People within almost any industry often debate the value of the online fan community and the fan clubs of a particular show. A few weeks ago, I posted an argument on the Procter & Gamble Productions message board between moderators with PGP and fans on the board regarding the importance of the hardcore fan base versus obtaining general viewer impressions.
One actress that seems to be convinced of the importance of the most ardent fans of a show is Ellen Dolan with As the World Turns. Last week, Ellen sent a letter to the ATWT Fan Club explaining her problems with the way the character had been written and female characters more broadly on the PGP soap over the past year or two. Ellen's letter was quickly posted on message boards dedicated to ATWT across the net and became the talk of the fan community this past week.
In her letter, instead of taking the line others have that active fans represent such a miniscule number (although a number that far outweighs the Nielsen's, eh?) that they don't matter, Dolan points to the prior successes of the fan club. She points out that Trent Dawson, who was one of the favorite recurring actors on ATWT, was given a contract after being cheered on at the last annual fan club gathering.
She also makes the case that her character was originally one of the few female detectives on daytime but her professional duties have been stripped from her character, in a trend she seems to find where daytime, while once progressive with putting women in the workforce, is actually scaling back now that primetime is offering up female detectives and business leaders.
"Do you remember when Margo was a strong, independent woman and not a sniveling,cat fighting, high school girl craving for a football hero?" she asks before further asking why longtime ATWT actor and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Tamara Tunie can't seem to get a story of her own and longtime character Lucinda Walsh, a powerful businesswoman in town, never gets any stories about her professional life on the show these days.
"The character is being dismantled. These characters are your characters and I think valuable to the show. I need your support. I need you to help save Margo Hughes! I need you to write and ask for Margo back. I have attached a list of names and addresses for you to write to. Tell them how you feel about this character. Please guys, 'cus I love Margo and I want to keep giving her to you. Not to mention that my kid is only six, I've got many years to go."
ATWT is one of the best written shows on daytime television, but it doesn't mean that Dolan hasn't found one of the points that online fans constantly bring up as their frustration with the soap's content--the lack of workplace stories. While the show's producers can't be happy that what would essentially be a backstage argument has disseminated throughout the fan message boards, the direct plea and the grassroots campaign Dolan is trying to begin shows some recognition of the most active fans having the most power and the most investment in the show.
And Ellen hits on a very powerful message regarding the moral economy surrounding the characters, the feeling on behalf of the fan community that they have ownership of the characters, when she says, "These characters are your characters" and implies a fan duty at protecting the quality of the show by doing their duty and writing in.
Following this situation and the response of PGP should provide an interesting window into where things stand with the company's view of the fan community.