and help lay the groundwork for some of the other elements I propose below.
2. Character Facebook Pages &/or Twitter Feeds
Creating a Twitter feed or Facebook page for a fictional character is something a number of shows have played around with. I personally loved interacting with a fictional character through Twitter last year and found it effective at getting me more invested in the story. Here in Canada Being Erica used Twitter for its two main characters, allowing them to interact with each other and fans of the show. These days it seems to a void that wants to be filled. Mad Men characters got taken over by fans on Twitter originally. There is a desire and opportunity here. While the show is not running any Twitter character feeds right now, there is already a fan standing in the wings ready to tweet as @Ivy_Lynn – part of a whole role playing (RP) movement on Twitter. As the storyline moves forward there would be many interesting opportunities for Twitter conversations between Karen and Ivy and fans.
3. “In Story” Fandom
While not everyone is a “superfan”, more and more audience members want to get more involved and immersed in the storyworlds of their favourite shows. When this world is closely aligned with reality the line between “real world” fandom and “in story” fandom can get very blurred. A recent example of this was for the modern day retelling of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC mini series Sherlock. Production got significantly delayed (not the least because Watson stars in the upcoming Hobbit movies) and fans were left with a tension filled cliffhanger for a very long hiatus. To fill this void they decided to create a campaign as if they were fans of Watson’s blog . The Believe in Sherlock movement was a completely fan driven phenomenon that gives great insight into modern audience. Smash could definitely leverage the same trend and encourage and invite fans to create “in story” expressions of appreciation.
4. Audience Co-Creation
One of the best ways to reward fans, in both the real world and the story world, is to allow them opportunities to affect the narrative and outcome of story lines. By allowing the audience to pick which character gets to play Marilyn will empower the audience in this way. Other possibilities include inviting fans to suggest/choose their favourite scenes from Marilyn Monroe movies for musical numbers in the final musical or having storylines affected in minor ways by interactions on the character feeds on Twitter.
5. Mobile Integration
Mobile offers further possibilities for promotion and integration of the show into the real world. Smash is very location centric. It could be set nowhere else but New York and the Broadway theatre district. The NBC website even sells tickets to Broadway shows throughout the Smash pages. However, even more could be done to encourage both those who live in New York and tourists travelling to the city to see a Broadway musical to interact with the city through the eyes of Smash. Using existing location centric apps like FourSquare with lists of favourite places from characters in the TV series with perhaps even real world rewards would be a great way to use mobile technology to reach out the fans in the place the show calls home.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree that Smash is a great fiction vehicle for social TV enhancement and integration? Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
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