Lost and Heroes seem like two compelling examples of how a vibrant online fanbase can help fuel success on television, but when Carlton Cuse (an executive producer on Lost, pictured center) and Tim Kring (the creator of Heroes, pictured right) spoke at the NewTeeVee Live conference today, they said Hollywood is only warming gradually to these new technologies.
As an example of how things haven’t changed, the pair pointed to the latest batch of shows debuting on network TV. Most of the shows seemed no different from shows that debuted 10 or 15 years ago, Kring said. Cuse added that the mere fact that all the new shows are debuting within a week of each other feels pretty old-fashioned.
“We’re not in 1974 anymore,” he said.
Kring said Hollywood’s shift to “transmedia” storytelling, where the traditional show is supplemented by online content, has been “taking much longer than I ever thought.” The support that Heroes received for those initiatives may not be possible anymore, he said. At that time, the TV networks knew the audience was fragmenting and they wanted to “fish where the fish are,” but it was still experimental and they didn’t worry about making money from their online efforts. As a result, Kring wasn’t exactly given a blank check, but he said he did have “an open field in front of you in terms of what you can do and what you can’t.”
Cuse agreed that “within the traditional media confines, evolution is slower.” As an example, he said that when the Lost team wanted fans to create their own commercials for the show, ABC was hesitant because of the legal implications of allowing fans to manipulate the network’s intellectual property. And now, when Cuse pitches new shows with a strong online component, network executives don’t seem particularly interested — they just say, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
So does that mean forward-thinking producers should circumvent the networks and create their own Web shows? That won’t work yet, Cuse said. Sure, Hollywood is slow, but the Internet TV audience is only 6 percent of the total TV audience, so there’s not enough money available yet to create Web shows that compete with prime-time TV programming.
Still, Cuse and Kring both said their own mindsets have changed. Cuse said a television show producer is now like a “brand manager.” As he develops new shows, he’s already thinking “in a different way” about how the experience can go beyond the show itself.