Fandom Vs. General Audiences
Being entrenched most of the time in fandoms, they start to feel like the biggest and most important part of a TV show. Through talking with other members of the fandom, perusing social media, reading and following online content, it’s hard to imagine that fandom is really just a small, core part of a TV show’s full, general audience.
A while back on Tumblr, Janet Tamaro (show runner of TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles) commented in response to a question that the online social media connected “fandom” only accounts for a small portion of the entire Rizzoli & Isles audience. Therefore, she makes decisions that are bigger in scope than the fans she hears from online.
There are millions of viewers who don’t engage with TV in any way other than tuning in weekly. This got me wondering about fandom versus general audiences, especially in terms of which audience/s to engage. The TV show, Dr. Who, has some audience data that serves as a great example.
While I have never seen Dr. Who (though I have heard great things), and the data is certainly only representative of Dr. Who, from what I gather, they have a strong, tight knit fandom presence. I think the trend would be similar to other shows with those strong, connected fandoms and high quality story telling.
The data from Dr. Who (you can see the full article here) grades episodes on a scale of 55 and up (much like a school grading system), where higher numbers are better received. The data compares what grade the hard core fandom rated an episode versus what rating the general audience gave an episode. The conclusions are very interesting.
First, the fandom graded episodes between 56 – 93. The general audience, on the other hand, rated episodes in the range of 76 – 91. But, with the exception of only a handful of episodes, the general audience gave most episodes a grade in the 80’s. The lowest rated fandom episode at 56 was graded an 83 by general audiences. The highest rated fandom episode at 93 was rated an 86 by general audiences. Not much of a difference for general audiences, but a huge difference for the fandom.
General audiences don’t really seem to be affected by what a TV show is doing, as long as there is a (good) story being told. The fandom is much more vocal and critical about the direction a story takes, and it makes sense. Fandom knows the show inside and out and spends extra time talking about and engaging in the TV show long after it airs.
This means there is no reason that a TV show can’t cater (within reason and with storytelling integrity) to their passionate fandoms with little affect on their general audiences. As long as there is a quality story, general audiences will tune in. It’s the more critical and invested fandom that should be kept in mind in terms of writing the show. (No, I don’t mean writing the show exactly as fans want it to play out. I mean telling good stories, staying true to the characters and creating something meaningful for fans to sink their teeth into.) The more engaged the fandom is, the more they felt heard and included, the harder they work to promote the TV show.
A lot of the time “fandom” gets such a bad rep. Fandom gets blamed for ruining the quality of a show when the TV show starts “fan servicing”. (Bad writing is just bad writing. Can’t blame fans for that.z) The Dr. Who data seems to conclude that as long as creators deliver a compelling story, it doesn’t matter if writers throw in added bonuses for their fandom. General audiences will still tune in, and tapping deep into the heart of fandom will keep the most loyal watchers tuned in and engaged.
Really, fandom is a good thing for TV shows. It’s the fandom who invests extra time, energy and money in these TV shows. Fandom is a show’s tireless cheerleaders; there isn’t enough money in the marketing budget to equal the amount of promotion a TV show gets from their passionate fandoms.
In conclusion, fandoms are a gift, show runners. Use them well.