I received a promotional email for the new CBS show, Harper’s Island and its corresponding web series (or “social show” as it’s being billed), Harper’s Globe. There’s a lot going on here, at least in the earliest stages of the show’s promotion that I’m interested in following (the series itself doesn’t premiere until April). It’s probably not unusual at this point to have content associated with network shows appearing in a variety of media channels, a practice that Henry Jenkins has famously referred to as transmedia storytelling, but there are some specifics I’d like to monitor.
First, the CBS series is being described as a horror-mystery show crossed with reality TV. The trailer for Harper’s Globe, availabale on the Globe website, evokes such films as Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and The Ring, with the vague suggestion of found video footage that opens up a mystery. But the show itself also borrows from reality TV shows such as Survivor in that one of the characters in the series will die off during each episode. The result is a deliberately planned series of thirteen episodes that follows the model of British television shows that have a predetermined duration, which provides the series creators with more freedom to write off (or kill off) lead characters.
Second, the accompanying “social show” looks interesting. Already, in the comments, fans are participating in some of the work of finding clues embedded within the original videos to a wider, distributed storyworld involving blogs, wikis, and other sites. The trailer, for example, offers a URL that leads to this blog, WPU Dorm Diaries, purportedly authored by one of the characters in the show.What I find especially interesting is the nod to social media scholar danah boyd, not only through a blogroll link but also through an explicit shout-out in the blog in an entry where Robin reports that she is “majoring in the internet.” Someone is clearly doing their internet-studies research.
The web portion of the series focuses on Robin, who goes to work for Harper’s Globe, the local newspaper, where she will be “digitizing old articles and building a community-based Web site.” Robin will be a peripheral character on the TV show while maintaining a primary presence in the web series. If Robin’s story, a mysterious young woman reaching a wider audience on the internet, sound familiar, it probably should. The web material is being produced by the creative team behind LonelyGirl15 and Kate Modern. The CBS series is being produced by Jon Turtletaub, Karim Zreik, and Dan Shotz (among others), all of whom were involved with Jericho, a series I liked quite a bit that used the web well but never found a network audience.
I’m a little behind on tracking how current shows are using the web to expand the storyworld of a series, so the Harper’s material will provide me with a good excuse to catch up. I like the premise of a series with a planned duration, so it’ll be interesting to see how this particular model of transmedia storytelling works.
Update: Forgot to mention that Harper’s Globe also has a Twitter feed, mandatory not only for newspapers these days but also for aspiring web series.