The audience tweets back

 

Twitter is quickly turning TV watching into a communal activity, giving rise to lively conversations about everything from reality shows to current affairs. Will it change the way programmes are made?

The X FactorPrime Time

As the Irish writer Graham Linehan tweeted recently while watching The X Factor,“This show would be unbearable without Twitter.” And he’s right. Reading other people’s hilariously snarky comments about the on-screen action can make a programme such as The Apprenticeinfinitely more entertaining. But what is it like for the people who worked hard to make these programmes to see their work torn apart minute by minute?

Last month, following another online mauling of the Late Late Show, Ryan Tubridy tweeted that “Twitter gets very unpleasant of a Friday night”. Recently Mark Gatiss, co-creator of the hit BBC show Sherlock, told the Guardiannewspaper that “if you watch [Twitter] while your show goes out you will go mad”.

Steve McCormack is the executive producer of Fade Street, the RTÉ reality show about glamorous young Dubliners that has, unsurprisingly, attracted a huge reaction on Twitter. As a long time Twitter user, he takes mockery of the show in his stride. “It’s more fun to be funny and acerbic, and it’s more craic to slag something off than to say everything’s great,” he says.

“Every part-time journalist is on Twitter and they see it as a column where you’re judged by how witty and clever your tweets are.” It may be hard to remember this, however, when you’re being personally mocked, which is why McCormack advises the actual stars of his shows to avoid the Twitter commentary.

He believes it’s important for people in television to really understand the nuances of tweeting. “When you make modern TV you have to be aware of the people who are obsessed with watching stuff ironically,” he says. “With shows like Fade Street, The Apprenticeand The X Factor, you have to remember that a lot of the audience don’t want to admit to liking the programme but want to have fun on Twitter, where you can show the world how clever you are by consuming [these shows] in an ironic way.”

It’s not all about ironic pop culture consumption, however. Current affairs programmes such as TV3’s Tonight With Vincent Browneand RTÉ’s Prime Timeget a big reaction online. Prime Time’s Miriam O’Callaghan is an active tweeter and reads the comments on the programme after finishing each show.

“People can be brutally honest on Twitter,” she says. “But by and large the criticism is constructive and I find it really useful. If something is negative – it might be an interview I didn’t do that well – I often think it’s spot on. And it often makes me laugh out loud.”

The Tonight With Vincent Browneteam has also actively embraced Twitter. “When we look at the Twitter feed it’s like two shows in parallel,” says producer Lydia Murphy. “The debate continues to rage on Twitter long after we’ve gone off air. And some people just follow the feed when they can’t watch the programme.” This week, the programme added a segment on current hot topics on Twitter to their usual newspaper review.

British producer and presenter Daisy Goodwin recently claimed that positive Twitter response influenced the BBC’s decision to recommission one of her programmes. So are Irish TV bosses taking note? In a statement, Mairéad Ní Nuadháin, RTÉ Televison’s deputy director of programmes, says that “we take all forms of research and reaction to our programming into consideration when making decisions about re-commissioning. We view social media as an informative barometer, a communications tool, and a means to enhance audience engagement with our programming.”

Steve McCormack believes that programme makers have to keep an eye on social media. “If you don’t engage on that level it’s difficult to keep interest moving. If a show has a big impact it’ll be discussed anyway – what producers should do is to understand this conversation and observe it.”

There is, of course a danger of paying too much attention. “People who shout most aren’t necessarily the ones to listen to,” says McCormack, noting that as Fade Streethas progressed the negative and positive comments have started to balance out. “But the worst thing would be no commentary at all, because that means nobody cares.”

Fade Street

@Holliie: I wish everything in my life panned out perfectly like a well written plot as it seems to for the girls in Fade Street. #fadest

Tonight with Vincent Browne

@NightLord2009: If Vincent Browne has any members of #FiannaFail on today that dare show their faces, I hope he has a whip under the desk. #vinb #budget11

The Apprentice

@robertpurfield: Awh wow more skeletons in michelles closets than glasnevin graveyard #apprentice

The Late Late Tweet Show

Friday’s Late Late Show, was a bit of a comedown after the previous week’s Toy Show, during which so many Irish viewers were tweeting that #toyshow became the third most popular topic on Twitter worldwide. But here are some of Friday’s highlights, guest by guest:

The Priests: @NiamhMaher

Singing priests! All we need now is Ted and Dougal their lovely horse

DUnbelievables: @DeclanFlynn

I went to see the DUnbelievables years ago. Very funny back then, shame Jackie Healy Rae stole all their material and ruined it

Rachel Allen and her husband Isaac: @unamcmahon

Watching #latelate through my fingers. The horror. I can never unsee this.

Aprés Match: @stephenmulligan

Take note d’unbelieveables. This is what we call comedy now

Westlife: @levdavidovic

Westlife. Truly devoid of personality, talent or indeed a hairdresser.