It struck me that the mass media attempts to leverage the web are akin to short stories filling in the background for book series, while I was reading "Social Networking and Breaking the Fourth Wall" by Steve Portigal.
The Chart, so the story goes, is a new online social networking site that leverages the graphic device they’ve used for several seasons, in which sexual contact between different characters are charted on a large whiteboard in Alice’s home
-- Steve Portigal in "Social Networking and Breaking the Fourth Wall" on All this Chittah Chittah
I've seen many examples of this recently. Mass Media is trying all sorts of experiments to tie into newer and converged media| communications | computing technology, from voting on reality shows using SMS, or getting show updates via SMS/MMS, character blogs and webisodes.
All of this has a slight reek of desperation to it. Whatever the motive, and whatever comes out of old line media attempting to leverage the tools allowing everyone with a computer and broadband connection to be a content creator and publisher, it is interesting.
Part of what's happening is reminiscent of something I've seen in science fiction serial novels all of my life. Short stories and fan written stories filling in the background of those fictional universes. You can find this all over Science Fiction and Fantasy. Two that come immediately to mind that have built large communities with community generated content are Anne McCaffrey's "The Dragon Riders of Pern" and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series.
Compare how those authors and communities have developed and the rich tapestries of work that have been created with things like
- the "The Resistance" webisodes for Battlestar Galactica that gave the back story for what happened between the end of last season and the beginning of the current season
- CBS' InnerTube
- the cancellation of Vanished as a TV series followed by continuation through MySpace
- the site, WhoDroppedTheBomb.com, for the show Jericho, which is basically part of InnerTube
- TV shows on iTunes for your iPod
And many, many more. These are just the few I found in some quick searches. Many, if not most, TV shows have background support from the web.
So, are these just examples of insincere marketing, or extensions into the fan base? I think that the answer to this will come from how well the show's producers and sponsors join the developing conversations and integrate third-party fan generated content. Just like SFF authors have been doing for generations.