Angry Fans = Success?
How does a show know their fans are engaged? Seems that the more dynamic the emotion, the more successful creators consider a show, even if it means fans are burning mad.
Bones just aired their season finale in which (minimal spoilers) a huge obstacle was thrown into Temperance “Bones” Brennan & Seeley Booth’s relationship. It was heartbreaking and left a lot of fans feeling a lot of different emotions, few of which included “happiness”.
In talking about the finale, Bones executive producer, Stephen Nathan, had the following to say about why they ended the season on such a gut wrenching note: “If the fans aren’t upset and they aren’t angry or sad or something we’re not doing our job.”
Also recently, Shonda Rhimes of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, was explaining why she hasn’t written any Grey’s Anatomy episodes this season. In that post, she explained a similar sentiment to Nathan about season finales: “This year’s finale was written by Stacy McKee. It’s brilliant. And very well-done. And exactly how I would have written it. Which probably means some of you are gonna be furious with us all summer long and some of you are gonna love us.”
And finally, show runner Ryan Murphy of Glee, The New Normal, and American Horror Story, seems to deliberately do what infuriates fans most. While Murphy’s actions sometimes appear borderline cruel, there is no question fans (especially Glee fans) are engaged even though most of what they say isn’t so positive. Murphy turns the rules of fan engagement on their head because after all, fans wouldn’t be so mad if they didn’t care about the show.
So why is it necessary to tear apart favorite characters again and again? Why torture fans with agonizing twists and turns? These three show runners feel most successful (maybe even more successful) when their fans are a boiling pot of anger or in a puddle of tears as when fans are happy. This is counter-intuitive, but maybe that’s just me.
I am one of those people who often peeks at the ending of the book before starting. I tend not to watch season finales because I hate those guy wrenching cliff hangers, and I just wait to see how it resolves after the first episode next season. (I still have not watched, nor will I ever watch Grey’s Anatomy season 8 finale. I just can’t take it.)
But maybe that’s the point. All those big emotions (that I hide from) mean an audience cares. It means the characters on the show are dynamic and resonate with the audience, and fans are invested in a meaningful story. And of course, even though they’re mad, those fans will tune in next season to see how it all turns out anyway.