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.
According to Christopher Buchanan, who served as president of Mr. Whedon's production company, Mutant Enemy, Whedon never let the desires and speculation of the fans influence the direction he wanted to take the show or individual characters.
Whedon sometimes made unpopular choices in his shows, Mr. Buchanan says, but it was a part of what made them so engaging. Whenever it seemed as if characters were in a good relationship, fans would start to get nervous. When Tara was killed off on "Buffy," the reaction was strong, he says. "We got hate mail. I had a guy that would fax me every day a single-spaced full page of ... you don't even want to know ... for six months." But he believes that same sense of unpredictability is what kept the fans on the edge of their seats.
Although fans didn't have a direct influence on the shows themselves, Buchanan acknowledges the role that an active and organized online fan base had in helping get a green light for "Serenity," the cinematic sequel to the shortlived "Firefly" series. Although it wasn't the only factor involved in getting the movie made, he says that it contributed to the decision. "One [factor] was the sales of the DVD sets and that was obviously directly related to fans." He adds that the decision to produce a DVD set of the single season of "Firefly" was also a result of the strong online fan presence.