The Report: TV’s Twitter Gold Rush
How Hollywood is hunting for the next crossover hit, as funny feeds keep selling
When Katalyst co-founder Jason Goldberg caught wind of an amusing Twitter feed called Dear Girls Above Me, he thought it might be just right to adapt for television. But he also knew that approaching creator Charlie McDowell with the traditional phone call or e-mail wouldn’t fly. So Goldberg sent him a message on — what else? — Twitter.
“I knew I had to do it in a clever way because when you read his feed, he’s got 140 characters and he can make you laugh with every one of them,” says Goldberg, who will executive produce a CBS pilot based on McDowell’s musings about the conversations of two women who live in an apartment upstairs. “If I had just connected with him under traditional means, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.”
Such are the courting rituals for the new class of potential television talents. This fall, Goldberg and partner Ashton Kutcher have already sold two series concepts based on Twitter feeds: Dear Girls Above Me and Shh … Don’t Tell Steve. The deals, both with CBS, came on the heels of $#*! My Dad Says, the first Twitter-spawned show.
The success of $#*! — the William Shatner sitcom debuted with 12.5 million viewers, the season’s top new comedy — has set off a Twitter gold rush of sorts in development circles. TV literary agents and managers increasingly monitor the site, sometimes even reaching out to the authors of popular feeds to gauge interest in adapting them for TV. On the buyer side, development execs now are expected to know which Twitter feeds are “trending” and amassing followers.
But industry players say it isn’t as simple as searching for funny tweets. It’s about finding a voice or character that a season of television can be built around.
“You want a perspective, voice and way of looking at things that are amusing,” WME agent Lauren Heller Whitney says. “Tweets are so short that almost all you get is perspective. It’s snapshots of opinion or voice. It makes sense to use that for an ongoing series.”
Skeptics question the longevity of the Twitter-to-TV phenomenon, but there is reason to believe it has legs. Although ratings for the critically panned $#*! have fallen off, the high initial tune-in likely was aided by the 1.8 million people who follow Justin Halpern’s Shit My Dad Says feed. In a cluttered TV universe, prebranded properties — even if they are merely collections of vulgar one-liners — are even more valuable.
Unlike the concepts Katalyst has sold to CBS, Halpern’s Twitter posts were first adapted into a book, perhaps strengthening the underpinnings of the concept. But above all, Shit features a unique voice.
“If something builds an audience, then Hollywood will look at it and go: ‘Why did it build this audience? What nerve is it touching? Can we translate that?’ ” says George Collins of Infinity Management International, who manages Halpern. “You have to take a hard look and craft something that will succeed in a new medium.”
Several agents, managers and producers on the prowl for the next sensation say they don’t stoop to “trolling” for content. Collins, for example, briefly scoured Twitter after Halpern’s initial success, but he quickly abandoned that tack. Talented writers will naturally rise to the top — and onto Hollywood’s radar — is how the insider thinking goes.
“I’m not searching for material,” Goldberg says. “The one mistake people make in this space is they ask development executives to start searching for material through social platforms. The truth is that great material will find you, even with the clutter.”
While Twitter has proved to be fertile ground this year, it certainly isn’t the only online source for material. Collins says the site isn’t any different from other sources of intellectual property on the Internet, such as blogs or YouTube.
And those conventional Web sources still have impact: Showtime is developing a comedy, Boycrazy, based on the blog ImBoyCrazy.com, and ABC recently bought the rights to AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com with plans to create a series.
Of course, the day will come when Twitter is eclipsed by another Web sensation. Not that Hollywood will have a problem adapting.
“My belief is the next evolution is getting more creative,” Goldberg says.