April 23, 2006

Online contest lets “L Word” viewers plot action

By Carly Mayberry

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Should "The L Word's"
Bette confront Cari while Alice finds her heart broken, or
would a true confession by Alice risking the demise of Dana
make for better melodrama?

Showtime Networks, in conjunction with entertainment
services company FanLib, is letting viewers of the lesbian
cable drama make those decisions, and more.

Fans have a chance to wrest control of the plot from its
writers -- while getting some online notoriety of their own --
by crafting their own scenes according to parameters set by
series scribe Ariel Schrag. Participants read, judge and
discuss each other's work, all of which was entered in a
contest that ended last week and resulted in a "fanisode," the
first fan-written script for an existing show.

Many popular shows inspire fans to create their own scenes
and post them to community Web sites, a phenomenon referred to
as fanfic. Showtime is unusual in sanctioning and even
encouraging this activity.

"They're going to do it whether we invite them to or not in
this interactive culture we live in," said Ilene Chaiken,
creator and executive producer of "The L Word." "From the
beginning, the audience claimed the show and felt like they
owned it."

The project also kept fans engaged between seasons, she
added, and Schrag's guidelines ensured that followers didn't
stray into inappropriate territory.

While Showtime has the option to produce the finished
script, participants at the very least will receive a
downloadable digital magazine featuring the completed script,
alternative scenes and profiles of winning contributors. They
also qualified to win a gamut of prizes from Showtime and event
sponsors. The grand-prize winner, aspiring novelist Jan Naugle
from Colorado Springs, Colo., received a personal online
writing session with Chaiken.

"Ours is probably in the top tier of shows that have such
an engaged fan base," Chaiken said. "Fans really want to be
involved and to provide feedback about what should happen with
these characters, and this is a great way to interact with our

The series' ratings are up more than 50% from last season,
and the "L Word" fanisode site logged 175,000 visits during the
eight-week contest, success Chaiken attributes to the creative
involvement it has allowed its loyal viewers along with the
community it fosters on blogs and discussion boards.

Chaiken could not confirm another fanisode contest in "L
Word's" future, but Rob Hayes, Showtime's senior vp and general
manager of digital media, said he would love to do another one
linked to the series.

"This whole aspect of positive consumer-generated content
allows viewers and fans to interact with the show beyond the
one hour they watch it," Hayes said.

He gave credit to the way in which the contest was
presented. "If it's done within a safe context where the
creators are involved in it, and it's structured so fans can
share with their friends, it can be very positive," Hayes said.
"Ultimately fans become brand ambassadors for the show."

Hayes said the strong response to the "L Word" online
venture will most likely lead to similar interactive contests
in Showtime's future, noting in particular some associated with
the network's "Master of Horror" franchise.

"The L Word," which has been renewed for a fourth season,
stars Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman and Mia Kirshner.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter