So, Stephen Colbert is becoming a member of the Borg.
OK, not really, but we can dream. No, what happened was this. Glen Beck, realizing he hadn’t managed to get a bunch of liberal blogs all offended at him that week back in August, ran a “Restoring Honor” rally, because nobody knows honor like a former zoo-crew DJ who once mocked a rival’s wife on air for having a miscarriage (and no, this isn’t that dead teenager thing: Beck actually did that).
Reddit, the article-sharing site that didn’t break itself, decided to call on Colbert to hold a rally to “Restore Truthiness” in response. It sounds like a dorky Internet prank, but to get some oomph behind it, they raised some money for schools; about $140,000 worth, enough that Colbert sent them a personal letter rife with so many Reddit in-jokes Redditors were left wondering if Colbert himself was lurking among them.
Oh, and he’s doing the rally, along with John Stewart, on October 30th.
This reflects the influence the Web is increasingly having over television. Granted, Stewart and Colbert are in a pretty unique place; they’re comedians with very active audiences and shows that let them be nimble and take advantage of the ebb and flow of Internet trends as they turn up. Not that this is stopping other networks from taking advantage; Syfy and IGN teamed up to get fans to vote on various aspects of one of Syfy’s memorably terrible TV movies after classics like Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus became message board fodder. And many showrunners and writers will quietly lurk on fan message boards, listening to what they have to say and what the reaction is to their episodes or upcoming announced changes.
What makes the Reddit stunt unique, though, is that it shows a depth of awareness of social networking that’s well ahead of most of Hollywood, which still panics over the “Twitter effect”, namely bad word-of-mouth getting out about movies instantaneously. Colbert actually took the time to speak to Redditors on their level. And it’s perhaps a hint of the future, where TV shows and movies will have to directly engage fans in order to get eyeballs.
After all, people watch TV on their computer screens more and more often, buying episodes off of iTunes and Amazon or watching them with ads on Hulu, and that trend isn’t going to reverse. And it’s going to come with feedback, both good and bad, whether it’s tags or remarks in the comments section.
This is going to take some adjustment for most shows. Sure, bad press is nothing new, but there’s a big difference between “People” trashing your show and having half-a-dozen trolls tag your show on Hulu with “Pedobear”. It’s anonymous, it’s instantaneous, and as Jay Leno learned, it can be scathing.
In short, the future of television is as much about managing fan reactions as it is about getting a good show on the air. But it will always, as it has been for years, about giving the fans what they want. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a rally to attend!
What do you think of Colbert’s response? Tell us in the comments!