Thanks to Phil for sending this in. =)
June 10, 2001
The ‘Roswell’ Army Fights for Its Show on the Web
By SOPHIA HOLLANDER
WHEN Jason Katims, an executive producer of “Roswell,” is asked whether his show’s fans are, well, a little different, he laughs.
“You mean, like, they’re crazy?” he asks.
Last year, when the drama, about a group of stranded aliens posing as human teenagers in Roswell, N.M., was about to be canceled by WB after one season, its fans mobilized — like crazy. Adopting Tabasco sauce, a favorite food of the alien characters, as their weapon, they sent 6,000 bottles to the network over a three-month period. This year, when it became clear that WB was going to drop the show, roughly 12,000 bottles of Tabasco were sent to the offices of UPN in three weeks.
“I will say it made a difference,” said Dean Valentine, chief executive of UPN, which picked up “Roswell” and will show it on Tuesday nights this fall, following another former WB show, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” “You really have to sit down and think about a person who gets up in the morning, who has many, many things to do, and who took part of their day to go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of hot sauce to send to some executive in L.A.”
“Roswell,” which blends science fiction and adolescent angst in its story of the ultimate alienated teenagers, has built a small — an average of 4.1 million viewers last season — but fervent audience that crosses age and gender lines. And it’s a group that quickly seized on the potential of the Internet as a rallying ground. Fan sites, particularly the sophisticated Crashdown .com (www.crashdown.com), have been the mechanism for the well-coordinated and timed letter-writing and Tabasco-mailing campaigns that have helped keep the show on the radar and, so far, on the air.
For some, being part of the “Roswell” army may be as important as watching the show.
“I think it’s really the community that’s built around the show that’s more of an attraction,” said Kenn Gold, a founder of Crashdown.com. “The show is great and I love it, but I think the community will survive after the show goes away.”
When “My So-Called Life,” another teenage drama with a small but devoted following, was canceled by ABC in 1995 after 19 episodes, viewers began a belated fund- raising campaign over the Internet to pay for ads in trade publications. Five years later, fans are more aware of the power of coordinated action, and the television industry is more aware of the fan sites.
“There’s no question that we produce a great show and have a phenomenal cast and crew, but it appears that none of that mattered until you spoke up,” another “Roswell” executive producer, Kevin Brown, wrote in an e-mail to a fan site after UPN’s announcement. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you for, in fact, saving our show.”
The show’s producers say the fans provide not just support, but also information.
“I would joke with people that if I want to find out what’s going on with the show or the WB, I would go to Crashdown and find out,” Mr. Katims said. “They seemed to know things before I did.”
All of this back-and-forth has led to an unusually close relationship between the show’s creators and cast and its fans. At a fan-sponsored party last August in Los Angeles, the entire cast showed up and many of the actors mingled with the crowd. Brendan Fehr, who plays the sullen alien Michael Guerin, regularly ruminates on the fan- actor relationship on Internet message boards, and answers fans’ questions.
Mr. Fehr’s manager, Jim Sheasgreen, was one of the first people associated with the show to begin posting on fan sites, and it was his idea that the fans direct some of their energy to matters beyond “Roswell.” “I was getting so upset that these people would dwell so hard and so long, and they would spend hours and hours just on this show,” Mr. Sheasgreen said.
Now most fan get-togethers, like a season finale party held in New York last month, are benefits for charities, and a prominent message on Crashdown.com asks fans to make donations to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation as a way of thanking UPN for picking up the show. Shiri Appleby, who plays the human teenager Liz Parker, was stunned when a fan donated $7,000 to charity in exchange for lunch with her. “I can barely convince my friends to have lunch with me,” she said.
Mr. Katims, trying to explain the deep resonance the show appears to have — why people would spend thousands of dollars, or spend up to 40 hours a week maintaining and monitoring Web sites — pointed to the diversity of the fans.
“It’s difficult to pigeonhole,” he said. “They’re young, they’re old, they’re men, they’re women, they’re from all walks of life. And maybe the common theme of why they connect to the show is that they feel like outsiders.”
Kathy Appling, a 49-year-old mortgage processor from Florida, sees her own missed opportunities in the youthful enthusiasm of the characters. “They want to change the world, make a difference,” she said. “I think we all want to believe that we can still do that, but as we get older, you realize that maybe you didn’t make all the right choices. These kids are still young enough to make the choices they want to make.”
Teresa Williams, a 19-year-old from Georgia who boarded an airplane for the first time to attend last year’s party in Los Angeles, said she appreciated the show’s realistic depiction of issues she has faced in her own life, from abuse to the suicides of friends. She sent 50 bottles of Tabasco sauce.
One consequence of such involvement: viewers who are particularly resistant to changes in the direction of the show.
“As many people as there are logging into Crashdown.com, that’s how many opinions there are,” Mr. Katims said. “If you tried to service all of them, it would be harder than trying to please a network.”
And sometimes fans can become too involved, or too insistent on their privileges. Mr. Fehr was recently moved to write on an Internet forum: “What fans should realize is that, at least in my case, is that yes I appreciate everything and try to keep you up to date and let you in a little bit because I think it’s exciting for you guys and because I feel good in giving back. But, you’re not family and not friends.”
But then Mr. Fehr stayed online into the early hours of the morning, posting messages as playful as those of any of the Fehrians, as his personal fans are called. By the end of the night he had written enough to raise his posting status to “Fan,” and celebrated by posting bouncing smiley faces. He had officially become a fan of himself.
Sophia Hollander is a New York-based freelance writer.