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TV Shows Have Become a Two-Way Conversation

The creators of Lost and Heroes, two of the hottest television shows of the past decade, told the NewTeeVee Live conference this morning that now is one of the most exciting and fascinating times to be a storyteller, because the web — along with social networks and mobile devices — allow writers to take their stories in new directions. One of the best parts about this evolution of TV, according to Tim Kring of Heroes and Carlton Cuse of Lost, is that the fans of a show take part in creating those stories.

Kring described how even before Heroes launched, the show went to ComicCon, the national comic-lovers convention, and talked about what was coming — and the result, he says, was that “we had thousands of fans who went out and set up literally hundreds of websites devoted to the show,” so that by the time it launched a few months later, “there was this quiet, underground, early-adopter, blogosphere world of fandom that had built up around the show” that gave it a real boost in terms of popularity (of course, Kring also joked about how some of those fans were “400-pound guys in Harry Potter costumes”).

Lost creator Cuse said that “the real essence of the revolution we’re going through is that the conversation is two ways now… so you have to think, how do you engage that audience that wants to talk back to you?” One way is to use online extensions of the narrative in the show, and even “alternate reality games” or ARGs that viewers can get involved in and help build. Lost had one called the Dharma Initiative. Members could actually advance in the community by completing certain tasks and could earn a title such as Dharma Scientist.

“This was all done by the hive mind — it was not controlled by us,” says Cuse. “We created the framework, but we had hundreds of people pouring massive amounts of their time and energies into it.” Kring described the approach that Heroes took as “using all parts of the buffalo,” saying there were often storylines or aspects of the show that didn’t fit on the regular TV portion of the show, so it would “live in these other platforms” online or through blogs or other offshoots of the show. The Heroes creator said he could see more shows taking this 360-degree approach to their creations, although they may have less flexibility than he did because “it was the Wild West then” and so no one really knew what they were doing.

Both TV show creators said that this was a great time to be a storyteller. “It’s a really exciting time, because there are so many new avenues to tell stories,” said Cuse, while Kring said it was a fascinating time to be a storyteller in part because “the stories are literally going with you, they are mobile — the phone is both a device for content consumption and a content-creation device.” Both are working on new projects, so it will be interesting to see what lessons they take from their past shows and how they apply them in new ways.

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