Blogs help auds talk back

Interactive elements help see how shows are received

Television used to travel a one-way street, from the producer through the network to the consumer. But in an increasingly interactive world, television writers, producers and performers have recognized the power of blogs and podcasts to interact with their audiences, bringing them into the creative process and expanding the fictional worlds the characters inhabit.

ABC’s hit “Grey’s Anatomy” offers four blogs and a podcast. The blog slate includes “Grey Matters,” a place for the show’s writers to discuss each episode; “The Nurse’s Station,” about the characters on the show as observed by the fictional nurse Debbie; “Emerald City Bar,” offering another fictional point of view from Joe the bartender; and “Did You Know?,” which explains the facts behind the show’s medical cases.

The podcast features commentary from writers, producers and actors.

“Frankly, you have little choice (but to be online) nowadays,” says “Grey’s Anatomy” co-exec producer and writer, Mark Wilder. “It’s an extra sort of thing that keeps the show in front of people, even when it’s not on.”

With poll questions drawing as many as 40,000 responses, even casual fans are checking out the show’s site. “We take into account what people say,” Wilder says. “We’re mindful what the fans feel. It lets us know if we’re on the right track or not.”

For example, Wilder says he blogged about the medical use of leeches in an episode he wrote, only to find out that “what they’re really interested in is the Meredith and Derek of it all.”

It’s also fun. Staff assistant Chris Van Deusen writes the bartender’s blog, while writer Stacy McKee’s efforts as nurse Debbie have attracted attention from a major publisher interested in a book edition.

Ronald Moore had barely heard of blogs or podcasts when an exec at the Sci Fi Channel first suggested doing one for “Battlestar Galactica.” Now Moore directly answers fan questions via a blog and records commentary for each new episode that can be downloaded as a podcast. Moore’s partner, exec producer David Eick, hosts a video blog that features behind-the-scenes tours and cast and crew pranks.

“The attitude of the podcasts is me hanging out at my house and watching the show,” says Moore. “People enjoy the implied intimacy of that, of hearing all the sounds in my house.”

Whether that translates in any way into support with Emmy voters is hard to say, but it is possible. “I think word of mouth helps, and word of mouth in the TV community especially helps,” he says.

The blogs and podcasts are perhaps most useful for seeing how shows are received. “There’s always that distinction between what you think you’re saying and what people take away from it,” Moore says. “The podcast lets people see what we intended.”

Rainn Wilson writes a blog for his role as Dwight Schrute on “The Office.” The concept for the blog came about during filming of the pilot episode. Wilson says he thought Dwight would be blogging at work and pretended to write one during some shots.

“It is fun to explore Dwight’s voice from the other side,” says Wilson. “I get these lines written for Dwight and I try to bring them to life as an actor. It’s interesting, kind of coming in another door to see what Dwight’s voice would be in a writing sensibility. It’s not only Dwight’s voice, but it’s Dwight’s very public voice.”

“The Office” has been one of the more active shows online, with actress Jenna Fischer writing a blog about making the show for TV Guide. The actors also provided their characters’ playlists to Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

While Wilson doubts the blog brings in many viewers, “It is interesting trying to tap into the zeitgeist,” he says.

Moore is a little more optimistic. “My sense is if you’re an Internet-savvy person and stumble across it, you may be more likely to watch the show.”

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