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mediacommons-press2
The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling by Jason Mittell

Transmedia Storytelling

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 [posted 21 May - release notes.]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Few storytelling forms can match serial television for narrative breadth and vastness. A single narrative universe can continue onward for years, or even decades in the case of daytime serials, with cumulative plotlines and character backstories accruing far beyond what any dedicated fan could reasonably remember. Even a show that fails to find an audience typically airs for a comparatively long time—for instance, the single-season Terriers may be viewed as a commercial failure, but it still offered 13 episodes of serial storytelling, with a combined running time of over nine hours that eclipses the scope of most novels and nearly every feature film. In short, of all the challenges that face the creators of television fiction, the lack of screen time to tell their stories is hardly an issue.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Given serial television’s temporal vastness, it would seem unlikely that producers would want to expand their storytelling scope into other venues, as managing the single-medium realm of a television series is more than enough work for a creative team. However, the 2000s saw the rise of innovative forms of narrative extensions that have been grouped under the term transmedia storytelling, significantly expanding the scope of a television series into an array of other media, from videogames to jigsaw puzzles, books to blogs. To understand the phenomenon of transmedia television, we need to look closely at the strategies used by various series, the motivations behind such narrative extensions, and the tactics employed by viewers to make sense of such expanded serialized vastness.[1]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Any thoughtful study of contemporary transmedia must start with the vital caveat that transmedia is not a new phenomenon, born of the digital age. Even if the term is new, the strategy of expanding a narrative into other media is as old as media themselves—think of paintings dramatizing biblical scenes or iconic 19th century characters like Frankenstein or Sherlock Holmes whose narrative scope transcends any single medium. Early television employed transmedia strategies as well, as one of the medium’s first hits, Dragnet, spanned multiple media: starting as a radio show, the more popular television series spawned a number of books, a feature film, tie-in toys like a board game, police badge and whistle, and even a television reboot of the 1950s original in the late-1960s.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 2 Highlighting the history of transmedia is not to suggest that nothing new is happening in recent years, as there is no doubt that the proliferation of digital forms has led to transmedia techniques that are both greater in degree and different in kind. Certainly technological transformations have helped enable such proliferations, as digital platforms like online video, blogs, computer games, DVD supplements, social networking, and new forms like Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are cost-effective and widely-accessible avenues for expanding a narrative universe. Additionally, industrial shifts that have shrunk the relative size of any one show’s television audience and expanded ratings competition across numerous cable and broadcast outlets, have encouraged producers to experiment with transmedia as a way to get noticed and build viewer loyalty in an increasingly cluttered television schedule. We might characterize this as a shift in norms: in previous decades, it was exceptional for a program to employ a significant transmedia strategy, while today it is more exceptional for a high-profile series not to.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 2 Despite the growing ubiquity of transmedia, we need to avoid confusing general transmedia extensions with the more particular mode of transmedia storytelling. Nearly every media property today offers some transmedia extensions, such as promotional websites, merchandise, or behind-the-scenes materials—these forms can be usefully categorized as paratexts in relation to the core text, whether a feature film, videogame, or television series. As Jonathan Gray has argued in his defining work on the topic, we cannot view any text in our media-saturated age in isolation from its paratexts—for instance, films come pre-framed by trailers, DVD covers, and posters, and once any text enters into cultural circulation, it becomes part of a complex intertextual web.[2] However, we can follow Gray’s lead by distinguishing between paratexts that function primarily to hype, promote, and introduce a text, with those that function as ongoing sites of narrative expansion that I will explore here; I would add a third category of orienting paratexts that serve to help viewers make sense of a narrative, as discussed in its own chapter.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Transmedia storytelling thrives in these ongoing narrative paratexts, through a strategy best captured by Henry Jenkins’s comprehensive and influential definition of the form:

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.[3]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 This definition of transmedia storytelling problematizes the hierarchy between text and paratext, for in the most ideally balanced example, all texts would be equally weighted, rather than one being privileged as “text” while others serve as supporting “paratexts.” However in the high stakes industry of commercial television, the financial realities demand that the core medium of any franchise be identified and privileged, typically emphasizing the more traditional television form over newer modes of online textuality. It is useful to distinguish between Jenkins’ proposed ideal of balanced transmedia, with no one medium or text serving a primary role over others, with the more commonplace model of unbalanced transmedia, with a clearly identifiable core text and a number of peripheral transmedia extensions that might be more or less integrated into the narrative whole, acknowledging that most examples fall somewhere on a spectrum between balance and unbalance. Thus in understanding transmedia television, we can identify the originating television series as the core text, with transmedia extensions serving as paratexts in this clear case of unbalanced transmedia.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 This issue of relative emphasis and priority across transmedia is crucial to both the industrial and storytelling logics of serial television. American commercial television’s core business model is predicated on attracting viewers to a television program, aggregating them into measurable audience segments, and selling that viewership to advertisers in the currency of Nielsen ratings. Even as television’s industrial structures shift toward more flexible measures of audience practice, the emphasis still remains on generating high ratings to generate the majority of revenues used to fund both television and its associated forays into transmedia storytelling. So the industrial edict to protect and strengthen the core business of watching commercial television creates a creative imperative as well: any television-based transmedia must protect the “mothership,” Lost producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s term for the central television series at the heart of their armada of paratextual transmedia extensions. For the industry, transmedia extensions might provide an additional revenue stream, but their primary function is to drive viewers back to the television series; for creators, transmedia storytelling must always support and strengthen the core television narrative experience. These goals are particularly important within a serial form, as the gaps between episodes and seasons provide time for viewers’ attention to wander—for many within the industry, transmedia is optimistically regarded as a magnet to sustain viewer engagement and attention across these periodic gaps.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 This imperative creates challenges to mesh Jenkins’s definitional ideal of balanced, distributed transmedia as a “unified and coordinated entertainment experience,” with the reality that television storytellers must privilege the mothership by designing experiences that viewers can consume in a wide range of ways without sacrificing coherence or engagement, regardless of how aware they may be of the paratextual extensions. This challenge of differential engagement plays a crucial role in one of this chapter’s case studies, as Lost embraced a wide range of transmedia strategies that tried to both protect the mothership for television-only viewers and reward participation for transmedia-savvy fans. But before turning to this detailed example, it is important to chart out some of the earlier established narrative strategies that television has used to extend into other media and clarify precisely what is meant by “storytelling” when discussing transmedia.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Precedents of Transmedia Television

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The commonsense notion of storytelling assumes the centrality of narrative events, where a story consists of “what happens.” Certainly events are crucial ingredients of any story, but narratives are also comprised of characters and settings, two additional components that are crucial to transmedia storytelling. A television series works to create a sustained narrative setting, populated by a consistent set of characters who experience a chain of events, with all three factors combining to forge a coherent storyworld. A primary feature of serialized television is that these facets are cumulative and consistent within the storyworld, as everything that happens and everyone we see are part of this persistent narrative universe. As discussed in the Complexity in Context chapter, such cumulative persistence is one of the chief ways that serial storytelling is defined against episodic television—an episodic drama or sitcom may have the same characters and storyworld, but such characters rarely remember previous events and there is little sense of continuity between episodes, enabling viewers to watch intermittently and out of chronology.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 For fans of serial television, charting the canonical events, characters, and settings featured in a storyworld is a central mode of engagement, with viewers striving for both narrative comprehension and deeper understanding of a fictional universe. The rising prevalence of transmedia television alongside the increase in complex seriality has complicated this question of canon, forcing producers to make difficult choices about how transmedia serial storytelling situates its paratexts in relation to the core television canonical mothership. As discussed in the Orienting Paratexts chapter, viewers seek out additional resources to map these complex storyworlds and track the fictional universes that proliferate within both texts and paratexts. We can see the important precedents for these issues playing out through older examples of transmedia television in the forms of tie-in books and videogames.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 3 Books have a long history as paratexts to moving image media like film and television, both in conventional prose and comic-based graphic forms, but their role is typically derided as non-essential add-ons rather than integrated transmedia. For many film properties, the most common books are novelizations, direct retellings of the story events, characters, and settings previously seen on-screen, and typified by cheap mass-market paperback novelizations and their comic book counterparts. Although such novelizations are far from the model of coordinated, dispersed transmedia storytelling as defined by Jenkins, they frequently do add material to the storyworld by filling in gaps in the story left unseen, whether it be events not seen onscreen or internal character thoughts or backstories that are far easier to convey by the written word—I remember as a child watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and wondering how Indiana Jones survived the submarine going underwater, only to have a friend point me to the novelization for the answer. Strict novelizations that retell onscreen stories are much rarer for series television, with most examples found in the realm of cult television classics like the original 1960s-era Doctor Who and Star Trek, both of which saw many of their episodes adapted to the novelized format. In these television franchises and others in film, such as Star Wars, the novels can become part of the canonical storyworld, with details expanded in the novels sometimes appearing in future on-screen installments.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 2 The narrative form of series television encourages another more common form of tie-in novel, with a book functioning like a new episode of an ongoing series. This approach makes sense for highly episodic shows, as the established characters and setting can easily host a new set of narrative events without much need for policing canonical boundaries—we see this type of tie-in novel frequently in shows that connect to popular fiction genres, such as police procedurals from Dragnet to Columbo to CSI. In such episodic narratives, the books function mainly to stay true to the characters, tone, and norms of the narrative universe—the actual plots are frequently irrelevant to larger continuity and thus questions of canonicity rarely matter. For the cult realm of science fiction, tie-novels are quite common but the questions of canon are more fraught. Cult sci-fi show Star Trek featured dozens of tie-in new episode novels in addition to novelized retellings; while most were regarded as non-canonical by the franchise’s creative team, many fans embraced them, especially in the decades between the original series leaving the air and the emergence of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late-1980s.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Novelistic extensions from more contemporary serialized programs often fall in the awkward realm of semi-canon: endorsed by the show’s creative team, but not fully integrated into the show’s complex serial arcs. Examples of this include 24, whose novels typically predate the show’s continuity by telling tales from character’s backstories, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which features both novelized retellings and new episode novels (in both prose and comic forms) exploring a broad chronology in the franchise’s mythology. Such tie-ins are usually written independently from the show’s core writers, but based on story outlines that are approved by showrunners and production studios—except for notable instances when a show’s producer pens their own canonical tie-in, as with Buffy creator Joss Whedon writing an arc of comic books that came to be known as Season 8, continuing the show’s continuity after it left the air. Such print extensions of beloved series can be quite popular among fans, who often have a love/hate relationship with the books, as they try to police boundaries of canon, seek tonal consistencies, and otherwise explore the borders of their favored fictional storyworlds.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 While fans typically judge print extensions on how well they capture the tone, setting, and characters of the mothership, the type of integrated transmedia Jenkins explores in his example of The Matrix franchise places more emphasis on narrative events, where the plot is distributed across media.[4] Few television series have attempted to create transmedia extensions that offer such canonic integration, with interwoven story events that must be consumed across media for full comprehension. This is surely in large part due to the industrial demands of a commercial television system that depends on revenue from selling eyeballs to advertisers, which mandatory transmedia might seem to undermine. Additionally, the broad (if erroneous) cultural assumption that television is a low-commitment, passive “lean back” medium would prohibit against experiments that demand more from viewers beyond just sitting and watching an episode. As complex narratives have demonstrated, viewers will actively engage with challenging television and thus producers have been willing to try more overtly narratively integrated transmedia storytelling, albeit with very mixed results.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 One of the first examples of a canonically integrated tie-in book came from complex television pioneer Twin Peaks, with the publication of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer in 1990 between the airings of the show’s first and second seasons. The Secret Diary, written by series co-creator David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer, functions as a distinctive form of transmedia: a diegetic extension, where an object from the storyworld gets released in the real world. Most diegetic extensions are objects featured in a series that do not bear much storytelling weight, such as Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap, or items bearing the logo of a in-story brand, like a Dunder Mifflin mug from The Office. Secret Diary was a reproduction of Laura’s diary as featured on the series, including pages that were ripped out to obscure crucial narrative revelations still to come, making it both an object from the show and an early experiment in integrated transmedia storytelling. The diary, which sold quite well at the peak of Twin Peaks’s cultural relevance, provided numerous clues about Laura’s murder and her hidden dark past. While a viewer need not read the diary to comprehend the show’s plotlines—although with Twin Peaks, comprehension is always an elusive goal—the diary did provide important canonical story information about both events and character, material that was later explored in the prequel feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The series followed up the diary with two other diegetic tie-in books, an autobiography of Agent Dale Cooper transcribed from his iconic dictated tape-recorded notes to “Diane,” and a travel guide to the town of Twin Peaks, but neither were particularly popular given the show’s deflated ratings and cancellation in its second season.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Diegetic extensions are no guarantee of integrated transmedia, as they can certainly fit into other categories. For instance, hit 1980s mystery Murder, She Wrote released numerous novels—continuing up to today at a pace of one or two each year, more than a decade past the show’s conclusion—attributed as co-written by main character Jessica Fletcher (along with actual writer Donald Bain), mirroring Jessica’s in-show career as a mystery novelist. However, unlike the in-show novels that are framed as fully fictional, the series of real-world novels star Jessica Fletcher as a mystery writer who solves murders, making them function like new episode extensions. Yet with the authorial label of Fletcher attached to the books, they also function as diegetic extensions, albeit with somewhat muddled consistency as to exactly where the boundaries between characters on the TV show, novels, and authorial branding may lie. But presumably, given the huge success of both the television and book series, Murder, She Wrote fans did not care about canonical coherence, but rather embraced the series across media because they offered consistent tone and familiar characters within the well-established norms of the mystery genre. While few would point to Murder, She Wrote as a pioneering innovator of transmedia, it offers a good reminder that success can be measured in a number of different ways, not just in relation to Jenkins’s integrated model.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Although they do not have as long of a history as television-based novels, tie-in videogames offer another window into the strategies and challenges of transmedia television. Again, these are not new phenomena of the contemporary era, as Star Trek games date back to 1970s text-only adventure games and 1980s flight simulators, and Doctor Who similarly had tie-in games from early on (not to mention even earlier pre-computerized board games). However, we can see a set of strategies emerging in games tied into recent contemporary television serials in terms of how they negotiate the three realms of characters, events, and storyworld, and tackle the question of canon. While most of these games are not part of larger transmedia narrative campaigns, they do highlight the challenges of extending an ongoing serial across media.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Nearly every tie-in game foregrounds the storyworld of their original television franchise, allowing you to explore the universe as previously only seen on television. With settings as diverse as the mean streets of The Shield’s Los Angeles, the suburban cul-de-sac of Desperate Housewives, or the deep space exploration of Battlestar Galactica, television tie-ins fulfill Henry Jenkins’s suggestion that game narratives function primarily as spatial storytelling—we explore the virtual representations of the storyworlds created in serial television as a way to extend the narrative experience and participate in the fictional universe.[5] The tie-in games that seem to be most embraced by fans are those that recreate their television universes with vivid and immersive storyworlds, such as the virtual Springfield found in a number of The Simpsons games, with game worlds often surpassing the televisual versions in terms of level of detail and breadth. While such games need not relay vital narrative information through their spatial reconstructions, one key criteria that fans use to judge the merits of such games is the accuracy with which they recreate the storyworld and make them feel consistent with the fictional spaces viewers have come to know over the years of a television series.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 The treatment of characters within tie-in games has proven to be trickier to navigate. While the digital animation of games enables developers to recreate television settings with depth and fidelity, the creation of robust and engaging people is still a technical challenge where games clearly lag behind television production. Adding to the challenge is the frequent problem of games not featuring the original actors voicing their parts, widening the gap between a television character and its game avatar for viewers. Arguably the most intense bond that a fan of a television serial has with the show is their affection for and connection with the characters, as discussed more in the Character chapter; thus a game that fails to recreate a beloved, well-known character often alienates fans. Even when original actors are used, players often bristle at how limited game versions of beloved characters become, often reducing complex character depth into a set of quirks or limited menu of actions. For instance, the game Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds allows you to play as many different characters from the series (some with original voices and others with sound-alikes), but limits what you can do as each character to navigating virtual Sunnydale, fighting monsters, and spouting wisecracks—for Buffy fans, this is an oversimplification of beloved figures whom viewers feel they know personally. The desire to try-on the skin of a favorite television character is certainly a core appeal for licensed games, but seemingly no television tie-in game has been able to recreate the core pleasure of spending time with fully realized characters in a television serial, an issue discussed more below.[6]

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 One common strategy to overcome this gap between television and game characterizations is to focus a tie-in game on a new protagonist placed within an already established storyworld. For example, in The Sopranos game Road to Respect, you play as Joey LaRocca, the never-before-mentioned son of late gangster Big Pussy, exploring fictionalized New Jersey locales from the television series like The Bada Bing and Satriale’s, and interacting with core characters like Tony, Christopher, and Paulie Walnuts. Even though Joey is a new character unburdened by the need to accurately recreate a television version, the action of the game reduces the storytelling scope to focus solely on the violent life of a mobster, and thus eliminating the interplay between Tony’s dual “families” that helped define the series as a television landmark. Similar examples of tie-in games using new characters include The X-Files Game, Prison Break: The Conspiracy, and Lost: Via Domus, using new characters as a way to navigate an existing storyworld and interact with established television characters. Thus whether they are exploring established or new characters, tie-games are marked by a narrowing and simplification of characters, contrasting how they frequently expand upon the original in creating an immersive and expanded storyworld.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The problems with tie-in characters often stem from lack of fidelity and depth from the original, but the third facet of story events suffers more from issues of confounded coordination with its serialized source material. Tie-in games typically choose one of two options for what narrative events will be told, following the patterns outlined for novels. The first is to retell events from the source material, allowing players to participate in original core narrative—this strategy is common for film tie-ins, as most games from franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Toy Story vary little from the original films’ narrative events, although I’ve yet to find a television-based game using a retelling strategy comparable to novelizations. More common to television tie-ins is treating the game as a new episode in the series, depicting events that could feasibly function as an episode from the series but have not. Thus the 24 and Alias games both place our heroes in situations very similar to an arc from the original series, interacting with core characters in familiar locales, but the plots are essentially stand-alone stories amidst highly serialized narratives. At their worst, such “new episode” tie-in games are merely conventional formulaic games in a typical genre like espionage or action, with a thin veneer of another diegetic world and cast of characters ported from a television series, not fully realized games that capture the tone or spirit of the original narrative.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Even when they are enjoyable gaming experiences, most television tie-ins fail to provide a transmedia resonance that delivers on the pleasures from the original series. Sometimes such games are peppered with mythological information allowing a die-hard fan to recognize a reference to the show’s backstory or ongoing mystery, but I have yet to find a television tie-in game that delivers an integrated narrative payoff that feels tied to a serial canon in a significant rather than superficial way, aside from creating a navigable storyworld. I do not attribute this to any lack in videogames as a medium, as many games create compelling narrative experiences, deep and nuanced characters, and engaging plotlines. And Jenkins’ example of The Matrix franchise shows this possibility for a videogame to offer canonical integration into a series narrative, even though Enter the Matrix itself was seen by most as a less-than-satisfying gameplay experience. This lack of an effective television-based integrated game speaks to a creative challenge that plagues the entire transmedia enterprise: how do you create narrative extensions from an ongoing core franchise that reward fans seeking out canon, but do not become essential consumption for single-medium fans, especially when the core narrative experience is serialized over time and requires a sustained investment in time and attention? In other words, the constraints of the television industry and norms of television consumption insist that transmedia extensions from a serial franchise must reward those who partake in them, but cannot punish those who do not.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Lost in Transmedia Television

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 While individual transmedia extensions like novels or videogames can exemplify some general strategies storytellers use to expand their narrative horizons, it is useful to look at how a particular show mounts an extensive transmedia campaign to get a sense of the scope that a television serial might embrace. There are significant research challenges to exploring transmedia storytelling, as many paratexts are hard to access after their initial release, whether they are online sites that are pulled from the web, ephemeral objects that disappear from circulation, or emergent practices that change over time. In many cases like ARGs, the paratext itself is experiential more than textual, making it impossible to recreate the narrative moment of participation. Thus as researchers, we must rely either on our own experiences or second-hand accounts of transmedia consumption rather than being able to revisit a story for analytical purposes.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 There are a number of expansive transmedia television landmarks that might prove effective as a primary case study, including Heroes, 24, and The Office, but I have chosen to focus on Lost for two main reasons. First, it is undoubtedly one of the most extensive and expansive examples of both complex television narrative and transmedia storytelling, with extensions sprawled across nearly every medium throughout the show’s six season run.[7] Second, I approach the show’s transmedia as a participant observer, having been highly involved in following and documenting the first ARG, and consumed most of the other paratexts in real time as they were released, as discussed more in the Orienting Paratexts chapter. Many of these transmedia texts no longer exist in accessible form, so I hope to use my personal consumption as a source for critical reflection on how the show used transmedia storytelling within the context of an ongoing serial narrative.[8]

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Lost’s approach to transmedia storytelling is expansionist, working to extend the narrative universe not only across media, but introducing many new characters, settings, plotlines, time periods and mythological elements. While few viewers would accuse Lost’s television mothership of being too simplistic in its narrative scope, the show used transmedia to extend itself into tales that surpassed the wide scope of the series itself. This expansionism led Lost to augment its six seasons of television with five alternate reality games, four novels, a console/PC videogame, multiple tie-in websites, two series of online videos, DVD extras, and an array of collectable merchandise. Both due to its fantasy genre and its storytelling commitments to a create rich mythological universe, Lost is well-suited to this expansionist approach to transmedia, using paratexts to extend the narrative outward into new locales and arenas through an approach we might term centrifugal storytelling, as discussed more in the Evaluation chapter.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 1 One important aspect of Lost that makes it ripe for transmedia extensions is its unique locale in a mysterious place with a rich history. The unnamed island has been inhabited for centuries by various factions of people, dating back at least to Ancient Egyptian times, and offers a deep well of backstory to be drilled into. Showrunners Lindelof and Cuse have used the metaphor of an iceberg to represent the storyworld—the material appearing on the show is what is visible above the waterline, but there are underwater depths and layers beneath the surface that are never seen on television. Like other deep mythologies, such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the Star Wars universe, Lost‘s producers tapped into a wide range of styles, characters, and eras to extend the narrative universe to other media. And such transmedia extensions helped encourage viewers to engage with the show and its paratexts as forensic fans, drilling into texts to crack their hidden meanings and discover secrets, and collaborate to create extensive databases of story information like Lostpedia, the vast fan wiki detailing the Lost universe.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 One strategy that Lost took advantage of throughout its run was creating openings within the television show to invite viewers to explore the storyworld in more depth. Such invitations, sometimes called “Easter Eggs” if they are bonus features or moments that lead no further, or “trailheads” if they open up to larger narrative pathways, rarely were central to Lost‘s core narrative, but typically provided a bit of backstory, cultural references, or deep history of the island. Lindelof and Cuse have discussed in interviews and podcasts that they had a specific litmus test for what mythology to reveal and explore on the show itself versus in the transmedia extensions: if the main characters care about it, it will appear on the show; if the characters don’t care, it will not. While we can quibble as to how precisely they followed their own edict, it is instructive in establishing the show’s orientation toward character-centered drama rather than mythological fantasy. The blast door map discussed in the Orienting Paratexts chapter is a telling case of both the opportunities and pitfalls of using transmedia to expand the show’s mythological universe. In the aftermath of its first appearance in “Lockdown,” the character Locke cared deeply about the map, attempting to recreate the image and discover its secret, until the hatch is destroyed and the map’s origins are revealed in a flashback during the season 2 finale; the blast door map would not be directly referenced on the television series again. However, the map reappeared in within a number of paratexts, including as a scene in the licensed videogame Lost: Via Domus, as a hidden glow-in-the-dark image on the back of the official Lost jigsaw puzzles, as a pull-out poster in the official Lost magazine, and hidden within the final complete series collectable DVD box set, with each version offering slightly different details and encouraging further forensic fan decoding. But to what ends? The transmedia versions of the map detach it from Locke’s character motivations and the core island narrative events, making it a fun puzzle to play with deriving from Lost’s story but offering little integrated storytelling payoff. Yet the continued transmedia circulation of the map, even after the series ended, helped create the expectation of narrative rewards on the mothership, feeding a hungry fanbase eager for additional mythological revelations where there were none to be found.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Lost, in large part due to its centrifugal use of transmedia, offered a wide range of genres, styles, and appeals simultaneously within the core television text: a puzzling science-fiction mystery, a dimension-spanning romance, a rip-roaring outdoors adventure, and a religious parable about letting go of the past and finding fellowship. As discussed in the Endings chapter, the television finale downplayed the puzzlebox trailheads it had left throughout its journey, and in doing so betrayed the expectations of many of its most hardcore fans. One of Lost’s biggest challenges has always been managing the rabid fanbase’s divergent expectations: fans were invested in a wide range of the show’s narrative facets, from the complex mythology to romantic relationships, heady time-traveling sci-fi to adventure-driven action sequences. While at times fans split on the relative merits of particular plot lines, episodes, or characters, as a whole the show did an admirable and arguably unprecedented job of servicing such a broad array of appeals and fanbases. A key strategy for accomplishing this storytelling breadth was to center the core television show around characters, their adventures and dramas, and how they encounter the mythology, and allowing the more in-depth mythological explorations and explanations to flower both in fan-created extensions and transmedia properties.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The majority of Lost’s transmedia extensions prioritize storyworld expansion and exploration instead of building on the show’s emotional arcs and character relationships, with some narrative events posited in an awkward relationship to the narrative canon. Two high-profile paratexts, the videogame Lost: Via Domus and the novel Bad Twin, which was posited as a diegetic extension authored by deceased Oceanic 815 passenger Gary Troup, were initially framed as canonical extensions, but later were partially recanted by the showrunners as not fully connected to the core story. In both cases, Lindelof and Cuse highlighted that the outsourced creators of these extensions took the plotlines they outlined in new directions that contradicted core canon from the television show; instead, both fell into familiar traditions of “new episode” storytelling that is outside the core canonical arc. One of the chief challenges for creating canonically integrated transmedia for an ongoing serial is that the demands of running a complex show like Lost already tax the energies of producers, leaving paratexts in the hands of outsourced writers who frequently fail to meet the expectations of both creators and producers—creating coherent complex transmedia narratives requires a degree of storytelling control that the current systems of television production seem unable to fully meet, and given reduced production budgets in recent years, it has hard to imagine that future programs will have the personnel to deliver such integrated narratives.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Aside from the video minisodes that appeared online and on DVDs (which were produced by the standard television production personnel), the transmedia paratext that was most controlled by the core writers’ room was arguably its most innovative: the first ARG, The Lost Experience. Running in the summer of 2006, The Lost Experience (TLE) was the first extensive ARG to emerge during an ongoing mainstream hit television series, filling the hiatus between the program’s second and third seasons. Lasting four months and spanning an array of media across the world, including websites, podcasts, television appearances, voicemail, live events, and merchandise, it is also arguably the most ambitious and extensive ARG yet attempted for a television series, and thus established many of the industry’s assumptions about the form, its possibilities, and limitations. TLE was conceived by Lost showrunners Lindelof and Cuse, with leadership from staff writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, making the ARG an integrated aspect of the show’s narrative canon and core production team.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Lost’s producers have suggested that TLE had three main goals: to offer narrative revelations for hardcore fans that would not be addressed in the show itself, to experiment with innovative forms of storytelling, and to keep the show active in press coverage and the public consciousness during its summer hiatus.[9] The last of these was clearly a success—the experiments of TLE generated a good deal of press coverage, including a June Entertainment Weekly story teased on the magazine’s cover, effectively avoiding a summer slump of waning enthusiasm and placing ARGs in the mainstream consciousness like never before. As an innovative form of narrative, the lessons learned from storytelling mistakes and problems outweighed any compelling formal innovations. TLE consistently had to balance the desires of ARG players to be challenged with innovative puzzles, and the television fans clamoring for more direct narrative payoffs. The in-game story of Rachel Blake investigating the Hanso Foundation rarely resonated as much more than a skeleton upon which to hang clues, and the game does not stand-alone from the storyworld established on the television series as a compelling narrative experience. The gameplay and immersive engagement was too erratic in quality and sophistication for hardcore ARGers, driving many of them away after the first few weeks, and leaving less experienced players to try to work through subsequent puzzles. Additionally, the integrated marketing with sponsors like Jeep, Verizon, and Sprite struck many players as crass and intrusive, violating the playful spirit that ARGs aim to capture.[10]

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 As to the goal of revealing narrative mythology for the ongoing television series, the ARG proved to be more frustrating than rewarding—the canonical narrative content was not sufficiently integrated into the television series as a whole, making some players feel like they had wasted their time on “trivia,” rather than getting a head-start on what was to come during Lost’s third season. The biggest revelations in TLE came from the so-called Sri Lanka Video, which included an “orientation film” featuring Alvar Hanso, explaining the origins and mission of the DHARMA Initiative, the meaning of the “numbers” (which had been a central mystery from the show’s first two seasons) as being part of an equation predicting the end of the world being researched by the DHARMA Initiative, and numerous other clues that connected directly with the television canon. However, these revelations never appeared in the show itself, and the numbers were given a different (but not contradictory) explanation in the show’s final season. For fans who participated in the ARG, the mystery of the numbers was already solved, and the new explanation felt like a slap in the face undermining fan engagement by placing the narrative events uncovered in the ARG into an ambiguous para-canonical status. In contrast, some of the revelations from TLE were considered “unanswered questions” by television fans left unsatisfied with the mythological ambiguity of the show’s final season—for such fans, the fact that the numbers and DHARMA were further explained in the ARG increased frustration over the television show’s narrative, as they wanted to be able to comprehend the show fully without requiring “online research.” Even for TLE players who learned the secrets of the Sri Lanka Video (which has received over 1 million views on YouTube, still a small fraction of the show’s global television audience), the fact that these revelations were never addressed, and subsequently contradicted or displaced, on the show made the gameplay more frustrating in retrospect, feeling more like a waste of time rather than storytelling bonus.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 The scaled-down efforts to use ARGs in the Lost franchise in subsequent years suggest that many of these lessons were in fact learned, as the producers reduced their ambitions to create transmedia experiences that were less robust and complex, but ultimately less disappointing to their target audiences—Lindelof and Cuse told me that they found the challenges of running an integrated ARG within the already complicated television production process far too daunting to try again, and thus scaled-back the subsequent ARGs to be less integral to the show’s canon. No matter how enjoyable such games and extensions were to fans, they often fell short in rewarding the core edict of adding to the franchise’s storytelling without taking away from the main television experience. One of the great contradictions of Lost is that the series built as robust of a mythological universe ever devised for television, but then undermined the importance of its own mythology by relegating many of its mysteries to transmedia extensions that it deemed as “bonus content” rather than core storytelling. The show was unmatched in its ability to posit mysteries and encourage fans to immerse themselves expansively into clunky alternate reality games and poorly paced videogames and novels with the hope of uncovering answers. Yet by the final season, the show offered emotional character resolutions and thrilling adventure storytelling, but left many mythological questions unaddressed within the television series itself or ambiguously vague in its answers. On its own, I found the show’s emotional payoffs and sweeping character arcs sufficiently engaging and entertaining; however its use of transmedia and cultivation of a forensic fandom encouraged us to expect more, leading many fans to revolt against the show in its final hours for not delivering its answers in a clearly marked package.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 2 This dichotomy between forensic fans watching (and playing) for coherence and emotional viewers getting swept up in the adventurous melodrama mirrors one of the show’s main thematic structures: the contrast between rational and supernatural outlooks, embodied by the battle between Jack Shepard’s “man of science” and John Locke’s “man of faith.” Even though neither survives the narrative, it is clear by the show’s conclusion that faith trumps science, with Jack sacrificing himself to the island’s mystical forces and endorsing John’s vision of fate and spiritual meaning. In choosing faith over science, and in turn privileging the genre of fantasy adventure over science-fiction, Lost was willing to let many dangling mysteries go unexplained within the context of the television show, offering instead a spiritual celebration of Jack (and by extension, us) “letting go” the need for rational understanding in the show’s closing moments. And yet the show’s transmedia strategy still sided with the rational exploration of island mythology, despite its frequently frustrating incoherence—the final DVD release contained a bonus 12-minute “epilogue” video that provided a flood of answers to dangling questions about the island, DHARMA, Walt, and various other mythological mysteries. The playful video winks at viewers, with a DHARMA worker chastising Ben by saying, “Wait. You can’t just walk out of here. We deserve answers!” And even though the answers resolve some ambiguity, it becomes clear that this additional content is canonical but non-essential, relegated to a paratext simply to appease those hardcore forensic fans who would not follow the finale’s advice, to let go.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Thus Lost’s transmedia seems to follow some clear parameters: use paratexts to expand access to the storyworld and island mythology, but keep character arcs and dramas centered on the television mothership. While this might reward hardcore fans willing to expand their narrative consumption across media, it does create frustrations for both transmedia consumers underwhelmed by the payoffs and television fans who do not want to have to do “homework” to understand their favorite shows. Although I would not claim that most Lost fans who were left frustrated by the finale had been transmedia consumers, the show’s reliance on transmedia to parcel out answers did set up expectations that answers would be found via forensic rationality rather than the more spiritual acceptance that the finale offered. Lost’s commercial and creative successes have established the show as a model for transmedia television, inspiring numerous clones in both television and paratextual formats, including Heroes, Flash Forward, and The Event. But another case study suggests a very different approach to television transmedia that might be more modest but ultimately more successful.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Breaking Bad as Character-Driven Transmedia

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 If Lost used transmedia to expand its narrative universe outward to the breaking point, Breaking Bad demonstrates the alternate vector, creating transmedia to fold in on itself in a centripetal fashion. Breaking Bad is an intense character study of a chemistry teacher gradually turning into a drug kingpin, mixing riveting suspense and pitch-black comedy to most closely resemble a television serial as made by the Coen Brothers. Most television shows that have embraced transmedia aggressively are in fantastic or comedic genres, like Heroes and The Office. Fantasy and science-fiction shows can use transmedia to create more expansive and detailed versions of their storyworlds, which typically are a core appeal within the genre—the emphasis on world-building through paratexts is a time-honored strategy for narratives set in universes with their own scientific or magical properties that beg further investigation and exploration. For comedies, transmedia can be a site to develop additional gags or highlight throwaway plotlines for secondary characters without disrupting the plot and character arcs of the television mothership.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 While Breaking Bad has been modest in its use of transmedia compared to such programs, its strategies offer an interesting contrast. If Lost’s expansive transmedia offered new narrative events and broadened the storyworld, Breaking Bad’s focus has been primarily on character. This use of character-based transmedia makes sense given Breaking Bad’s genre and narrative strategies: there is no underlying mythology or complex mystery to parse, so the transmedia extensions offer virtually no narrative events that seem particularly relevant to the story as a whole. As discussed more in the Character and Evaluation chapters, Breaking Bad’s focus is firmly on characters and their transformation, so its transmedia strategy is well matched to the program’s core narrative tone and scope. Breaking Bad’s storyworld is a fairly realistic version of Albuquerque, New Mexico, so its transmedia offers almost no attention to the setting itself. This deemphasis on storyworld and plot arcs within its transmedia is partly tied to the show’s genre of serious drama, but even a similarly dramatic show like Mad Men grounds its small excursions into transmedia within its periodized world, such as its online Cocktail Guide and Fashion Show sites.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Instead, Breaking Bad’s transmedia extensions focus on character over setting or plot, providing additional depth to a show that already features highly-realized characters. Most of this transmedia character development focuses on secondary figures from the show rather than the main protagonist Walter White and highlights the show’s comedic rather than dramatic tone, with additional videos and websites illuminating the amusing backgrounds of Hank, Marie, Badger, and Saul, some of the least serious characters in the show—most enjoyable is the diegetic extension promotional website for Saul Goodman’s law firm, serving as a dual parody of both ambulance-chasing lawyers and cheesy website design. Even when the show’s dark main character Walter is featured in a minisode, it paints him in a more comedic light, with short videos that show him listening to future brother-in-law Hank’s pre-wedding sexual hijinks, or carrying out a bungled breaking-and-entering with a drugged-out Badger. These minisodes do not contradict the show’s plot arcs, but offer a different but compatible comedic tone that tends to be downplayed on the darker mothership.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Although Breaking Bad lacks the mythological expanses that tend to encourage tie-in games to explore the storyworlds, the show has spawned two online mini-games that point to another direction for game-based transmedia. Both were created for AMC’s website with direct coordination from the show’s producers, featuring motion-comic style graphics with an interactive narrative design; the first, “The Interrogation,” was launched during the show’s third season in Spring 2010, while the follow-up “The Cost of Doing Business” was released for both the web and mobile devices prior to season four in Summer 2011. “The Interrogation” places us in the shoes of DEA agent Hank as he interrogates a suspect member of a drug smuggling organization; in “The Cost of Doing Business,” we play as Jesse, trying to get paid what he is owed from a drug customer. Neither plotline is canonic to the show, but both feel like plausible moments for the characters in the new episode model common to tie-in games; Gordon Smith, the series writer’s assistant who scripted the games, suggests that each game “hopefully is true to the characters as they are on the show, but it’s not stories that literally take place in the timetable of the series. We feel like they’re part of the show that somebody could have experienced at some point, [with events that] had the same feel of something on the show.”[11] This emphasis on creating extensions that coordinate character identities and consistent tone with the show points to a strength of Breaking Bad’s transmedia: by downplaying plot, the extensions work by allowing viewers to spend time with the characters without encouraging the forensic attention to story as with most canonic extensions.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 The minisodes featuring Jesse are indicative of this approach: his storylines on the show can frequently be quite dark and serious, but his minisodes focus comedically on his fledgling band and artistic creations, rather than his struggles with addiction or quest for self-discovery as Walt’s surrogate son. Most interestingly, one video features a hypothetical animated series Team S.C.I.E.N.C.E., featuring superhero versions of the characters as created by Jesse and transformed into a crime-fighting team rather than a burgeoning criminal enterprise. Not only does this video offer an amusing take on the show’s characters for die-hard fans, but it also provides a compelling look into Jesse’s psychology, exploring how he narrativizes and rationalizes his own experiences, and positions his impressive artistic skills in relation to his criminal actions. Nothing that happens in this video is canonical, as it’s clearly outside the storyworld—perhaps it could be read as a diegetic extension of something Jesse would make if he had the time, expertise, and dedication, but more likely it’s a hypothetical game of speculation, playing with genre, tone, and production mode while retaining a consistency of character. Like most of Breaking Bad’s transmedia, such videos draw you into the core television series and offer some additional depth rather than expanding the storyworld’s scope and breadth. All of the show’s extensions seem like they could easily be canonical, if only due to their modest scope that rarely intersects with the main thrust of the television story, but they do not invite the type of intense dissection of plotlines typical of Lost’s transmedia.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 None of Breaking Bad’s transmedia extensions reward viewers with trailheads into deeper narrative experiences, flesh out the fictional universe, or relay any seemingly vital story events. Instead, they allow us to spend more time with characters whom we’ve grown close to over the course of the television serial, extending the parasocial relationships I discuss more in the Character chapter. While they may not seem as innovative or immersive as Lost’s paratexts, they might even work better as extensions to the core narrative by playing to the strengths of serial television: establishing connections to characters. Nobody exploring Breaking Bad’s transmedia would have their expectations of the show transformed or misdirected, as they are clearly positioned as supporting, nonessential “extras” rather than true transmedia plotting. But in their modest success, I think they more successfully accomplish the goal of rewarding viewers who consume them but not punishing those who do not. And as we see further experimentation and innovation with transmedia storytelling, Breaking Bad and Lost both offer valuable lessons to how to balance viewer expectations, canonical concerns, and the relative importance of events, storyworld, and characters.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 ‘What Is’ versus ‘What If?’ Transmedia

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 In the contrast between Lost and Breaking Bad’s paratextual strategies, we can see two larger tendencies that typify the practices of transmedia storytelling, dueling approaches that we might label ‘What Is’ versus ‘What If?’. The former is embodied on television by Lost, and fits with Jenkins’s definition of the form as exemplified by The Matrix. ‘What Is’ transmedia seeks to extend the fiction canonically, explaining the universe with coordinated precision and hopefully expanding viewers’ understanding and appreciation of the storyworld. This narrative model encourages forensic fandom with the promise of eventual revelations once all the pieces are put together—the emblematic example of a ‘What Is’ paratext might be Lost’s jigsaw puzzles, which literally require the assembly of all the pieces of four separate puzzles to reveal extra narrative information hidden within its glow-in-the-dark image of the blast door map. If one goal of consuming a story is mastery of its fictional universe, then ‘What Is’ transmedia scatters narrative understanding across a variety of extensions to be reassembled by a collective team of die-hard fans to piece together the elaborate puzzle.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 The majority of official storytelling extensions seem designed to fulfill the goals of ‘What Is’ transmedia, and the measuring stick that critics and fans use to assess those paratexts typically revolves around canonical coordination and narrative integration. However, an opposite mode of transmedia points to different narrative goals and markers of success: the ‘What If?’ extension as suggested by Breaking Bad’s Team S.C.I.E.N.C.E. This approach to transmedia poses hypothetical possibilities rather than canonical certainties, inviting viewers to imagine alternative stories and approaches to storytelling that are distinctly not to be treated as potential canon. The goal for ‘What If?’ transmedia is to launch off the mothership into parallel dimensions, foregrounding tone, mood, character, or style more than continuing with canonical plots and storyworlds. We are never meant to believe that Jesse really created a comic and animated series fictionalizing his friends as a superhero team, but we are presented with the possibility that he could have, and invited to imagine ‘What if he did?’ This style of hypothetical narrative paratext highlights the fictionality of all narrative, as there is nothing more “real” in the characterization of Walter White as accidental drug dealer than Jesse’s reinterpretation of him as Doctor Chemistry, fighting off zombies “for the right to be awesome,” as both are equally artificial works of fiction, albeit with one clearly marked as subsidiary to the other. Just as we embrace serial narrative for its creation of compelling storyworlds in which we can immerse ourselves, ‘What If?’ transmedia multiplies the possibilities of those fictions into the realm of hypothetical variations and transmutations.[12]

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Both ‘What Is’ and ‘What If?’ transmedia can best be seen as vectors or tendencies rather than distinct categories, with fluidity and blur between the dual approaches—for instance, we might think of the Lost tie-in novel Bad Twin as conceived as a ‘What Is’ diegetic extension that transformed through its troubled production process into a ‘What If?’ hypothetical paratext. Many tie-novels and games function as non-canonical ‘What If?’ paratexts, but lack the playful variation and imagination of Team S.C.I.E.N.C.E.; instead, they often function as failed ‘What Is’ extensions, setting up viewers to futilely search for narrative continuities and canon but come up empty. Both transmedia tendencies embrace a ludic narrative quality, but draw upon different style of play: ‘What Is’ transmedia extensions work more like puzzles with proper solutions and final revelations, while ‘What If?’ paratexts feature more of a sense of dress-up or performative role-play, spinning off scenarios with no “real” outcome or canonical narrative function.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 2 We can see important precedents for both of these transmedia modes in the realm of fan productions and consumption practices. Some fan cultures produce paratexts clearly in the ‘What Is’ realm, typified by the detailed schematics of the technology in the Star Trek universe analyzed by Bob Rehak as “blueprint culture.”[13] This strategy of mapping and cataloguing the canonical universe has seen a boom with the rise of wikis, as fans can collaborate in creating encyclopedia documentation of a storyworld, as with Lostpedia or Star Trek’s Memory Alpha as discussed in the Orienting Paratexts chapter. Such modes of affirmational fan engagement prioritize canonical authenticity, seek narrative mastery, authorize the role of controlling showrunner, and search for connections and theories to fill narrative gaps—all facets prioritized by ‘What Is’ transmedia and discussed more in the Authorship chapter.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 The better known models of fan productivity follow the ‘What If?’ paradigm, with fan fiction, remix videos, and other forms of fan creativity that make no claims to canonical authenticity, but playfully posit a range of hypothetical narrative possibilities. Such paratexts are valued for their transformational expansiveness, thinking beyond the terrain of canon by positing possibilities that clearly could not be “real” within the fictional universe—whether building on subtexts that could never be explicitly represented, offering intertextual crossovers to other franchises or real life, or creating parodies that playfully revise a show’s genre, style, or tone. Some ‘What If?’ fan creations tell stories that strive to seamlessly fit within the canonical mothership or offer alternate interpretations that fans may view as in keeping with the spirit of their vision of a series—sometimes even more faithfully than the canonical ongoing narrative does. However, such fan creativity nearly always positions itself as outside the core canon and embraces its hypothetical possibilities, even when they might be regarded as more satisfying than the official narrative canon.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 An interesting case of fan-produced transmedia that plays with both of these vectors is an unofficial alternate reality game for Alias, produced in 2005 and generally referred to as the Omnifam ARG. Launching during the show’s third season and after ABC had produced official ARGs during the first two seasons, the Omnifam game did not announce itself as an unofficial paratext, but in keeping with ARG style, presented itself as part of the “real world” without reference to the television show as fiction—it only became clear over the course of gameplay that it was not licensed by ABC and was instead created and run by fans. Interestingly, the unofficial ARG was much more faithful to the show’s spirit of conspiratorial narrative complexity than the official ARGs, which featured more stand-alone web-based mini-games using the show’s iconography and storyworld. The Omnifam game was poised to offer more ‘What Is’ integrated story information about the overarching Rambaldi mythology—except it was distinctly unofficial and unsanctioned by the show’s creative team, making its pseudo-canon decidedly ‘What If?’.[14] This tension speaks to both the desire for some fans to have transmedia experience that payoff with significant narrative integration, and the urge to create their own stories that mimic the canonical, regardless of authorial endorsement or in-show confirmation.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 3 If fans step in to create pseudo-canonical ‘What Is’ transmedia as in the Omnifam case, there is potentially tension in the opposite direction as well. As the terrain of ‘What If?’ has been occupied primarily for fans, there is legitimate concern that the industry producing such extensions could work to co-opt fannish creativity and close down the realm of the hypothetical to fan producers. For instance, Sci-Fi Network offered an online video site for Battlestar Galactica fans to create their own remixes, but only within the channel’s chosen clips and usage policies, effectively constraining the free play of ‘What If?’ creativity.[15] But I’d contend that the official production of a video like Team S.C.I.E.N.C.E. celebrates the fannish ‘What If?’ impulse without closing down possibilities, and validates it by using the official talent of the show’s cast members to make the hypothetical feel more authentic and fully realized. While fans cannot get Aaron Paul to record voiceover for their creative work, the short opens up new raw materials and hypothetical directions for future fan transmedia without enforcing a hierarchy between licensed and unlicensed material around the question of canon.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 2 Jenkins’s model of ‘What Is’ coordinated transmedia where plot coherence is distributed across media is an exciting possibility for storytellers and deserves the attention it has gotten. But for transmedia properties with a clear mothership in serialized television, it may be an untenable model, as the commercial system cannot effectively sustain a franchise that risks eroding television ratings points for viewers who are uninterested in straying beyond a single medium, not to mention the storytelling challenges of crafting complex plots that can function both over time and across media. I would point to the comparatively unexplored (at least via official paratexts) realm of ‘What If?’ transmedia television as a potentially more productive avenue for serial television to develop, building on the medium’s strengths of character and mood over plotting and mythology, and tapping into the clear fan interest in imagining non-canonical possibilities. The proliferation of hypothetical transmedia narrative offers its own “What If?” scenario of another dimension of complexity that has yet to be discovered.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Notes

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [1] See Elizabeth Evans, Transmedia Television: Audiences, New Media, and Daily Life (Routledge, 2011), and Paul Booth, Digital Fandom (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010), for in-depth accounts of transmedia television.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [2] Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (NYU Press, 2010).

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [3] Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections,” Confessions of an Aca/Fan, August 1, 2011.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [4] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006).

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [5] Henry Jenkins, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” in First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004).

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [6] Note that I do not believe that this gap of characterization is inherent to the videogame medium, as numerous games like Red Dead Redemption and the Final Fantasy series have created vivid and compelling characters. This issue arises more when attempting to port established characters from television to games, as the latter medium typically fails to recreate the depth and breadth of an ongoing television character.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 [7] See Ivan Askwith, “TV 2.0: Turning Television into an Engagement Medium” (Masters Thesis, Cambridge: MIT, 2007); Aaron Smith, “Transmedia Storytelling in Television 2.0” (Honors Thesis, Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College, 2009); and Frank Rose, The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011) for detailed accounts of Lost’s transmedia strategies.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 [8] See Jason Mittell, “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia,” Transformative Works and Cultures 3 (Fall 2009), for more on my role within Lost fandom.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 [9] Personal interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, 23 March, 2010.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 [10] See Jason Mittell, “Lost in an Alternate Reality,” Flow, June 16, 2006, for a discussion of playing The Lost Experience.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [11] From Breaking Bad Insider Podcast for episode #409, September 13, 2011.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [12] See Jeffrey Sconce, “What If?: Charting Television’s New Textual Boundaries,” in Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 93-112, for a discussion of the “What If?” impulse within television serials.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [13] Bob Rehak, “Franz Joseph and Star Trek’s Blueprint Culture,” Graphic Engine blog, 11 March, 2012.

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 [14] See Henrik Örnebring, “Alternate reality gaming and convergence culture,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 10, no. 4 (December 1, 2007): 445 −462, for a detailed discussion of the Alias ARGs.

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 [15] See Julie Levin Russo, “User-penetrated content: Fan videos in the age of convergence,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 4 (2009): 125-130.

  • 73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0
  • 1 See Elizabeth Evans, Transmedia Television: Audiences, New Media, and Daily Life (Routledge, 2011), and Paul Booth, Digital Fandom (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010), for in-depth accounts of transmedia television.
  • 2 Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (NYU Press, 2010).
  • 3 Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections,” Confessions of an Aca/Fan, August 1, 2011, http://henryjenkins.org/2011/08/defining_transmedia_further_re.html.
  • 4 Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006).
  • 5 Henry Jenkins, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” in First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004).
  • 6 Note that I do not believe that this gap of characterization is inherent to the videogame medium, as numerous games like Red Dead Redemption and the Final Fantasy series have created vivid and compelling characters. This issue arises more when attempting to port established characters from television to games, as the latter medium typically fails to recreate the depth and breadth of an ongoing television character.
  • 7 See Ivan Askwith, “TV 2.0: Turning Television into an Engagement Medium” (Masters Thesis, Cambridge: MIT, 2007), http://cms.mit.edu/research/theses/IvanAskwith2007.pdf; Aaron Smith, “Transmedia Storytelling in Television 2.0” (Honors Thesis, Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College, 2009), http://blogs.middlebury.edu/mediacp; and Frank Rose, The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011) for detailed accounts of Lost’s transmedia strategies.
  • 8 See Jason Mittell, “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia,” Transformative Works and Cultures 3 (Fall 2009), http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/118/117, for more on my role within Lost fandom.
  • 9 Personal interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, 23 March, 2010.
  • 10 See Jason Mittell, “Lost in an Alternate Reality,” Flow, June 16, 2006, http://flowtv.org/2006/06/lost-in-an-alternate-reality/ for a discussion of playing The Lost Experience.
  • 11 From Breaking Bad Insider Podcast for episode #409, September 13, 2011,http://www.amctv.com/shows/breaking-bad/insider-podcast-season-4.
  • 12 See Jeffrey Sconce, “What If?: Charting Television’s New Textual Boundaries,” in Television After TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 93-112, for a discussion of the “What If?” impulse within television serials.
  • 13 Bob Rehak, “Franz Joseph and Star Trek’s Blueprint Culture,” Graphic Engine blog, 11 March, 2012, http://graphic-engine.swarthmore.edu/?p=1602.
  • 14 See Henrik Örnebring, “Alternate reality gaming and convergence culture,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 10, no. 4 (December 1, 2007): 445 −462, for a detailed discussion of the Alias ARGs.
  • 15 See Julie Levin Russo, “User-penetrated content: Fan videos in the age of convergence,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 4 (2009): 125-130.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/complextelevision/transmedia-storytelling/