The fight for Jericho

Post-apocalyptic TV show Jericho was canceled on short notice recently, leaving its faithful fans scrambling to try to save it. “Scramble” might be the wrong word, because in fact it’s a delightfully well-coordinated effort, complete with daily missions and 14,684 pounds of nuts.

My own attachment to the show is 2-fold: the opening shot is of an earth art work by Lawrence artist Stan Herd, and Jericho is supposedly modeled a little bit on Lawrence. Sure we don’t have mountains here, but they came to town to shoot exterior shots and the upper half of town (North Lawrence) officially renamed itself Jericho for a day when Skeet Ulrich and gang came to visit before the show’s launch. At this point we might note that this is not the first post-apocalyptic scenario set more or less in Lawrence. Way back when, The Day After was filmed here, complete with hundreds of KU student extras lying around pretending to be dead.

Which is to say, I guess, that people like me who haven’t actually seen it are probably behind its cancellation. Sorry. I hope they get their show back.

Update: Those of you popping in directly to this post may be interested to see my follow-up post about Jericho fan-bashing here.

Why be on TV when you can be IN TV?

A deal announced at the MIPTV/MILIA audiovisual and digital entertainment trade show this week looks to merge the online ‘virtual world’ concept with television:

A new virtual world for telly addicts will also be coming onto Internet screens worldwide soon following a deal announced here last week between reality TV giant Endemol and interactive gaming leader Electronic Arts.

Inspired by the runaway success of virtual online worlds, Second Life and South Korea’s Cyworld, the new offering — dubbed Virtual Me — will enable users “to become a star in the virtual world and even take part in their favourite TV shows like Big Brother,” Endemol top exec Peter Bazalgette said.

Endemol’s Virtual Me will let fans create their own personal cyber-clone, or avatar, which can take part in a web-based virtual Big Brother as well as other hit shows like Fear Factor that will launch shortly on the Internet. (link)

There’s a terrific DVD called Avatars Offline in which Janet Murray, an expert in online narrative, argues that Star Wars becoming a multiplayer online game would be the big breakthrough in gaming because the ability to interact with fictional characters in a fictional gamespace one already knew would attract many who wouldn’t want to play Everquest. This DVD was pre-World of Warcraft, which has turned out to be wildly more popular than Star Wars, despite no grounding in well known story worlds.

Cyworld and Second Life are very different stories and it seems a little odd to collapse them. The former is powers of magnitude more popular than the latter — ask a Korean teenager or twentysomething how many people they know on Cyworld, and then ask an American how many they know on Second Life, there’s no comparison between their scale and no reason to think either phenomenon would generalize easily to large audiences running around in virtual Big Brothers.

So forgive me if I think that this initiative sounds a little more like hype rather than something that is ultimately going to get bazillions of people playing in-show. But it’s creative thinking and it’s good to see industries figuring out how to push boundaries of giving fans new ways to engage media and one another. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

Make Your Own Lost Pantry

A nice example of fans appropriating pop culture on the net: Over on the blog Insanely Great News, Lost fans have created PDF labels that replicate the food containers from the show and put them up to share with other Lost fans. As they say, while preparing for a Lost party:

… we realized that normal food wasn’t gonna cut it tonight. We wanted to eat like Hurley and drink like Desmond, and thus was born the Lost Label Project – an effort to make our pantry look way more like this.

And because the best part of making something cool is sharing it, we created a downloadable Label-Maker kit. Just grab this PDF, print it out, tape it to some beer bottles, and drink to your hearts content. Change the words and turn everything you own into a Dharma ration!

The comments expressing gratitude, telling how they used the labels, and critiquing their choice of barcode, are a succinct demonstration of how fans use pop culture materials to serve one another and as material for play.

Registering Fan Sites?

Via Techdirt comes word that Dragonball is requesting, demanding, insisting that all fans who want to start a fan site register it first with them.

First I think “ha ha ho ho he he.” Then I think “are they going to run around suing those who don’t? what a pain for the fans and what a way to make them hate them, but probably an effective way to chill their fan activity.” And ultimately I agree completely with the Techdirt take:

In this case, it seems like the company is trying to find a balance between protecting its own trademark and allowing fans to continue, but at some point people need to realize that any attempt at controlling word of mouth efforts pretty much destroys the whole point of any word of mouth promotion.

It’s not viral, bottom-up, grassroots, or quite as much fun if it’s on a short corporate leash. Anyway, a google search turns up 1,450,000 hits for “Dragonball fan site” so the genie’s probably out of the bottle on that one…

Suitcase Full of Cash

A&E has launched a fantasy-league sort of contest to go along with their re-running of the Sopranos. Players have an online board:

THE SETUP: Collect game pieces – in ads online and in the real world – and score points every time a new episode of The Sopranos premieres on A&E.

THE PAYOFF: The top scoring player wins a suitcase with $100,000 in cash, and everyone has a chance to win weekly prizes.

From their descriptions of the rules:

The Sopranos A&E Connection is an online interactive game…a scavenger hunt meets fantasy sports. Collect game pieces that represent characters, settings, and objects from the world of The Sopranos on A&E. Then, each Wednesday when a new episode of The Sopranos airs on A&E, you’ll earn points when the pieces in your collection appear in the show. The player who scores the most points at the end of Season 1 will win a suitcase with $100,000 in cash! Plus everyone has a chance to win weekly prizes just for signing up!

The way you place your pieces on the game board affects how many points you’ll score. Pieces that are next to each other (horizontally or vertically) will score more points if they appear on screen together. So if you arrange the Tony piece next to the Cigar piece, you’ll score double points (20 points for each piece) every time Tony and the Cigar appear on screen at the same time. If you arrange Tony, the Cigar and the Gold Chain game pieces next to each other and they appear together you’ll earn triple points (30 points for each piece). There are also x2 and x3 bonus boxes scattered on the game board. Each piece placed on these squares will earn double or triple points. Become an A&E Insider – for tips and tactics on how to play.

Like the concept of fantasy soaps, but with a cash payoff worth playing along for, this seems to focus on the dullest parts of the narrative, and is based entirely on luck and persistence rather than skill or actual engagement with the narrative. At least people can play in groups as well as alone, which adds a social layer it otherwise lacks. It’s an interesting effort to get people engaged socially and playfully around television narrative, which is perhaps even more important with a show that has aired already and is available on DVD. It looks from their point boards like they’ve got some viewers doing it.

Any readers checked it out? Anyone have any sense of how well it’s working for them?