With the third-season premiere of ABC blockbuster Grey's Anatomy set for Sept. 21, the writing crew is busy hammering out final storylines and polishing dialogue for Meredith, McDreamy and the rest of the Grey's scrub-club. It's also brushing up on its blogging skills, with the two popular program Weblogs—“written” by minor characters Joe the bartender and Nurse Debbie—ready to roll as well.
With everyone from grandmothers in Idaho to soldiers in Iraq finding their inner blogger, TV characters are no exception. Showrunners and network bosses are finding that blogs penned in the name of their programs' characters are novel ways of feeding content to hungry viewers.
As networks further hone their Web strategies, these online entries exist for shows ranging from NBC's The Office and CBS' How I Met Your Mother to cable programs such as USA's Monk and TNT's The Closer. The aim is to keep the programs fresh in fans' minds between episodes.
“We were thinking of ways to promote the show off the air, other than billboards and magazine ads,” says Carter Bays, co-creator of How I Met Your Mother. “Someone [on staff] said do a blog, and it just kind of took off.”
For many programs, the blogs fill a mandate from the network to increase their online offerings. Chris Van Dusen, assistant to Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes, says Rhimes challenged the staff to come up with compelling ways to promote the show online, and he suggested a blog for the bartender who pours drinks for off-duty doctors and nurses from Seattle Grace Hospital.
“The idea was to blog what happens in between the episodes,” says Van Dusen, who writes the Emerald City Bar blog. “It's what [the characters] talk about when they come to the bar.”
While viewer interaction traditionally went no further than yelling at the screen from home, the blogs offer diehard fans a chance to interact with beloved (and despised) characters. A post about the death of Denny on the Emerald City Bar blog got 178 comments from readers, and Van Dusen says Rhimes reads each one. Bays says Barney's Blog (from Mother lothario Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris) has become a significant destination in its own right.
“It's amazing how much attention it's gotten,” he says. “The writers took a small idea and turned it into something that people tune into with some regularity.” (CBS would not provide traffic numbers for Barney's Blog.)
After successful trials last year, programs are increasing their blogs' roles in the new season. CBS is setting up a MySpace page for Mother, with separate pages for the various characters to blog.
The Office's Dwight Schrute's blog on nbc.com has been read by over 1,000,000 different viewers since it launched last fall, with 2 million-3 million page views. Fulfilling NBC boss Jeff Zucker's “TV 360” man­date, the comedy is expanding its Web presence on MySpace, with blog entries from several characters.
And based on the popularity of its blogs, a book called Grey's Anatomy: Notes From the Nurse's Station and Overheard at the Emerald City Bar, compiling Debbie's and Joe's blog entries, hits stores Sept. 12. It's published by ABC corporate sibling Hyperion.
“It's added value—something extra for the fans,” says Van Dusen.
But despite blogs' growing popularity, program managers are wary that promoting them too heavily could take away from the grassroots spirit that defines the blogosphere. TNT execs prefer to let the blog for The Closer, written by Detective Sergeant David Gabriel (the actor, Corey Reynolds, actually pens it), grow on its own.
“If it's truly a blog, you can't wave a lot of banners towards it,” says Tom Carr, senior VP of entertainment and marketing at TNT. “It wouldn't feel true if you were yelling, 'Hey—we have a blog!'”
Network execs hope the blogs continue to nurture the loyalty to their shows.
“You're communicating with fans and giving them more of a taste of what life is like inside the show,” says Carr. “You're creating a more holistic experience on the Web.”