Monday, August 06, 2007

Give us Europeans a bit of a break, please?

In the last year or so, I've noticed that there is quite a considerable movement in television towards interactivity and intercontextuality, by which I mean the creation of content online which enriches the experience of the viewer by either offering insights into characters, such as the webcomics that have appeared online for Heroes, or by getting the audience to become actively involved in the show, something which Lost has repeatedly used to great effect.

What's quite nice about this stuff is that it isn't actually necessary, it's just a little something extra for people who want to get a bit more out of watching TV but which ultimately would not detract from the viewer's enjoyment or understanding of the show. Really and truthfully, it's a brilliant idea and one which heralds a new age for cult television and suggests that networks are starting to utilise the internet as a tool to get the viewers even more sucked into the worlds of their favourite TV shows.

However, there is something wrong with this idea which I personally have found rather annoying, these sites and features are all geared solely towards US audiences. This is, of course, necessary since that is where the shows air first and which provides a huge market for the shows that utilise the internet in such an innovative way, but is it too much to ask for European versions of these features? Having to rely on US sites can either lead to spoilers or end up just being horribly confusing.

An example. As I've already said, Heroes uses extra features such as webcomics to flesh out the already rather splendid universe created in the show itself, even going so far as to set up myspace accounts for two of its teenage characters, Claire Bennett (the cheerleader that has to be saved to save the world) and Zack, her best friend. On the one hand, these accounts are quite cute, revealing what sort of music the characters listen to and what films they like, but on the other hand they act as useful insights into the minds of the characters. I imagine that seeing blog entries appear in accordance with events in the episodes would be a real treat for fans of the show and, if you show self restraint and look at them in order, then they still are. However, in the case of Zack's myspace profile, you get a fairly major spoiler about events relating to him and Claire which, whilst quite clever and funny, would be a terrible thing to find out if you were watching the series for the first time.

An even more infuriating, and downright mind-boggling, example would be the website set up for the fictional Dharma Institute, the shady organisation behind the strange goings on in loose Celebrity Love Island reimagining Lost. By entering in certain passwords, you get to see extra content relating to events in the show and, whilst it doesn't really make that much sense, it's still a pretty cool addition. However, since the site responds (or responded, I haven't checked in a while) to events on episodes being screened in the US, and with no way of accessing the former content, the site only served to make an already willfully obscure show even more annoying.

I know it's a bit much to expect separate myspace accounts for different countries, especially since they don't really spoil anything if you can show even a modicrum of self-respect, but what's wrong with a UK version of the Dharma site? Surely they must have fictional offices in fictional England which will need a fictional website overseen by a chubby, fictional webmaster. Is that too much to ask to provide loyal viewers, who don't want to download, with an extra level of enjoyment from a show?

Yes, probably, but I might as well ask.