The fandom phenomenon in popular culture has grown in recent years. Devoted fans of beloved television shows come together to create a sense of community where they can share their passion, knowledge, and creativity. The internet has fostered the expansion of fandom, with people finding more ways to connect, relate, and support their favorite shows. Fandom originates with good television that people care about, but is nurtured by the actions of the show’s creators and actors, and also by the fans themselves. These communities are sustained and expanded through meaningful interactions amongst fans.
Those who are fervent about a particular television show express it in their own way. While some focus on rewatching episodes or keeping up with the latest show-related news, others may connect to members in the community either virtually or in person. There are some who express their enthusiasm through creative endeavors such as making videos, creating art, writing fan fiction, or participating in cosplay.
Not every show, even if the writers, actors, and time slot are all good, can boast a fandom. There is no clear relationship between the ratings of a show and the intensity of fandom. A well-liked, quality show with good ratings won’t necessarily have a passionate fandom (think Madam Secretary). On the other hand, some fan favorites feel like well-kept secrets shared only by those in the know (think Z Nation). There are also highly rated shows with strong fandoms. If The Walking Dead has taught us anything (besides the value of sleeping with a knife at your side) it’s that popularity is not a barrier to an active and committed fan base.
Community is a tricky thing to build. It takes commitment and caring on all sides. Here are some of the experiences that have helped to cultivate an ardent fan response.
Engagement with fans
The television shows with the most dedicated communities are those that have a synergistic relationship with their fans. Interaction with fans can take place virtually or in person. These spaces provide fans an opportunity to connect with and support each other as well.
Engaging with fans through social media helps to strengthen connections by creating interactions, increasing enthusiasm, and sharing a more personal side. Cast and crew may reach out to their fans by responding, reposting, and even occasionally reaching out more directly. When actors take the time to share something of themselves, it can strengthen the relationship that fans have with their favorite show. By sharing aspects of their personal lives and struggles, TV celebrities become that much more relatable to fans.
Fan conventions have gone from being an outsider event to being a mainstream phenomenon. Cons make show creators and stars more accessible while providing the opportunity for fans to connect with each other. It’s become the norm for many series to have a panel at large mainstream conventions such as San Diego’s Comic-Con. Some television shows go a step further by having their own conventions, which tend to be more intimate that the large multi-show cons. Supernatural is the king of the convention circuit, with 27 convention appearances already scheduled for 2016. There’s a reason why Supernatural, the CW’s longest-running series, has one of the greatest, and perhaps most loyal, fandoms in television.
Streaming video has changed the way we watch TV. It’s created a host of opportunities to showcase current and past content. Many networks were quick to take advantage of platforms like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon. Though some networks still cling to the old-fashioned idea that exclusive hoarding of their content will bring in more revenue, many networks have expanded their viewerships by making their series available to new audiences. These platforms give viewers a chance to keep up with current shows on demand and to watch past seasons. After the first four seasons of Breaking Bad were released on Netflix, the season 5 premiere of the series had nearly double the viewers of the previous year. Breaking Bad quickly turned from a cult favorite into one of the most popular and talked-about shows on television, at the same time developing a significant fan base.
Connecting through an after-show
It the olden days, after you watched a television show, you might talk about it with friends the next day. Now, there are countless other ways to deliberate on your favorite show. Options include connecting through social media, listening to podcasts, reading recaps and reviews, and watching video commentary. Some TV series have developed their own after-shows to create dialogue and discussion. The best known of these may be The Talking Dead, which follows The Walking Dead on AMC. Teen Wolf, an MTV series with a fervent fan base, has two after-shows, both of which honor the fandom through fan segments. On Wolf Watch a fan gets his or her questions answered by the cast, while The After After Show grants fan wishes and the host showcases fan reactions from Instagram.
Starting with a book
Television programs based on novels, book series, or comics have an established fan base to draw upon. The advantage of a book-based series is the anticipation and excitement such a series will bring. The challenge is dealing with meeting the expectations of book lovers. Then there’s also the danger that there will be a division within the fandom between those familiar with the written work and those who aren’t. Generally though, if a book or book series has a passionate fan base, it will help support the new series..
The HBO series Game of Thrones is based on the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, which has a long-devoted fandom. Though some readers haven’t been happy with the changes made in the television series, book readers have often been the staunchest supporters of the show. Outlander is another example in which the book series fan base created and sustained excitement for the Starz production. Two new television series that were based on beloved book series, Shadowhunters and The Shannara Chronicles, also got a boost from their existing fan base when they debuted.
A strong fandom can change the world. Well, maybe not change the world, but certainly fans can organize and make some pretty cool stuff happen. Committed fans have organized to prevent cancellations, support movie versions of their favorite show, and raise money for charities.
Fan support has also helped canceled series to make their mark with a movie. A passionate fan base like Stargate SG-1 or Firefly provides an eager audience whose enthusiasm will help promote a movie based on the series. Veronica Mars fans took it one step further and donated nearly $6 million to help kickstart a Veronica Mars feature film.
Sometimes a fandom will organize around a cause. An example is Teen Wolf, where fans raised more than $25,000 through the Sterek Campaign Charity Project to build a wolf sanctuary. Actor Misha Collins and Supernatural fans created the charity organization “Random Acts.” Supernatural fans have also rallied around actor Jared Padalecki’s “Always Keep Fighting” campaign to support people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
Fandom grows out of the reciprocal interaction between fans and show creators. It’s a dynamic relationship that evolves over time. Examples of current TV shows with committed and engaged fan bases include Supernatural, Doctor Who, Teen Wolf, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The 100, Once Upon a Time, Sherlock, Outlander, and others. The strongest of fandoms continue well after a show is off the air, such as Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, Arrested Development, Firefly, and Veronica Mars. There are some amazing fandoms out there, with people circling, supporting, connecting, criticizing, appropriating, imitating, anticipating, expecting, endorsing, promoting, and creating based on the passion they have for the television show they love. Tell us about yours in the comments.