It’s nothing new. For years, television producers have been trying to bridge the gap between couch and the screen and bring viewers closer to the action of their favorite television shows. Call me late to the game, but this year seems to be a bumper crop of new and inventive ways in which the audience can become even more entrenched in the world of his or her favorite characters. I am a fan of Law and Order: SVU. I have been for years. But, something is different this year. A few weeks after the season finale, I started noticing little blurbs popping-up on my Facebook news feed. Then about a month ago, started the countdown. Last week character “posters” and brief previews of the season premier. They also unveiled a hash-tag, “SAVEBENSON,” a reference to Detective Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay.
If you watch SVU, then you will know what the hash-tag means. If not, here’s the abridged version: Det. Benson was kidnapped at the end of last season by a rapist/murderer who got-off on a technicality. Most people who follow SVU would agree that Det. Benson is probably one of the most well written female characters on television. She’s tough as nails but is also more human than many of her procedural counterparts on other series. Hargitay has won several Emmy Awards for her portrayal as Benson and when she was partnered with Det. Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), they were televisions hottest (platonic) couple, but I digress.
Today, a person cannot turn on a television without being asked to “like” on Facebook, “follow” on Twitter, “pin” on Pinterest or “go inside” the stories on the show’s webpage. It’s all about bringing the viewer one step closer to the action, giving the viewer a bigger stake in the action. This started several year ago when NBC debuted it’s celebrated, but troubled series, Heroes. This was a groundbreaking show in that it asked its audience to follow the story, even when it was on hiatus, via the web. The producers of the television show had mini-episodes on the web featuring smaller characters. The new Battlestar Galactica had entire online universe for its die hard fans. Now, most television shows have some kind of web presence to keep the viewing public engaged all year round. But, the Law and Order social media blitz seems different.
The producers of Law and Order, knowing their show has seen a slump in the ratings the past few years, are trying hard for a come back. Because it is a procedural, the stories change every week and it is not serialized as other, more popular shows. Someone can turn on an episode one week, miss a few weeks then watch again and know they have not missed much. With that in mind, putting one of television’s most beloved characters in mortal danger; following it up with teases throughout the summer and giving audience members a way to become more involved is a genius public relations plan. The producers even went so far as to have a red carpet season premier viewing and posted pictures on Facebook. Ten years ago, the only shows that had that kind of publicity for a season premier were on HBO with Sex and the City.
There are many shows I am looking forward to watching come the new television season: Revolution, Once Upon a Time, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, American Dad, American Horror Story to name a few. But, thanks to their amazing social media PR campaign, Law and Order: SVU has reeled me in; hook, line and sinker. #SAVEBENSON