The networks hit the ground running Monday with news of series renewals and additional episode pickups, which is not unusual at this time of year. But how the news was disseminated was more unusual, reflecting a new appreciation among traditional TV types of the value of social media.
Simon Cowell sent the news of “The X Factor’s” renewal for a third season out to his nearly 4.5 million Twitter followers long before Fox issued an official press release. Stephen Amell, star of CW’s “Arrow,” tweeted the news of the Warner Bros. TV frosh drama’s back-nine order nearly an hour before CW issued a statement from network topper Mark Pedowitz. “Best way to start a Monday?” Amell wrote. “Getting picked up for your back nine episodes. Thwick.”
Not to be left out, “Raising Hope” star Lucas Neff let loose with the news that his Fox laffer had been given an order for an additional two episodes this season.
In the case of “X Factor,” Cowell’s tweet was a calculated decision to allow the “X Factor” judge and exec producer to break the news first to the loyal fans who matter most. That wasn’t the case for the CW and the “Arrow” news, but the tweet-break had the effect of getting the star’s enthusiasm for the show mentioned in virtually every story on the renewal. (Eight hours after he broke the news, Amell tweeted a mea culpa to CW and WBTV admitting that he’d unleashed the news “before that news was fit to be tweeted.”)
While such on-the-fly announcements can leave publicists scrambling to craft releases, nets also see benefits in having talent take the lead. It harnesses the promotional power of social media and allows the talent to reinforce the online bond with followers. “I wanted you guys to be the first to know…It was important for you to be the first to know because it is thanks to your support and enthusiasm that we are coming back,” Cowell tweeted.
An hour later, Cowell’s message had more than 2,000 retweets and more than 1,000 Twitter users had marked it as a favorite. Plenty of users also responded directly to Cowell to profess their love for the reality show. It was an unfiltered marketing message, and none of it cost Fox a penny.
Of course these tools can just as easily work against a network or studio, as demonstrated this past weekend when “Blue Bloods” star Jennifer Esposito went public via Twitter with her fight with CBS over her status on the drama series.
Showbiz journos are also having to adjust to the notion of competing with talent for news breaks. Neither the “X Factor” or “Arrow” renewal was much of a surprise; the shows are performing well for their respective nets. But the way the news dribbled out forced a bit of scrambling and reinforced the new rules of the road.
Journos are wearing their fandom on their sleeves on social media, such as when reporters retweeted word of “Homeland’s” season three pickup on Monday (which came out the old-fashioned way, via press release) with their own enthusiastic remarks. On Twitter, where the traditional rules of objectivity for journos are frequently bent, plenty of reporters and publications have built up big followings by championing certain shows and stars — which amounts to piggybacking on the online relationships that creatives build with fans.
Indeed, Amell’s apology to his nearly 29,000 followers brought forth more retweets and supportive responses such as this declaration from @hannahrodgers: “Dude. It was your news. You are ARROW.”
Although reporters hate to be scooped, the events of Monday morning underscore that social media gives thesps and creatives the megaphone to be their own best publicist.
(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)