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Is TV paying too much attention to fans?

The Net is bringing writers and fans closer, but there are perils in that proximity.

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If you happened to have your TV tuned to The Hub (a cable channel operated jointly by Hasbro and the Discovery Network) Jan. 21, you might not have noticed anything unusual. A rainbow-maned Pegasus was hanging a banner and talking to another gray-colored Pegasus jumping on a cloud – typical Saturday morning cartoon nonsense. But for the numerous adult fans of the show "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," it might as well have been a Beatles reunion. The showrunners had just given their "brony" fan base, a fan base made up largely of adult men, a huge shout-out, by incorporating a fan-created character into the show.

Until the past decade, fans were largely cut off from the writers and producers of commercial television programs, apart from sending fan letters. But, as it has a habit of doing, the Internet changed everything, by allowing fans to band together in chat rooms and discussion groups. That change has made a huge difference in how the creative staff of shows get audience feedback.

"As soon as the episode airs, I can go online and see people's responses in real time," says Jayson Thiessen, supervising director for "My Little Pony." "I can actually watch them watch the show and see their comments."

Now that writers are peeking at what the fans are saying practically the moment each episode runs, are they trying too hard to make them happy? Some of the early beneficiaries of this new online fan-community model were the shows created by Joss Whedon, among them "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Firefly." All three cult hits aired when the Internet was undergoing rapid expansion, and they all developed fanatical online communities.


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