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Lisa Steinberg Headshot

Twitter vs. Television

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Social media is reaching all new heights in fan interaction. Imaging myself as a teenager having direct contact through the Internet with my favorite celebrities is pretty unfathomable as the Internet was just blossoming at that time. The Internet and social media have come a long way since then with the inception of sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter, specifically, has given fans the opportunity to have celebrities literally at their fingertips. Networks have come up with one of the most ingenious ways to tie social media sites, fans and their favorite celebrities together by having stars of their popular shows live tweet during episode airings. ABC, TNT and USA networks are prime examples of networks that provide direct access to their stars. Most recently ABC has given fans the opportunity to chat with stars from fan favorite shows like Pan Am and Once Upon A Time while USA has provided chats with stars from successful shows such as Psych, Burn Notice and Suits. TNT has had stars from hit shows The Closer, Franklin and Bash and Rizzoli and Isles participate in social media Q & As. On days that these popular shows air, fans have the opportunity not only to ask these celebrities questions, but the celebrities also can provide anecdotes and behind the scenes scoop as it unfolds on screen for fans.

What is mutually beneficial about these live Twitter chats is that the stars of the show and the network can get instant feedback on what the fans like/dislike and want to see more/less of. There is no crunching Nielson numbers or waiting to receive surveys back in the mail to find out what fans think. Networks have demographics and criticism at their finger tips in return, and this is invaluable information for them.

Having instant access to celebrities can also back fire on networks as well, whether it's celebrity live tweeting for a Q & A session or a celebrity just tweeting a thought, comment, fact, or feeling. Case in point, the recent buzz that had Twitter ablaze was when Pan Am star Karine Vanasse tweeted that they (the show's cast and crew) had gotten "the call" that the show had been canceled, but that one last new episode would air. Vanasse then apologized and back pedaled by saying that there are actually five new episodes that would air up until February. This prompted ABC execs to release a statement advising that Pan Am, in fact, had not been canceled and that it was still up for a possible season two. Even so, with an all new episode of Pan Am that was set to air that coming Sunday, December 4th, viewership for the episode turned out at a massive low according to ratings released the following day, as did other ABC shows that evening. There are no new episodes of Pan Am set to air until January and what happens to the show from here on out will be determined in the near future.

Once a tweet has been put out into the universe, it can be deleted, but there is always someone who has read it and therefore what's been shared cannot be taken back. The fact that social media can have such a domineering effect on the programs we watch on a daily basis is both titillating and frightening all rolled into one. When a celebrity tweets during a live Q & A session, or at any time, there is nothing a network, a show's publicist or a celebrity's publicist can do to control what is put out into the Twitterverse. The aforementioned all have to live with the consequences and try and exercise some spin control. After Vanasse's faux pas she didn't tweet until right before the brand new Sunday night episode aired. Whether this was her own choice, or something that the network requested of her, we will never know. The power that her one tweet held definitely had a ripple effect on both the show's ratings and fans.

Now that network TV and fans both have each other over a barrel, who has the upper hand in this situation?

Around the Web

Twitter Blog: Watching Together: Twitter and TV

Television's Twitter Information Grenades - Wall Street Journal

Twitter? Facebook? Rioters saw it on TV | UK news | guardian.co.uk

Twitter and TV Get Close to Help Each Other Grow - NYTimes.com