Sunday, April 27, 2008

TV character blogs

Interesting discussion at work the other day about fictional TV characters blogging which prompted me to do a quick trawl of the web for existing TV character blogs, the results of which are below, ordered by launch date. Whilst UK broadcasters are only just starting to dip their toe in this particular pool, a couple of the US networks have really embraced the concept. NBC was first out the gate in February 2005 with Nigel Blog but it's ABC which has been the most prolific to date, launching ten character blogs since October 2005.

So, the $64,000 question: do they work? Well, that depends on your success criteria. For the commercial TV networks, the bottom line is ad revenue and that means getting eyeballs to your blogs (or their RSS feeds) either to generate direct revenue from online ad sales or to increase engagement with the associated show and shore up its on-air audience. Hard numbers for these blogs aren't easy to come by as most of them are hosted on sub-directories of their parent network's site (of which more later). For those with their own domains, monthly uniques range from the low thousands to a peak of 25,000 for Robin's Daily Dose (see below chart from Compete).



As to whether these blogs pass muster on editorial merit, opinion seems very much divided. Steve Rubel describes character blogs as "a complete waste of time because a character is not and never will be human", although his comments seem mainly directed at marketeers, prompting a intelligent response from Rok Hrastnik on the marketingstudies.net blog, arguing that blogs are now reaching a more mainstream audience who don't care about "the rules" as defined by the early blogging adopters and just want to be entertained.

Assuming that your persuaded that there's either financial or brand building merit in creating a TV character blog, what are the other decisions you need to make before launching your blog? Here's a quick run down:

1.) Which character to choose

The most common approach is to pick a relatively minor character who is able to proffer observations on the key players without threatening the main thrust of the narrative (e.g. Joe the barman in Grey's Anatomy). Probably the most notable exception to this is Hiro from Heroes who has emerged from a large ensemble cast as one of the most popular characters in the series. Another thing to bear in mind is how plausible is it that this character would keep a blog? Whilst blogging is undoubtedly becoming a more mainstream pursuit, there are still some characters who feel a more logical fit for the medium.

2.) Who's going to write it

Pretty fundamental this one, the most obvious choice being the writers of the show's broadcast scripts who are used to writing dialogue for the chosen character. Potential pitfalls include a lack of enthusiasm/engagement from the writers who are used to writing teleplays for sizeable primetime audiences; agreeing a remuneration rate agreeable to all parties (lack of precedent) and how to handle comments (see point 4). Alternatives include a writer more comfortable with blogging but unconnected with the on-air writing process; the actor who plays the character on-screen (Judah Friendlander writes Frank Talk, Masi Oka contributes to Hiro's Blog and Rainn Wilson regularly scribes for Schrute-Space); or, if you really want to go out on a limb, a bunch of superfans (not sure anyone's gone down this route yet, although I think it would be fascinating to try).

3.) Frequency of posting

The frequency of posting differs wildly on the blogs surveyed below, ranging from the regular-as-clockwork weekly posters to the extremely sporadic. The issue here is managing users expectations and encouraging repeat visits (especially important when that most basic of blog features, the RSS feed, has been omitted). A related question is whether to continue blogging whilst the show is off air, increasing costs but potentially maintaining audience engagement between seasons. The recent WGA writers' strike forced many of the below blogs to cease updates for the duration, resulting in some creative explanations for the bloggers' absence: "Joe and I have been on a hunger strike for several weeks so I haven’t had the strength to blog" (from Grey's Anatomy's The Nurse's Station).

4.) Whether to enable comments

Often cited as one of the fundamental ingredients of what makes a blog a blog (along with reverse chronological entries, permalinks and subscribeable feeds), comments present an interesting dilemma for the authors of character blogs. On the one hand, you have comments which threaten to shatter the carefully constructed narrative universe by alluding to its artifice. On the other, you have comments which seek to engage directly with the character. Dealing with either is fraught with difficulties (do you pay the author to respond to comments in character?) which is why so many character blogs either ignore comments or switch them off altogether.

5.) Where to host the blog

There appear to be three main options when it comes to deciding where to host your TV character blog. One is as part of your TV network site which has the advantage of piggy-backing on existing infrastructure and Googlejuice but demands a greater suspension of disbelief amongst users as the artifice of the blog is made all the more apparent by the surrounding network livery. Another option is a dedicated domain name (e.g. http://www.jessandtess.com/) which can help to maintain the artifice that this is a genuine blog and feels pretty essential if you are going to show the URL as part of the on-screen drama (see point 6). That said, most of the below sites with a dedicated domain name have heavy network branding which arguably counters the main benefit of an off-portal URL. A third option is to use a third-party intermediary such as MySpace, which worked pretty well for FX with The Carver (http://www.myspace.com/thecarver) - 68,000 friends and counting.

6.) Whether to reference the blog in the on-screen drama

Not easy to do in a way that doesn't feel forced, weaving a TV character's blog into the on-screen narrative is another interesting call. Finding a way of rewarding users who are reading the blog with extra insights, without penalising those who aren't is a difficult balance, although somewhat easier in the wake of shows like Lost and Heroes which achieved this masterfully (see earlier post on Why Heroes raises the bar for multiplatform media).

Anyway, enough rambling, here's my round-up of existing TV character blogs. Let me know in the comments or on your own blog if you've come across any others or have a strong opinion about the merits (or otherwise) of TV character blogs.

Nigel Blog
http://blog.nbc.com/nigelblog/



Show: Crossing Jordon
Network: NBC
Active: February 2005 - March 2007
Comments: Yes

Schrute-Space
http://blog.nbc.com/DwightsBlog/



Show: The Office
Network: NBC
Active: September 2005 - present
Comments: Yes

Dave's Diatribe
http://www.didyouseethelights.com/



Show: Invasion
Network: ABC
Active: October 2005 - May 2006
Comments: Yes

Natalie's Blog
http://www.usanetwork.com/series/monk/webexclusives/blogs/teeger34.html



Show: Monk
Network: USA
Active: January 2006 - September 2007
Comments: No

Margene's Blog
http://boards.hbo.com/blog/Margenes-Blog/700000143



Show: Big Love
Network: HBO
Active: March 2006 - present
Comments: Yes

The Nurse's Station
http://www.seattlegracegossip.com/
og/Margenes-Blog/700000143



Show: Grey's Anatomy
Network: ABC
Active: April 2006 - present
Comments: Yes

From the Desk of Detective Sergeant David Gabriel
http://alt.tnt.tv/closer/blog/



Show: The Closer
Network: TNT
Active: June - July 2006
Comments: No

Hiro's Blog
http://blog.nbc.com/hiro_blog/



Show: Heroes
Network: NBC
Active: September 2006 - June 2007
Comments: Yes

The Emerald City Bar
http://www.emeraldcitybar.com/



Show: Grey's Anatomy
Network: ABC
Active: October 2006 - present
Comments: Yes

Barney's Blog
http://www.cbs.com/primetime/how_i_met_your_mother/community/barney_blog/



Show: How I Met Your Mother
Network: CBS
Active: March 2007 - present
Comments: No

Frank Talk
http://blog.nbc.com/frank/



Show: 30 Rock
Network: NBC
Active: March 2007 - present
Comments: Yes

Creed Thoughts
http://blog.nbc.com/CreedThoughts/



Show: The Office
Network: NBC
Active: May 2007 - present
Comments: Yes

Jessica's Reflections
http://www.jessandtess.com/



Show: One Life To Live
Network: ABC
Active: July 2007 - present
Comments: Yes

Robin's Daily Dose
http://www.drrobinscorpio.com/



Show: General Hospital
Network: ABC
Active: July 2007 - present
Comments: Yes

Kendall's Hart to Heart
http://www.kendallhart.com/



Show: All My Children
Network: ABC
Active: July 2007 - present
Comments: Yes

McCallister & Me
http://blogs.abc.com/mccallisterandme/



Show: Brothers & Sisters
Network: ABC
Active: September - October 2007
Comments: No

"Hmmmm" by Randy
http://blog.nbc.com/randy/



Show: My Name Is Earl
Network: NBC
Active: September 2007 - present
Comments: Yes

Toxic Shark
http://www.toxicshark.co.uk/
Show: Casualty
Network: BBC
Active: October - November 2007
Comments: No

Cam's Blog
http://blogs.abc.com/camsblog/



Show: Big Shots
Network: ABC
Active: October 2007
Comments: Yes

Marmaland
http://blogs.abc.com/theclog/



Show: Carpoolers
Network: ABC
Active: October - November 2007
Comments: Yes

Confessions From The Front Desk
http://blogs.abc.com/dellsblog/



Show: Private Practice
Network: ABC
Active: October 2007 - November 2007
Comments: Yes

6 comments:

markiddon said...

Hi Dan. Thanks for this, possibly the most useful post I've read in ages.

Dan Taylor said...

Thanks Mark :)

Mot said...

Great post.

I'm fairly sure the first TV show with a blogging character was the UK soap Brookside: the character Jimmy Corkhill launched a site in 2001, and it was referred to pretty regularly on the programme - on one occasion viewers even got to see him struggling with the basics of HTML!

The show was cancelled a few years ago, and Jimmy went quiet, but there are traces of the site on archive.org.

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Mr. Bennet said...

What about character blogs created by fans as parody, such as Burnt Toast Diner for Heroes characters?

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