Social media gives added dimension to plot
It’s hard to be a first at anything on TV, but Syfy’s “Haven” certainly has something it can tweet about.
The hourlong series, now in its second year, became the first primetime show to integrate Twitter into an on-air storyline. Its Aug. 12 episode, the fifth of the season, launched a concurrent subplot on the microblogging site for seven episodes until its season finale on Sept. 30. Series airs Fridays at 10.
“Until now, the only way people have tried to use Twitter is as a one-off event, like live-tweeting a show,” says “Haven” co-creator Jim Dunn. “We’re trying to use Twitter as a medium for telling a story. It occurred to us we could run a parallel story as a long-term way to engage fans, and get into some areas that don’t merit screen time but the fans would appreciate, such as a little more about the characters.”
The goal is to drive viewership, enlisting a new audience while giving viewers another reason to return to the mystery drama, in which each episode is closed-ended.
“Haven” is based on Stephen King’s mystery novel “The Colorado Kid” and stars Emily Rose as FBI agent Audrey Parker, who takes up residence in the small town of Haven, Maine — a longtime refuge for those with a wide range of supernatural abilities — and begins to discover the town’s many secrets.
As the parallel plot unfolds on Twitter, viewers will hear that plot referenced in a line of dialogue or catch glimpses of it in the show, such as a sign in a coffee shop, where they’ll be directed to follow the Twitter conversation through two characters.
Vince (Richard Donat) and Dave (John Dunsworth) run Haven’s newspaper, and in the show join Twitter as newcomers to the microblogging site.
Viewers who follow their characters (@VinceHaven, @DaveHaven) will see them interact with a mysterious Twitter user (@ColdInHaven) who knows an uncanny amount about Haven’s secrets. The new character will not appear onscreen in the story arc, but the subplot serves to set up her introduction for future episodes in a projected third season.
“We really wanted to utilize Twitter with real-time interaction, disseminating information as well as engaging for the first time ever in the content of a show,” says co-executive producer Lloyd Segan. “This medium allows us to reveal character aspects and the humanity displayed in the stories we tell. It’s a procedural, but at its core is its heart and humor, and this is another way to get that across.”
The producers and Syfy worked with Twitter’s media integration team in San Francisco in the development process.
“They asked questions about how they could make it Twitter-y,” says Robin Sloan, manager of media partnerships at Twitter. “Our message was fundamentally about how they could fit Twitter into one of the stories they tell so well naturally. It’s remarkable how they’ve jumped in with both feet, immediately seeing the creative potential.”
To measure audience response to the digital arc, Twitter will pull stats from its analytics systems over the seven-week period, and use “Haven” as a case study for other series that want to dive into Twitter, Syfy digital g.m. and senior VP Craig Engler says. Syfy will conduct research after the finale of the show, which garnered 2.67 million total viewers in its first three outings.
Meantime, the cable net is watching the number of Twitter followers rise — Vince and Dave each had more than 10,000 within five days of the initial Twitter episode.
“The ‘Haven’ website did its best day of traffic on Aug. 12, and 44% of that was from Twitter integration,” Engler says. “We can measure buzz by seeing who is using the hashtag (#HavenNews) and how many people are talking about it. Hopefully, we’ll learn a couple things, as this is something you figure out as you go along.”
All this is not to say that viewers who don’t participate in Twitter will be left out.
“For the viewer who knows nothing about this, it plays as a perfectly natural season, but for those on Twitter, it plays with an added level of meaning,” Dunn says. “Some of the secrets and mythology in the Twitter story will come back to roost in the concluding episode.”