By Molly Freeman
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The fans are, arguably, the most important aspect of a television show. Actors, directors, producers, writers, etc. traditionally thank their fans when accepting awards because of the universal truth: a television show would not exist—or would be cancelled—if not for the fans.
Currently, in the days of social media, people involved with television shows are expected to go beyond simply thanking their fans during acceptance speeches— now they can, and should, interact with their fans online.
One particular series was thought to be extremely adept in using social media to interact with fans: MTV’s Teen Wolf. Matt McDonough, the man in charge of Teen Wolf’s social media, has always used the Twitter and Tumblr accounts to express as much enthusiasm for the show as its fans.
But since the first half of Teen Wolf’s third season aired this summer, fans have taken some issues with the television show as well as its social media extension. While Teen Wolf was lauded in the past as a racially and sexually diverse series, the show faced criticism this summer after killing off many of the LGBT and people-of-color (POC) characters.
However, when fans voiced their concerns, the actors, the creators, and the social media for Teen Wolf remained silent. Instead, the social media team, led by McDonough, released some promotional videos that seemed to rub fans’ noses in the issues they had raised.
Teen Wolf has consistently hosted contests for fans to win walk-on roles in the show. The most recent of which, Die On Teen Wolf, allowed fans to audition for a role in the second half of the third season, 3B, where they would be killed on camera. The contest was meant to poke fun at the number of characters—both major and minor—that died during 3A.
Die On Teen Wolf was accompanied by a video, In Memoriam (see below), to get the word out. Meant as a joke, in actuality, the video effectively highlighted the fact that many women, POC, and LGBT characters had been killed in 3A while the straight, white, male characters seemed to multiply.
Furthermore, when actors Sinqua Walls and Gage Golightly decided to leave Teen Wolf, their characters Boyd and Erica were killed. Whereas, when Colton Haynes left, his character, Jackson, was merely sent to London—with only a joking reference to An American Werewolf in London as explanation.
Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis has not given a reason for why Boyd (a POC) and Erica (a female) were killed off while Jackson (a white male) wasn’t. Perhaps it was Haynes’ speedy departure, leaving the writers unable to kill his character off successfully. Fans, however, felt the gender and race of these characters played a role in their fates.
Following the In Memoriam controversy, the Teen Wolf social media team released a video to promote the TV Guide Fan Favorites Cover Contest. Actors Dylan O’Brien and Linden Ashby pleaded with fans to vote for Teen Wolf in the contest or, they joked, they’d kill Danny – one of the few remaining LGBT characters. There was even a hashtag, #KillDanny, to go along with the video.
On the whole, fans took this little promotional joke as an insult added to their injury. Not only had the show blatantly ignored their concerns in regards to Teen Wolf’s diversity, they were shoving their fans’ faces in that fact.
Everything that has happened recently is piled on top of the discussion about whether the creators of Teen Wolf are queerbaiting—hinting at a gay relationship without any intention of pursuing it—their LGBT-minded viewers. Many fans latched onto the pairing of two male characters, Stiles and Derek, in the first season.
Although the show released a video of these men canoodling on a ship (a pun on the fandom term of “shipping,”) last year, and Davis has mentioned that he’s considered a future romantic relationship for the characters, there has been no indication in the show of any romantic cultivation.
Viewers of Teen Wolf debate whether Davis and everyone else involved with the show are leading fans on with the possibility, or if they’re just trying to acknowledge the LGBT sect of the fandom so they aren’t left feeling disenfranchised. No one involved with Teen Wolf has disclosed any definitive answer to the public.
All these factors have led to a boiling point within the Teen Wolf fandom. The tension between fans and the show runners was analyzed by both the Daily Dot, “How PR Missteps Nearly Ruined ‘Teen Wolf’ Fandom,” and The Geekiary, “Has Teen Wolf Social Media Lost its Edge?” Writers for these blogs used the situation to analyze fandom and how TV shows and other media should interact with their fanbases.
“Fandom – like any other subculture – is not stagnant. It shifts and evolves. It grows up. If the social media team doesn’t evolve with fandom then it risks becoming irrelevant. If they keep talking to us like we are the same fandom we were a year ago, then they are going to lose their insider status,” the Geekiary noted in their post. “But it’s worse; because they won’t just be outsiders looking in – they will be has-beens, and that’s really not good for business.”
The way that Teen Wolf’s social media team has interacted with fans since 3A ended—as well as the noted radio silence from Jeff Davis and the other creators—has not only angered, but also alienated, many of the fans. An unhappy and disgruntled fandom is also detrimental to business.
While Teen Wolf used to be the pinnacle of social media engagement with an active fandom, they’ve recently passed the torch to Orlando Jones, an American actor and comedian. The Daily Dot writer, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, suggested that what Teen Wolf needs is its own version of what Jones has been doing for Fox’s new drama, Sleepy Hollow.
“[The Teen Wolf] social media presence needs to start reacting to criticism and curiosity from fandom, rather than just responding to shipping campaigns, memes, and in-jokes.”
Photo courtesy of Teen Wolf.
Jones has found a way to communicate with fans in their own language that in no way devalues their love of a show. He has requested recommendations for fanfiction on Twitter, as well as created his own Tumblr.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Jones talked about the lack of a fourth wall in the age of social media and why he loves it.
“Digital lets us have this conversation and make it as awesome as we want. Why can’t I share fan-fiction?” Jones told Vulture. “Those fans are artists too, I’m not more or less of an artist than the people who are writing that, or drawing fan art.”
Although Jones’ interactions with fans are still relatively recent (only going back a couple months since Sleepy Hollow premiered) he’s already shown fans a level of respect and accessibility that surpasses any other actor or television show out there right now.
While the Teen Wolf team often responds to the fandom or takes aspects of the fandom culture and repurposes them in a way that is often one-sided, Jones has managed to open up a dialogue with his fans so that he is on a level playing field with them.
Teen Wolf’s social media manager, McDonough did respond to some fans’ concerns in a recent Tumblr post where he apologized for telling the actors to jokingly threaten the character Danny’s life if fans didn’t vote for the show in the TV Guide poll.
“It lacked perspective. It lacked insight into this fandom’s amazing sensitivity to a sense of progressive representation of characters on TV, something I usually take pride in. I’m sorry, and you won’t see that again,” he wrote.
McDonough only commented on his “#KillDanny” joke, but failed to respond to many of the fans’ other concerns. However, in the reality of the TV industry, he might not have the authority to speak about which characters the writers have killed off. He doesn’t write the show, he’s merely trying to interact with fans.
Social media isn’t an exact science. McDonough is currently walking a thin line between responding to fan concerns about Teen Wolf that he has no control over and losing the bond between the show’s social media and fans.
What the people behind Teen Wolf should remember is that they need to have a certain level of respect for fans, to take them seriously, because the fandom does have the power to keep a show going or to allow a network to cancel it. (If you need any proof, just remember how much money the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter made or how fans of NBC’s Community pulled together to save their favorite show.)
Ultimately, a television show cannot control its fandom. Fans grow and change as much as a series does over the years, but they are independent from that show as well. They can stop watching whenever they want and they have more power than many people realize, so they should be taken seriously.