Parks & Recreation is great. And it’s also doing a lot of transmedia storytelling right.
I watch TV with a device on my lap, and when Amy Poehler’s character ran for City Council, I went looking for her campaign website because that’s literally my background: I used to do transmedia storytelling strategy in politics. I was happy to find that NBC, the production company, and/or the writers had a funny site up and running. Bravo.
The site’s full of great callbacks to jokes from previous episodes. There’s funny writing in character voices. And like any real campaign website, you can sign up for election updates, newsletters, you can take actions for the campaign, you can even buy real merch, and they invite you to follow the characters on social media. The characters have twitter accounts.
All these breadcrumbs are awesome. I followed them all, and on twitter I discovered that some of their tweets link back to government websites. Yes, the fake Parks Department of the title has a dot gov website with a ton of jokes – again, most jokes are callbacks.
Firstly, I think all of these things should be required for any contemporary TV show. If a character is a blogger, that blog needs to exist. Characters are people, and all people maintain online lives. Many characters would Facebook each other wall-to-wall or have Twitter conversations. During commercial breaks, I want to read what they write each other. Fans find stuff and follow the links. Parks & Rec does a lot of stuff in this vein.
The only thing I wish I found are Easter Egg links that drop clues about upcoming story twists. Why? I watch the show and implore friends to. I search out for more information about the show. They should incentivize being a superfan like that.
So if I signed up for a fake Pawnee Parks Department’s newsletter, or if I signed up for SMS alerts from the fake town, or if I bought some real swag from Leslie’s campaign website, I should qualify as a superfan, and I should get hints about insider information. But don’t just spell it out. Clue me into a tucked-away golden Easter Egg that teases an upcoming event like when Ben was planning on proposing to Leslie.
How? How about this: All the swag – including Leslie Knope’s book about Pawnee is available for purchase from Amazon. Encourage superfans to write positive reviews on Amazon… where I could have seen that the show’s “characters” had all written glowing and funny product reviews for Leslie’s book. I would have clicked on Ben’s name to see what other products Ben has reviewed in his funny manner. And there I could have discovered that he’s been reviewing diamonds, ring stores, and other engagement stuff.
My one gripe has to do with the parent company branding. NBC puts the peacock in the header of these sites. But ABC and Lost put theirs in the footer: