In yesterday’s NYTimes, there was an article on the upcoming ABC show ‘In the Motherhood‘ starring Cheryl Hines, Megan Mullally, and Jessica St. Clair. The show began as a Web video series that drew in millions of viewers over the last two years. What made the show particularly unique, was that viewers sent in real-life stories via an Internet forum and their stories could become inspiriation for the webisodes. Unfortunately, this participatory storytelling element of the show “was quashed by the legal engine of Hollywood” as the Writers Guild objected to allowing submissions for stories as a breach of their contract.
The article goes on to discuss the fears of television execs that suggestions for content can provoke copyright-infringment lawsuits after the fact. Even though ABC had published a contract that required posters to acknowledge that they were not members of the Writers Guild and they forgo any credit for their material, the Guild still objected. So now the show no longer claims that story lines might be inspired by viewer submissions but just claims ‘we want to hear from you!” (When, ah, they really don’t.)
It seems that television executives still have their heads in the sand when it comes to social media and true viewer participation. Just as the Internet has changed the music industry, it is going to change television. Not just its distribution (like platforms such as Hulu.com) but also in content generation. Any blogger today is a published author (hey, look at me!) and anyone with a webcam can be a film maker. It won’t be long before the networks will have to acknowledge that creativity can come from anywhere, even outside the traditional Hollywood walls.