Doctor Who producer Russell T. Davies caused an uproar recently, when he said he doesn't want to listen to the fans. American science fiction shows pay too much attention to what fans think, and they suffer as a result, he claimed. Davies was totally right, of course, but he violated one of the crucial rules of fan husbandry: don't insult them or flatter them. Check out our complete rules for fan management, after the jump.
If you're lucky enough to be running a TV show, putting out a movie version of a beloved story, or publishing book or comic series, here are some rules to remember:
- Fans love inconsistencies. Fans claim to hate contradictions in long-running stories, but actually that stuff is catnip to them. If Londo Mollari says he has seven penises in one episode and then refers to his twelve penises in another episode, the fans will spend hours coming up with explanations for the discrepancy. Marvel Comics realized this years ago, when it started sending "no prizes" to fans who could come up with the cleverest explanations of continuity goofs. So don't worry about trying to be consistent with old stories. Just ignore them, and let the fans worry about them.
- By the same token, never give the fans what they want. They'll just hate you for it. They may clamor for two characters to get together, but once it happens, they'll instantly get sated, bored and disgusted, in that order. If you do have two popular characters get together, one should turn out to be a clone or an evil alternate universe version.
- Don't geek out in interviews too much. Every time I read an interview with screenwriter Roberto Orci talking about how the new Star Trek movie fits in with the animated series episode where boy-Spock has quasi-bestiality with his pet Sehlat, it makes me less interested in the movie. You may think only fans will see your interviews with the fan press, but you'd be surprised how many on-the-fence viewers will come across your dorky quotes about minutiae.
- Don't suck up to the fans, but don't insult them either. Davies' mistake wasn't that he ignores the fans, but that he talked publicly about ignoring the fans. The best bet is to pay lip-service to the fans, along with everybody else who supports your project, but don't gush over them. It just makes them despise you.
- Pretend you just invented whatever it is. If it's a TV show, you're writing the first ever episode. If it's a movie with a numeral at the end, you're creating an upstart new indie film. If it's Volume Ten of the Space Dragon saga, imagine it's actually a cool new book project. That doesn't mean you should ignore everything that's happened before, but try to think of your project as something brand new that you just came up with.
- Enough with the viral marketing already! Okay, so having silly games on the Internet is a useful distraction for the hordes of fans who might otherwise be camping out in your dumpsters and trying to take a photo of Katee Sackhoff eating breakfast. The only problem is when the little hints and clues start boiling over into the actual show or movie. When half the audience at Cloverfield is squinting to try and catch the Tagruato logo, it's like they're watching a different movie than everybody else. And it makes the movie seem even more impenetrable and mystifying to everyone who's going in cold.
Okay, that's all the rules I can think of right now. What are your suggestions?