Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Spoilers! (Or "When Is It Okay to Tease Your Viewers?")

When I was a part of the CSI:NY fandom, I joined a message board like the hip teenager that I was in order to connect with others and post my thoughts about episodes that had aired. One such message board was where I met my now-bestie, Jaime. On this particular board there were two options for post-registration: you could choose for a little button next to your username to read “Spoiler Free” or “Spoil Me.” That way, throughout the forum, those who wanted to remain spoiler-free for certain episodes or the entire series had the option to do so, and those who wanted to – in fandom terms – receive “ALL THE SPOILERS” would have that option without fear of accidentally spoiling the people around them. It was an ingenious idea, really, and something I wish was implemented more into other fan forums, message boards, Twitter and Tumblr accounts, etc. around the Internet.

I’m a spoiler kind of girl and I wore that “Spoil Me” badge – metaphorically – with pride. I enjoy knowing what to expect throughout the course of the season of a series because I like to speculate. I enjoy discussion, dissection, and the thrill that comes with knowing the details of what’s to come. I’m the girl who reads the last page of a novel before she starts it. That’s ALWAYS been my personality, but I know of plenty of others who can patiently wait weeks or months to see an episode or movie or read a book with absolutely no idea of what’s to come.

Recently, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary trailer was released at Comic-Con and it’s incited quite a bit of indignation from a great chunk of the Whovians at large… and with good reason, I’d argue. But before I delve into that discussion, here’s something to ponder: when is it okay for a series or producers to leak spoilers? When should spoilers be withheld from viewers? How can networks releasing spoilers, clips, or trailers be detrimental to viewers, and how can that action be beneficial?

So if you’d like, come and take a journey with me down spoiler-lane: a place where I’ll discuss why Moffat is being unfair in his refusal to leak the trailer and why his audience is upset as well.

To the barricades!

Spoilers + Comic-Con: The Unforgettable Journey

Every television series, movie, actor, and actress, producer and writer who attends Comic-Con knows one thing and one thing only: it’s their opportunity to SHINE among their core audience. Dan Harmon donned an Iron Man suit for his return appearance at Comic-Con as showrunner for Community. Tom Hiddleston literally embodied his screen alter-ego of Loki and surprised fans with one of the best appearances – if not the best – the entire weekend. Celebrities crashed panels, chatted it up with fans, other celebrities, and media outlets.

Oh, and there were spoilers.

Lots of spoilers.

There were much-anticipated trailers that were released (Catching Fire, notably, had a special trailer that debuted at Comic-Con and was released on Yahoo! that same day), sneak peeks of blooper reels for season DVDs (Hannibal’s was released on YouTube that weekend as well) and special videos just for the fans (Community’s creators dedicated a video to their fanbase and debuted it during their panel).

Comic-Con is a place where spoilers abound, where Michael Ausiello gets thrown bones from the creators of How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, and Community. It’s a magical place where those who cannot feasibly attend the San Diego convention are mere YouTube or TVLine clicks away from information about their favorite fandoms.

Last Saturday afternoon, I was sitting and scrolling through my Twitter timeline, completely filled with an overwhelming sense of energy as I read tweets and retweets from panels, interviews, and news of spoilers that leaked at the convention. It made me feel a buzz of excitement. The news that the new Catching Fire trailer had been released made me urge my sister to stop playing Candy Crush so that we could watch it together. I then proceeded to share it across social media platforms and then IMed the link to the video to my co-workers on Monday morning.

The proper leaking of spoilers can actually cause an audience to become MORE invested in your series or product. I think that there’s a common misconception that if a studio or producer leaks a trailer to their movie or television series that audience members will become less invested in the upcoming event because of their newfound knowledge of the details of the series.

But this brings me to my next point.

Trailers and Promos: Doin’ It Right and Doin’ It Oh-So Wrong

My darling friend Kim wrote a blog post a while ago regarding New Girl and a qualm that she had with how they chose to release a commercial with a pretty large spoiler in it during the half hour prior to the episode airing. Kim had chosen, consciously, to remain spoiler-free for the episode and the fact that she was spoiled for an integral scene in the episode really disappointed her.

I had the same issue with FOX when they aired an episode called “Table 34.” The network had posted at least seven episode clips on their YouTube channel and I – like the beautiful naive sophisticated newborn baby that I am – decided to watch them. All of them. When I calculated later on the number of minutes that each clip was and totaled them together, I realized I had watched nearly half of the episode. And, admittedly, I enjoyed my live viewing of “Table 34” a lot less than I would have if I had not chosen to watch all of those teaser clips.

I was disappointed in myself and disappointed in FOX – why would they release SO many clips for a twenty-minute episode? It seemed illogical that people would watch them all and then still be excited for the episode later on that evening. And, indeed, I DO think it was an ineffective move on the network’s part to release so many clips from the episode. But the beauty is that the network remedied this by the season finale (with the exception of that spoiler promo Kim noted): the days leading up to “Elaine’s Big Day,” I anticipated having to shield my eyes from the plethora of episode clips that FOX would upload. As I peeked through my fingers, I breathed a sigh of relief. They hadn’t released any.

Imagine my utter bewilderment, too, when the day the episode aired – the day that FOX usually uploaded these clips – there were literally NONE to be found. Whether a conscious or accidental move on the network’s part, I believe the choice to abstain from airing multiple clips from the episode was a wise one: viewers like me were able to enter the episode spoiler-free.

 There’s a thin line when it comes to releasing spoilers – how much is too much? And though I’m not claiming to be a media expert, I feel like your trailer or spoiler leakage should be proportional to the length of your series or film. If you release a two-minute trailer for a two-hour movie, that seems pretty logical. If you release five two-minute video clips for a twenty-minute television series… well, that seems a bit unbalanced.

Steven Moffat, as you may have heard, has chosen not to release (for the time being and we don’t know how long this will be) the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary trailer to his audiences in the UK or in America… except for those who happened to be in Hall H at Comic-Con last weekend.

And this brings me to our NEXT point of order.

Selective Spoiling: Right or Wrong?

Kim and Sage, who are two of my favorite people and also my other halves, attended a screening of Doctor Who’s episode “Asylum of the Daleks” last year in New York City. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were in attendance, and at the end of the episode, urged both the press and those in attendance not to spoil anything for those who had yet to see the episode, but would do so soon.

Miraculously, NO ONE let it slip that Jenna Coleman had made an unexpected early appearance as Oswin Oswald in the episode… and then DIED. I commend every single audience member and every member of the press who could have very easily posted a blog or a tweet that revealed this critical information. Instead, the internet was silent, and it made the surprise for those first-time viewers so utterly rewarding.

When Moffat requested – er, it’s hard to use the word “request” when the tone of voice he used was more patronizing and threatening – that no one in Hall H record the 50th Anniversary trailer (as well as the “Adventure in Space and Time” one) and post it online, a lot of people were enraged. A LOT. And I think that the way Moffat requested this to be done came across a lot more brash and harsh than how Matt Smith requested nearly the same thing last year during the episode screening. Essentially, Moffat used the same tactic that a parent would use on a child or a teacher on a class of students – if one person “acted up” and released a video, the “whole class” (every Whovian) would suffer and they would not release any special trailers again.

To me, the statement felt extremely patronizing and offensive in this regard: Moffat was speaking to Hall H which, yes, is rather large but still completely unrepresentative of the percentage of Whovians as a whole. I’d roughly estimate that those in attendance at the Comic-Con panel made up roughly 0.5-1% of the total number of Whovians across the GLOBE. That means that by refusing to release the trailer to those in the UK, America, and other parts of the world, Moffat isolated 99-99.5% of his fandom. Not to mention the fact that those who were actually in attendance at the San Diego convention were – I’d venture to say nearly all – Americans, thereby narrowing his demographic FURTHER.

That’s a big no-no, Moff.

Moffat’s second big no-no was this: press and journalists did not release any video of the trailer. They DID, however, detail scene-by-scene what happened.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Steven Moffat threatened the Comic-Con audience to keep quiet about the trailer in a visual form but not in a written one. That seems rather… counter-productive, don’t you think? I read a scene-by-scene summary of the trailer and was rather unfazed with Moffat’s decision to keep the special trailer as a “Comic-Con exclusive” (his words), but after reading the article I felt rather frustrated.

What was the point of preventing Whovians from SEEING the trailer and yet allowing us to READ about it? What is Moffat’s endgame in this? Did he – naively – presume that journalists and bloggers would not release a description of the events that occurred in the trailer? Does he merely want the hype for the anniversary trailer to be as large as possible and believe withholding it from the majority of his audience will accomplish that?

Let me, as a Whovian, tell you this Steven Moffat: had you released the trailer to those who – like me – could not afford to fly across the country to San Diego and see it in person the same day that you released it at Comic-Con, I would not have taken any issue with you whatsoever. In fact, people flock to Comic-Con BECAUSE of spoilers. I peruse panels and interviews hoping to hear some news about my favorite shows and movies. Fans of The Hunger Games across the WORLD were rewarded for waiting for a new trailer and the release of that blew up social media. People were excited and animated, discussing the glimpses of the characters. Every fan I’ve encountered across social media platforms has had nothing but positive remarks regarding the trailer, tinged with excitement and anticipation for November.

If you wanted to build excitement for the trailer’s release, Moffat, I can assure you that this plan has only backfired. Your audience is frustrated that you’re holding them back from the same joy and excitement that those at Comic-Con felt. You’re certainly not preventing us from talking about the 50th Anniversary special. No, we are still talking about it. But our conversations are tinged with bitterness and anger over your decision, Moffat, to isolate the largest portion of your fandom from seeing something so exciting and enjoyable.

The spoilers have already leaked, quite frankly, so preventing the Whovians across the globe (ESPECIALLY the fans that are in your OWN COUNRTY – remember how Doctor Who is a British show? It makes more sense to deny those who live outside of the country, no matter how unfair I think it to be. But to deny the country where your show actually originates is actually quite disappointing.) from SEEING what has been described in dozens of articles is achieving no purpose whatsoever.

All this has done is punish the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Whovians who could not be at Comic-Con while rewarding the handful of those who had the means and fortune to attend. It all feels very patronizing, very disappointing, and was a very, very bad idea in my opinion. There’s no doubt in my mind that I will be elated once the trailer is FINALLY released (whenever that may be). But my enjoyment of it will be slightly singed with the bitterness that I feel toward Moffat’s decision and remarks surrounding that decision.

Perhaps there’s a setting on the sonic screwdriver to repair that wound.

Moffat better pray that there is.

What about YOU? How do you feel, as a Whovian, about Moffat and his team’s decision to prevent the release of the 50th Anniversary trailer to those who could not attend Comic-Con? Was he justified in doing so? Are you angry at him for preventing us from seeing it in all its glory? Hit the comments below and let me know your thoughts.

Until next time, folks! :)


  1. Blame the BBC for the decision not to leak the trailer. It was their PR team that made them have that idea.
    However, I suppose you can get cross if Moffat's tone was too threatening. It was a moment he misjudged. One has to understand, however, that although The Moff may be a genius - it doesn't make him socially very able. Some may find that alluring. Matt Smith, on the other hand, is an actor and will be able to judge and demonstrate his tone accordingly. Moffat will always feel resentment to find out he came across wrongly.
    So, in other words, you are so right that it was stupid to be so exclusive and secretive about 50TH trailer. But I will wholeheartedly defend Moffat's involvement in this.

    1. You are likely right -- it is probably the BBC's decision not to leak the official trailer currently. However, Moffat was the one that requested that no one take any footage of the trailer or audio of it to release it to others in any way. I think that's the part that actually bugged me: the fact that they even discussed not releasing the trailer because they didn't want people to post GIFs or clips online, did so anyway, and that didn't prevent people from WRITING about it. (Which just seems like... if you're not going to prevent people from doing that either, what was the point?) The whole tone that the moment took was very "don't mess this up or we won't give you any more trailers."

      I totally understand the BBC not releasing the trailer to us presently, but it seems rather... I don't know, weirdly selfish to release it to a few people, tell them they're not allowed to share, have people still semi-share, and then have BBC not release the trailer.

      It's weird. Spoilers are weird, haha. But thank you for the comment! :)