What TV shows are made for live-tweeting?

Rob Walker, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

Monday’s column about my (not so hot) experience combining Twitter and "Breaking Bad," and the reaction to that column, got me thinking more about the different scenarios where Twitter and broadcast television can, should and should not overlap.

So I decided to ask a handful of tech/media savvy observers for their takes. I wanted to know about their personal experiences: which broadcasts they felt were genuinely improved by a dose of tweets — and which they felt would be ruinously undermined by “social” distraction.

A theme emerged, which Peter Kafka of AllThingsD might have articulated best: Twitter, he theorizes, is ideal for programming that’s “live and dumb.” Dumb, in this case, isn’t an insult, but rather refers to shows — sports, live reality shows and presidential debates, for example — that don’t “require lots of focus, and/or may be improved by the sense that you're throwing virtual brickbats/tomatoes at the screen with your friends.’”

Almost anything you’d throw a party and pop some popcorn for, in other words, is a Twitter-friendly show.

David Carr of The New York Times had a similar take, adding awards shows to the mix: “The more mass, the more canned, the better, so awards shows are money when it comes to wise-cracking on Twitter,” he says. “VMAs, Emmys, Oscars — all grow and morph when the video and Tweet streams are blended.” Interestingly, he adds that the commercial broadcast format of such shows is a particularly helpful scenario — because the ad breaks “present an opportunity to fill in and annotate narrative.”

Taking that notion in a different direction, Katie Notopoulos, an editor at BuzzFeed, describes happily dipping into Twitter while watching, say, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and maybe tweeting a bit, “just to be chatting and reading while half-paying attention to the TV.”

I think it's akin to shows that you watch with friends,” she says, “because you talk through it half the time.” The catch is she doesn’t really tweet about whatever’s on — Twitter serves more as a parallel entertainment stream. (Maybe doubling up on escapist leisure activities is sort of like multitasking: multivegging, or multiprocrastinating.)

And then there’s sports. Tweeting through Mets games “as a way to interact with Mets fans definitely enhanced the game for me,” says Circa journalist and social-media thinker Anthony De Rosa. “Baseball is a long, slow game that allows for that sort of thing.” (He’s done this less lately, but that has “everything to do with the Mets, and not much at all to do with Twitter.”)

Meanwhile, nobody seemed enthusiastic about the much-hyped notion of tweeting through event-level scripted dramas — like "Breaking Bad." “I would no more tweet than play pingpong during a really good show,” Carr said. “My bond and loyalties in that instance is with the show, characters and storytellers, not the other people who are watching it.”

Notopoulos cites the spoiler factor: “I hate seeing people live-tweet popular weekly TV shows,” she says. “Often, I'm watching a few minutes delayed so I can fast forward through commercials, and it's really annoying to see tweets about something that happens in the next scene.” She even blocked Aaron Paul this past Sunday to avoid seeing retweets that might spoil "Breaking Bad."

To me this suggests that the real tweetable-TV opportunities are actually more limited than you might imagine at first, or that Twitter might broadcast. Kafka figures Twitter’s emphasis on the television connection may be overstated, but makes sense “because it's a good story to tell TV networks, advertisers and investors.”

And Carr goes a bit further, envisioning a more seamless experience that puts tweets directly on the television, in a sort of individualized version of the scrolling ticker familiar from news networks. “A single screen experience with a personalized Twitter feed at the bottom will be an important part of that future,” he argues.

And for determined multiveggers, of course, that implies a future where the second screen is freed up for Candy Crush. Let’s hope that’s ready by the time “Better Call Saul” hits the air.

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