TV & Showbiz

Do ‘Super Fans’ Help Or Hurt Shows They Love?

Back during my college days, a close friend invited me to her place for a little get-together to watch one of the hit shows on the air at the time. It was a quirky little show about a mysterious murder in an even more mysterious place.

As soon as I walked in the door, I was offered black coffee and a doughnut, to the approving laughter of everyone in the room. I immediately glanced down to make sure my fly wasn’t open, because coffee and a doughnut didn’t seem to me to be funny enough on their own to have elicited such a response on its own.

The show, as many of you have figured out, was Twin Peaks, and it was one of the little inside jokes that delighted fans who really got into the program.

My mistake, I was just learning, was trying to get into the show from about six or seven episodes in; it wasn’t the kind of show that made a lot of sense if you didn’t start watching from the beginning.

But these were what some might call “super fans,” people so obsessed with a program that they have to know every little detail, that they drive themselves silly watching for every little slip-up or every little clue, whether it’s really a clue or not.

Game shows have their own “super fans,” and perhaps no show has as many or as unique a bunch of them as The Price is Right.

As far as some of my friends are concerned, I am such a fan.  They know that if they have some inane question about the show, I am their first point of contact.  There are plenty of little goofy, geeky facts about the show that I know, because I’ve actually been behind the scenes of the show at a taping and because I’ve watched it as long as it has been on the air.

But as some super fans go, I’m the economy model.  I’m the “express” version, the Dustbuster to their Dyson.

(And yes, I’m perfectly okay with that, thank you.)

Remember that perfect bid I mentioned the other day?  The one where a contestant nailed the actual retail price of the showcase right on the nose, something that had only happened one other time in the show’s 37-season history, yet, inexplicably, was given a thoroughly non-climactic reveal from host Drew Carey?  I call such an occurrence a “perfect bid.”  The show would, too.  These super fans have their own lingo: such an event is an exacta.

Which doesn’t change the fact that it was still a “perfect bid.”

Some of these folks, to my utter dismay, actually keep track of how often certain pricing games are played.  They can give you the specific date, for example, on which the pricing game known as “Three Strikes” was last played.  Some of them enthusiastically track win percentages of the pricing games, and can quickly rattle off a list, season by season, of which games were most won in which years.  Some of them can tell you the date on which subtle set changes occurred: want to know when the carpet on the turntable switched from green to red?  They’re the ones to contact.

For whatever reasons, this information is important enough to them that they actually commit brain space to it.  Intentionally.

At the taping when the contestant bid the exact price of the showcase, there was apparently concern on the part of the show’s producers that someone in the audience had assisted him.  There’s no conceivable way someone could cheat on the show, since they guard so carefully against any possibility of anything being rigged.  That leaves one of two other likely scenarios:  pure luck…or a super fan.  I’ll give you three guesses which one influenced this, and the first two don’t count.

What remains somewhat unclear is whether the winning contestant actually heard an audience member who happens to have memorized the prices of prizes offered on the show well enough to give an exacta.  The contestant has subsequently said in an interview with TMZ.com that he happened to have memorized the prices himself, so he didn’t need any assist from anyone in the audience.  That’s what I’d say if I were that contestant: I’d certainly want the credit rather than admitting I got an answer from someone else, regardless of whether I knew the person in the audience had such precise knowledge.

To be fair, the contestant’s reaction at learning he’d nailed it seemed to indicate that he didn’t expect to have nailed it.  He was certainly more shocked than Drew, but then a dead turtle would have looked more shocked than the host at that particular moment.  If he was sure enough of his memory that he could confidently bid an odd-dollar amount, one might expect him to know with some degree of certainty that he was at least in the ballpark.  Then again, if he didn’t want to come off as a cheater, maybe the surprise was all an act.  Could have happened.

And to be fair, when you’re in that studio and 320 people are yelling answers at the same time, you literally can’t hear yourself think, much less easily filter out one specific answer unless the person giving it has quite a set of pipes.  Could have happened.

The thing is, it doesn’t much matter.  When the current version of the show premiered on September 4, 1972, as a remake of an earlier, slower-paced version, host Bob Barker said this:

“Welcome to The New Price is Right and let me assure you, fans of the old Price is Right, that this is  your favorite game still based on the pricing of merchandise with wonderful awards for smart shoppers.”

You can’t get any smarter as a shopper than memorizing the prices.  And you can’t be a bigger help to the level of excitement on the show than yelling out suggestions to help the on-stage contestant.  Put two and two together…and, well, you get an exacta.

Unfortunately for the show, there’s this little thing called a budget.  An exacta in the showcase means the contestant wins both showcases’ worth of prizes.  And that isn’t chump change.  Unlike smaller prizes, like appliances, which are donated in exchange for the on-air plugs read by the announcer, larger prizes like cars are usually purchased by the show.  So exactas cost extra money.  In some cases, a lot of money.

You can’t really blame the producers for being concerned about over-exuberant fans.  You can blame them for making it easy for said fans to figure things out.

Twice recently, the show featured a pair of iPhones in the one-bid qualifying round.  (Because everyone needs two iPhones!)  If the price of the pair of gadgets were $598 on Tuesday, they’re probably going to be $598 on Friday.  And if you watch on Tuesday, make a mental note of the show, fly to Los Angeles on Thursday and you’re a contestant on Friday, you might just know what to bid for those iPhones.

They could also vary the models of specific cars:  offer an occasional GS instead of an LS, or a hatchback instead of a sedan.  Throw in, once in a while, a security system.  Or OnStar.  Or maybe a rear spoiler.  Or, offer a different car altogether.  Those little things not only add up, they change the prices.  And every penny saved, when you’re producing a game show that has given away millions of dollars of prizes, is a penny earned.

Recently, at a discussion board focused on the show — yeah, I’m enough of a super fan to belong to that — someone asked the following question:  Do exact answers from the audience cheapen The Price is Right experience?

Well sure they do!  Even if you’re the type to be easily impressed by such encyclopedic knowledge, it’s still a downer to know that the person won because he memorized the individual item prices as opposed to being struck by a rare alignment of planets as Haley’s Comet passes directly over his head.

Consider the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  What’s a more exciting win: the guy who knows nothing about history correctly guessing the name of Paul Revere’s horse, or the brainiac history major who rolls the answer off his tongue like it’s his own middle name?  Part of the appeal is the guessing.

Not that Ken Jennings’ huge winnings on Jeopardy! were anything to sneeze at, nor was his intellectual ability to win game after game.  What made his run so exciting wasn’t what he knew, but what he might not know:  how long would the streak continue?  And what would be the one question that would bring his championship to an end?

Let me get this straight:  no one who works in television should ever be ungrateful about people who have TV-related obsessions.  But when it comes to some of those super fans, there’s absolutely no convincing them that there’s more to life than their favorite show.

It’s a little scary, a little sad, and something of a turnoff to people who like the show, but don’t live and breathe it.

I already didn’t get Twin Peaks when I started watching it at that little get-together.  The level of inside jokes and knowing glances from the “insiders” made me like the show even less.

That’s not the kind of reaction any show needs these days.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.