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Sam Ford

This post originally appeared on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog.

NBC's soaps, known for their fantasy and departure of the semi-realistic depiction of the issues of domestic life that is expected from soap operas, are also known for some interesting innovations, particularly the show Passions. Since I've begun writing at the C3 blog, I've written about an animated sequence on the soap, as well as a Bollywood episode. Passions was also the first soap to launch on iTunes. Now, it is making news once again by working with a new storyline and site called Tabloid Truth. The storyline will play out over a 12-week period, with the tabloid--run by gossip columnist J.T. Cornell, who as returned to the town to cause problems, publishing new installments twice a week.

One benefit Passions has, with its irreverent style and its lack of focus on reality, is less concern about an immersive and realistic tabloid site. The site features a convergence of video, pictures, and text, in a transmedia attempt further storylines in interesting ways.

It also includes message boards encouraging readers to do their own gossiping and digging as well. As opposed to materials for an ARG, where every attempt is made to create an authentic product, this is an over-the-top tabloid on the main site for Passions, but it presents an interesting model for a transmedia story. I've long argued that soaps should do these types of crossovers on a more regular basis, including online newspapers for their shows featuring user-generated content.

Since my thesis at MIT is on the soap genre and the developments of new transmedia storytelling initiatives that take advantage of the massive storytelling potential in these narrative universes, I'm interested in how these projects are serving to slowly acclimate soap audiences to this type of storytelling.

More information is provided through the press release, including that each video installment will feature a hidden clue that will forward a story. Again, this storyline is strongest because the tabloid writer is a character on the show, and the rumors and installments in this online space are driving the stories on the show. Soaps are experimenting with transmedia in increasing ways, developing into what may become a fully immersed transmedia storyline at some point. See previous posts about theGuiding Light/Marvel crossover I wrote about yesterday, GL's Springfield Burns, As the World Turns'sOakdale Confidential, and ATWT's blog for character Luke Snyder.

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Sam Ford This post originally appeared at the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog.

Now, super heroes are raiding the soaps!

Last month, I wrote about my surprise of a soap opera/superhero crossover. The news had broken that an upcoming story of a comic featuring the Marvel super hero team The Avengers would feature the residents of the City of Springfield, the fictional town which is the setting for the soap operaGuiding Light. The idea came from Marvel's consulting a designer from the soap for a wedding gown for a Marvel character, leading to an idea of cross-promotion.

I wrote, "The crossover seems an interesting one, as it seems the target demographic of soaps and comic books are drastically different. However, Quesada says that the Avengers-GL crossover 'is just one more way that we're trying to reach out beyond our usual audience in an effort to expose those who don't know anything about the greatness of comics and hopefully come back with a few new converts.'" I found that statement refreshing because it allows fans to cross lines that are usually ignored in today's world of niche audiences and target programming and marketing.

However, I questioned whether this partnership could ever go the other way, in that GL characters may make more sense in the world of the Avengers than vice versa. I wrote, "I'll definitely have to say that the world of comics can fit the characters of GL in much better than the televised Springfield could handle the Avengers. This is one time in which transmedia storytelling would not play well, as soaps generally strive for realism, a realism that really would be ruined by having a team of superheroes invade the town 'to determine if a new super-powered character will be a friend or fiend.'"

Now, I'm eating my words, as next Wednesday's episode of GL is going to feature a story straight from the Marvel crossover. A sneak preview is currently available here, as well as a written preview of the episode. The episode, entitled "She's a Marvel," will avoid some of my concerns, though, by being a standalone episode that does not relate to the rest of the GL world, managing to avoid many of my concerns about the realism of the soap universe. While I don't think it's completely fair to claim that soaps are realistic, with the exception of Passions and perhaps Days of Our Lives, these shows are much better at dealing with the complications of everyday life for real human beings, rather than trying to bring the supernatural into these small towns.

The preview says that, "in a first for daytime television, Guiding Light is teaming up with Marvel Comics to produce a very special Inside the Light episode unveiling a new super-powered character. Taking a page from the Wednesday, November 1 episode airing on CBS, Marvel Comics will also release an eight-page comic back-up featuring some of Marvel's mightiest heroes (and villains) descending on Guiding Light's city of Springfield to determine if this new super-powered being is friend or foe!" There is a listing on the site of the various issues that the eight-page backup will be featured in.

In Marvel's own press release about the partnership, they reveal that next Wednesday's episode of GLwill feature easter eggs for loyal Marvel fans. They write, "Another great aspect of this partnership is that Guiding Light and Marvel will be cross promoting each other to help drive fans not only to watch the episode but also to pick up one of the comics in a local comic shop. In addition to on-air promotions at the end of Guiding Light, Marvel.com will feature a page dedicated to helping Guiding Light fans find a retailer near them and know which titles feature this unique back-up feature. As an added bonus, this backup is added at no extra charge to the regular price of the issue. See the full list of titles below, and be sure to tune in on November 1st to see Guiding Light on CBS Daytime!" Marvel has created a site about the crossover as well.

The reaaction has been interesting among the fan communities. As Bob Sassone wrote on TV Squad, "I've been watching Guiding Light for almost three decades, and this might be the most bizarre news I've hard yet." As a longtime fan of both soaps and comics, I agree that this is pretty bizarre, even though the Marvel universe is certainly a soap opera for super heroes. And he had the same reaction I did: "Now this is new synergy, eh? I can understand NBC having an online comic to cross-promoteHeroes, but a new superhero on a soap opera and a comic book?"

My prediction is that the comic book fans who don't enjoy the crossover will be fairly indifferent, while there may be a very vocal group of soaps viewers adamantly opposed to this intrusion on their show. However, with this being a one-day set-apart event and on a show like GL that have had some supernatural and dark stories in the past, it may be a little bit more acceptable.

And, not surprising was the reaction from the TMZ staff, who said, "n a marketing move created to finally satiate the underground fanboy/stay-at-home mom demographic, Marvel Comics will debut their newest superhero on the CBS soap opera Guiding Light."

But, I'm assuming both Marvel and GL knew there would be some doubters, and I'm actually in support of next Wednesday's episode, since it's going to be more of the What If? variety, taking a known GL character and giving her superpowers in a standalone episode. Works much better for me than the isle of the dead on DAYS for instance, since here they are teasing out a fantasy storyline while still preserving the narrative universe of the soap.

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Sam Ford This piece was originally posted on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog on October 1 at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/

Make this the third post about the soap opera Guiding Light in the past week, but the show and its parent company--Procter & Gamble Productions--continues to do some intriguing work regarding cross-platform release and transmedia content of the show's story. Previously, I've written about the soap's crossover with Marvel Comics and theWashington Post piece examining the process of transferring a day's GL episode into podcast form.

In that Post story, there was also mention of an interesting transmedia project that the GL folks have invested in, a Web site called Springfield Burns. As with many other current transmedia experiments, it hints at how great an idea like this could be, more than anything else, but lacks enough significant detail and time invested into it to truly reach its potential.

The premise of the site is that it is written by an anonymous member of the town of Springfield, where the show is set, and is used as a place to dish about various famous figures in the area. The Web site is worked into the television show, as characters are angered about things that are written about them and loved ones on this site, etc.

Of course, there is not nearly enough narrative flow between the site and the show for this to draw major attention, as is the case with many current transmedia enterprises, and the site does not have enough new activity to become a daily must-read for viewers or anything of the sort. But it does provide another interesting instance of a company sticking its toes in transmedia waters and getting viewers more prepared to look for this type of content.

The site includes a merchandise section and links to a variety of local Springfield Web sites. None of these are much to look at, but that reflects what most real small-town restaurants and organizations have for Web sites, so I find that pretty realistic. And, knowing some of the landmark places from the show, it's fascinating to flip around and actually look at artifacts from the fictional world.

There are a couple of things that would make the site more authentic, such as having some of these sites not exist as subaddresses for this address but rather at standalone URLs, and that wouldn't be that expensive to pull off. And it would also seem more realistic if there were several places depicted that viewers hadn't seen on the show, since GL can only show so much of life in Springfield.

But this site provides the skeleton of transmedia storytelling, much as Oakdale Confidential did earlier this year...an indication that fans and viewers alike are amenable to this type of information, once it becomes monetized and once more and more viewers gain broadband Internet access and interest in pursuing the story outside of the daily one-hour show.

The key to monetizing it may be to solicit real advertisements for the site, even developing local ties for some of them. What about a local IHOP or Home Depot or Best Buy running a banner ad? There are a variety of ways to make this exist in the fictional realm of Springfield while also making it a profitable enterprise to expand the reach of its narrative. The site currently features ads from Oil of Olay and Cover Girl, but neither are particularly worked into the site in any way or make any acknowledgment of the Springfield market and, of course, are not the type of ads you would expect to find on a local site like that, anyway, especially without any particular reference to a Springfield area mall or something of the sort. Both Olay and Cover Girl are Procter & Gamble brands.

This would require, for soaps, deeper thinking about the structure of the town and a true organization of what Springfield or Oakdale or Genoa City really looks like, culling the collective memory of fans and writers to think of the various landmarks and where they would be in relations to each other, etc. But investing more energy in a project like this also creates another site to increase the fans' immersion in the narrative in meaningful ways.

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Sam Ford This piece was originally posted on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog on September 26 at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/

A recent story by David Segal in the Washington Post details the transition of Procter & Gamble soap opera Guiding Light into audio form. Although written in the usual, intelligent but tongue-in-cheek tone that soaps are usually covered in, Segal looks at how the idea got generated--the show's Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler thought of the idea when her husband talked about the ability to follow the show while moving around the house as long has he had the volume up loud enough. The story was republished in the Chicago Tribune today.

According to CBS VP of Daytime Programming Barbara Bloom, the downloads of theGuiding Light podcasts number "in the tens of thousands," but the show remains one of the lower rated soaps, usually generating about 2.5 million viewers. Most soaps' ratings have been cut in half over the past decade, which this article cites as being due to the number of women going to work and the increasing number of television choices.

The story's details of the way in which the show is transformed into a podcast is fascinating, following the employee who edits the 40-minute show (once commercials are stripped away) into a 25-minute download for the iPod or to listen to on the computer, with all the scenes that are more visual in nature, close-ups on people's faces, etc., stripped out, and voiceover narration added in.

As I've mentioned before, GL's sister show As the World Turns is doing a podcast as well.

The article is a good read for those interested in cross-platform content like this and how content from one media form can be transformed on a daily basis into another medium.

But one aspect of this story that Segal doesn't look into very deeply is the fact that, since Guiding Light began as a radio show, the content has come full circle in some ways. The show launched in 1937 on the radio and transferred to television in 1952. Now, for the past year, it has returned to the audio form, and some people say they can enjoy the show just as much without the visuals.

This strikes up an interesting debate within the soap opera industry. Do soaps not use the visual well enough? On the other hand, those close ups to people's faces have become the staple of the soap opera genre, and the actors often tell so much of the story through their body language. If the remedy appears to some to be to introducing snazzy editing or more dreadful special effects (seldom look good on a soap budget), I think they are going the wrong way.

You do lose a lot with a soap when you don't see the actors engaging with each other, but dialogue remains the essential form of the soap opera, and any attempt to distract from that changes the art. The podcast won't become a preferable replacement for the soap opera, but it does prove to be useful for a lot of people and proof that dialogue-driven soaps can be repurposed in many different formats.

On Sunday, I wrote about an upcoming Guiding Light crossover into the world of Marvel comics.

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Sam Ford

This piece was originally posted on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog on September 24 at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/

Here's a project that crosses over into two great interests of mine but whose success I'm still not quite sure of...sort of like how two of my favorite foods are chocolate and pasta, but I'm not sure I want to put hot fudge on my penne anytime soon. It seems that the two company's approach, though, may just make this counter-intuitive crossover work.

Either way, I have to give the folks at Marvel Comics and Procter & Gamble Productions points for originality for the upcoming plan to incorporate the City of Springfield, the fictional home of the residents of the daytime drama series Guiding Light, into a storyline for the famed Avengers team of super heroes.

According to a Newsarama interview with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, the idea for this soap opera/comic book crossover came after folks from Marvel consulted with a designer from Guiding Light regarding a wedding gown for Storm of the X-Men. According to Quesada, Marvel's Sales VP David Gabriel "broached the idea with them about doing a bit of audience cross-pollination and they loved the idea."

I'm in the process of a small group study this semester with Henry Jenkins in which I am considering my own attraction to types of entertainment that have narrative universes that are large enough to become immersed in. I've found that my own interest in pro wrestling and soap operas come from this aspect of their narrative, that there is too much programming to ever be able to master, too much history to ever be able to know, and a wealth of former characters and storylines to draw off of.

My thesis project on soap operas, studying my longtime favorite and Guiding Light's sister show As the World Turns, can be explained by this, too. To know the history of the thousands of characters and the 50 years worth of storylines that have been on that show is impossible, but it leaves a wealth of potential stories to explore throughout the show's past.

Although I haven't regularly read comic books since I was in high school, I know that my love for the superhero universes can be explained in the same way, especially with Marvel, which has incorporated soap opera-style storytelling in the adventures of its heroes over the years.

The crossover seems an interesting one, as it seems the target demographic of soaps and comic books are drastically different. However, Quesada says that the Avengers-GL crossover "is just one more way that we're trying to reach out beyond our usual audience in an effort to expose those who don't know anything about the greatness of comics and hopefully come back with a few new converts."

In an age of niche targeted demographics for almost everything, that's a refreshing statement to read. With the way things are currently structured, almost every entertainment property has a surplus audience that most writers/producers/performers ignore. Because of the immersive natures of both story types, I can see a very compelling reason why soap opera fans would love comics if they were ever exposed to them in a way that interests them. Hopefully, the Marvel writers can present a compelling story that also stays true to the characters of the soap.

And I'll definitely have to say that the world of comics can fit the characters of GL in much better than the televised Springfield could handle the Avengers. This is one time in which transmedia storytelling would not play well, as soaps generally strive for realism, a realism that really would be ruined by having a team of superheroes invade the town "to determine if a new super-powered character will be a friend or fiend."

Conversely, the folks at GL may be hoping to introduce a few of their characters strongly in the comic series and convince a few people to give their daytime show a chance.

But the Avengers should just consider themselves lucky that they didn't come to Springfield during the Roger Thorpe era, or they would have a power on their hands not even a super hero could control!

Thanks to Geoffrey Long for pointing me to this story.

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Sam Ford

This post was originally written on the C3 Weblog on Sept. 1.  

News has broken that All My Children will become the second daytime soap opera to offer content through Apple iTunes.

According to Linda Marshall-Smith with Soapdom, the press release sent out by ABC and AMC stated that the content, which will be made available both on iTunes and ABC.com, will consist of a weekly video podcast that will backstage footage, focusing on particular actors or storylines each week.

Marshall-Smith reports that the feature will be available for free and quotes Executive Producer Julie Hanan Carruthers as saying "the video podcast will provide an enhanced fan experience, allowing our loyal viewers to become equally as intimate with the actors as they have already become with the characters they play."

The first soap opera to launch into iTunes, the 30-minute soap opera Passions, is making every episode available through iTunes, as opposed to this ancillary content from All My Children.

In a similar vein, I have written in the past about the podcasts available for Procter & Gamble Productions shows which play audio-only versions of each episode for those who may have missed or not be able to watch As the World Turns or Guiding Light, the InTurn show airing on CBS innertubeassociated with As the World Turns in which aspiring actors compete in a reality show to get a 13-week contract on the soap, the Procter & Gamble channel on AOL Video, and various other online experiments for soap operas.

With the focus of the AMC video podcasts apparently to promote the show by developing a stronger connection between fans and actors, it will be interesting to see how popular the content is with viewers of the soap. Would anyone watch this content who were not fans of the show? And would fans of the show feel compelled to watch this online content that does not relate to the storyworld of the show but rather how the show is put together?

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Sam Ford

This post originally appeared on August 16, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog, where Sam Ford posts regularly about issues relating to the soap opera industry and the current media environment.

After what has felt like years of silence on the part of Procter & Gamble Productions for providing some of its content for redistribution to American audiences, news has broken recently that PGP will be launching its own Classic Soaps Channel through the new AOL Video player.

PGP is the original broadcaster of soaps, with its two extant shows having been on the air more than 50 years apiece, and several other shows in its archives. This new channel of content will not only air original content that will supplement their current shows As the World Turns and Guiding Light but will also start re-airing episodes of popular but now-defunct soaps such as Search for Tomorrow, Another World, The Edge of Night, and Texas, the Another World spinoff.

At this point, details remain sketchy, as the same paragraph of information is all that can be found from place to place, informing viewers that the company that put the "soap" in soap operas will be launching this new channel. Fans of both old and current PGP shows are eagerly awaiting to see what content the shows will air.

It seems pretty straightforward what the content will be regarding the old shows, as it will be straight distribution, but what will be offered for ATWT and GL. What type of original content might be made available? And, if they will offer original content for these "contemporary classics," will they be offering shows from the vault as well? My thesis reserach about applying convergence culture to the soap opera industry looks, in part, specifically at how best to utilize the immense archive that these shows have.

A platform like the Classic Soaps Channel would be a great way to provide a series of episodes to give historical context about current events happening on the show, for instance, or compliation collections of histories of current or returning characters. PGP could also attempt to recapture former fans who have moved on from ATWT and GL through this platform, by attracting them to rewatch the shows they watched 10 or 20 years ago.

A good model may be WWE 24/7, which charges a subscription fee airing old content through video-on-demand services from cable television providers. Many people who are not fans of the current content are interested in this platform because they can watch their favorite matches and storylines from years past.

What particularly intrigues me about 24/7 is the ability that it gives viewers to follow an old run of the show from episode-to-episode, making a new episode available at regular intervals so that you can follow the history of the show just as if you were watching current episodes. Soaps could do the same thing, but it does require substantial digitization of the archive.

At this point, it's not clear how far developed that digitization process is for PGP or what they have planned for ATWT or GL, but this new platform, if promoted and used right, could serve to bring in new or returning viewers by utilizing soaps' strongest power: their own histories. If that historical content is used in strong correlation with the current programming on CBS, it might serve to transfer those nostalgic fans to watching the current show as well.

And, if all else fails or if the media landscape shifts drastically in the next decade, the AOL Video platform shows potential promise for new distribution formats to help keep the daytime serial drama alive and vibrant, as I focused on earlier today.

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Sam Ford


This post originally appeared on August 16, 2006, on the <a href="http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/">Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog, where Sam Ford posts regularly about issues relating to the soap opera industry and the current media environment.

Scores of new programs are launching on iTunes' video feature on a weekly basis, but the latest is the first of the daytime serial dramas to announce their iTunes availability.

Passions, the youngest of the nine current daytime soap operas, will now be available on iTunes on a daily basis. The barriers for soaps to enter iTunes are a little bit larger than primetime shows, considering the daily episodes, the lack of emphasis in most networks on daytime programming as opposed to primetime lineups, and other industry factors.

It may not come as that big of a surprise that the youngest soap would be the first to launch onto iTunes, although PGP already podcasts their soaps, and many shows make their lineup available on cable network SoapNet for evening or weekend viewing.

NBC's Passions is a little more accessible for iTunes because of its being one of only two current American soap operas that are only 30 minutes in duration, cutting the total programming volume per week from 5 hours to 2.5 hours.

I've written a couple of times in the past about how Passions, which is somewhat of a parody soap, has been pretty innovative with its pop culture references across multiple television genres. For instance, the show has aired part of an episode in animated form and an entire Bollywood episode.

Of course, the show is a little bit more amenable to these types of experimental content considering the over-the-top nature of the show. But maybe, if Passions has some success on iTunes, other shows will follow suit. People already regularly BitTorrent soaps and post clips on YouTube, and some soaps have had some success in the past airing pay-for-streaming episodes, such as was once available through the no-longer-existing SoapCity.

And, while many--from the creative folks behind soaps to the industry to the fans themselves--are talking about the future of soaps and what might happen next, as I've written about previously with NBC's Days of Our Lives, digital distribution may eventually offer a viable alternative for these shows, if there can ever be enough online advertising revenue or subscription rates to help guarantee the costs needed to fun those large ensemble casts.

As referenced in that post, executives had told soap producers that, if their current contracts were not renewed with the network, they should consider alternative forms of distrubution instead of letting these shows with such storied histories die away. By looking back at that issue, which I wrote about last December, and then seeing Passions launch into iTunes, it seems that this cross-platform distribution may be a good way for soaps to prepare for the future, in case the networks ever decide to pull their dedication to the serial drama form and instead launch a whole other round of daytime reality shows or talk shows.

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Sam Ford

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Sam Ford

This post originally appeared on the <a href="http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/">Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog</a> on July 25, 2006.  Although it does not deal exclusively with soap operas, I thought it would be of interest to some of the topics I've written about here in the past. 

This entry builds on some of the themes written about in an earlier post about using the Internet as a means of discussion between content providers and fans.

David Edery, who helps manage the Convergence Culture Consortium, alerted me to an editorial on the BBC News Web site regarding the blogosphere and the new levels of interaction between producer and consumer that got me thinking about my own research initiatives regarding the entertainment industry.

In this particular commentary, journalist Daniel Pearl is writing about the relationship between journalists and their readers. In the past few weeks, I've written about how journalism storytelling has been affected by changes in increased transmedia content with instantaneous updates, increased diversity of communication platforms for exchange between news operations and their readers/viewers, and further debate about convergence and the essential characteristics of each medium and how journalists in each discipline can best be trained. This commentary brings up another essential part of the impact convergence culture has on journalism, though--reader/viewer response.

However, while Dan Gillmor writes about the phenomenal impact the blogosphere has on journalism, as we found out a few months ago with James Frey, Pearl takes it one step further--saying that readers no longer even have to contact the station to voice their opinion because sites that track the blogosophere--such as Technorati--can give journalists an immediate barometer of how a story has been received among viewers and some clue as to what directions to follow up, based on audience response.

According to Pearl, "blogging had an immediate impact on Newsnight's running order" because the BBC was able to see what fans were focusing on and adjust their plans for how to structure the show based on the news people seemed most interested in.

My thesis project at MIT focuses on the soap opera industry and how one of the oldest genres in television history is adapting to the current convergence culture. I've had extended discussions with Lynn Liccardo, a Harvard graduate who is one of my advisers on the thesis, about changes in interaction between fans and producers. Lynn has pointed out to me that there has long been such interaction, through mail-in campaigns and through the soap opera press, for instance. However, what has changed is the degree to which producers can find out what fans are talking about and thinking about without ever engaging with them directly, since such discussion is readily available in public forums and can be measured fairly easily.

This has a fundamental impact on how people are observed, as fans in fan forums write in a completely different way than in direct contact with the show or with an official publication like Soap Opera Digest or Soap Opera Weekly. This doesn't mean that soap writers take these forums into account often enough or even that they should be the be-all and end-all in measurement, as fans are usually a fickle bunch that will find something to complain about, no matter what. But it does mean that there is a new and unique opportunity for cultural producers to see what people are saying and to adjust content accordingly. Of course, with as far in advance as soaps are written and recorded, it's a little harder to be flexible there than with programming with much shorter turnaround, such as news broadcasts. But it doesn't mean that writers shouldn't be trying to make the incorporation of fan reaction as involved as possible.

The rest of Pearl's essay focuses on the fact that, now that cultural producers have unparalleled access to fans' opinions, fans shouldn't be surprised to know that they are reading. Pearl writes:

The thing I find strange about all this is that often people who write blogs, or contribute to them, somehow think that they are involved in a private forum. I recently came across a comment claiming Jeremy disliked recording his weekly podcast. I posted a response and the blogger seemed appalled - "the BBC's watching us - spooky" was his reply. But if you write something about us on the internet surely I have every right to read it and respond - that's not spooky.

Since readers often don't comment, I know what it's like to feel that you're just talking to yourself in the blogosphere sometimes, but Pearl has an essential point--bloggers should realize that blogs are a publishing forum and that they are then open to everyone. There have been several times here, such as here and here, that we have written about content only to have the person who created the content find our blog and respond in some way. I found that to be an exciting chance to engage with the creator I had been writing about, but some people find it creepy or angering that their public conversation wasn't kept private.

And fans do struggle with this issue. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, when As the World Turns' Benjamin Hendrickson committed suicide, some fans blamed themselves for writing about the actor's looks after his return and some apparent health issues Hendrickson had. Some people believe that the actor's depression had been aided in some degree by fan comments about changes in his look and speaking style, and fans were reminded that the stars they are writing about have Internet access and may actually be reading fan boards.

So Pearl is right in saying that readers and fans, just by having a public forum to discuss and debate, have unparalleled abilities today. But, as Peter Parker would say, with great power comes great responsibility, and fans must realize that their words may potentially have an audience...and that the audience is sometimes the very people they are writing about. This more open relationship between fans and producers is exciting, and it offers great potential for both the fan community and for producers. But fans and readers/viewers must quit being surprised that their communication actually has an audience.

If you want to have a private discussion, get a (chat) room. And, for the world of message boards and blogs, I hope that the open communication trend only grows as sites like Technorati become even more precise in their tracking capabilities. Fans and producers alike have everything to gain from better understanding the potential of such open communication, even though both sides apparently feel a little resistant to giving up any perceived autonomy through a little cultural exchange.

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Jeanne Cooper knows how to jingle those bells

If anyone knows how to haul out the hollies and deck the halls it is Jeanne Cooper (Katherine) of The Young and Restless. And she does it in pure Katherine Chancellor style in real-life.

"Of course! Class all the way. I wouldn't have it any other way," Cooper jokingly said. "Every year I look forward to the holidays, the decorating, the family, and the food."

Christmas Day is big at the Cooper household. It's a gathering place for the children and grandchildren, but this year, some of Cooper's children will be celebrating at a villa in Italy, while others will celebrate with her here.

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