Detecting Cross-Media TV

There is a special double episode of Criminal Intent being broadcast in Oz this Sunday that could be akin to what I think is one of the best cross-media works: the Homicide tv show and Second Shift detectives on the web. I’ll explain the Homicide work first. In the late 1990s the Homicide TV show extended to the web. When the TV detectives clocked off for the day, the ‘second shift’ of detectives took over on the web. This is a great idea from the start, but the ingenuity continues: in Feb 1999 a case was investigated by the online detectives, only to be followed up by the TV detectives and then back to the web:

* Part 1 (online Feb. 3 and 4). Viewers witness a ritual killing streamed online with the Windows Media Player. Witnesses call the homicide unit, but during the course of the investigation the detectives determine that the crime appears to be a hoax. 

* Part 2 (on-air Feb. 5). As the eerie case progresses, both teams of detectives challenge the perpetrator to stage another Internet event – and attempt to apprehend the suspect before the next ritual is performed.

* Part 3 (online Feb. 12 and 19). The online story is resolved and its implications explored

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The cross-media work inspired academic John T. Caldwell to write on what he terms ‘second shift aesthetics’ — one of the first specific cross-media theories around.

Caldwell, J.T. (2003) ‘Second-shift Media Aesthetics: Programming, Interactivity, and User Flows’ in New Media: Theories and Practices of Digitextuality(Eds, Everett, A. and Caldwell, J. T.) Routledge, New York, pp. 127-144.

But to the upcoming Criminal Intent show. Currently on TV the following teaser is being broadcast:

We’re not going to tell you who the victims were…we’re not going to tell you why they died…we’re just going to give you this one clue…www.doyouwanttodie.com 

This Sunday, on Channel 10, there will be a double episode: No Exit and The Gift. There is nothing on the 10 website, but on the NBC website is some detail about the episode (WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILER):

TRAIN CRASH CLAIMS FOUR YOUNG ADULTS IN SUICIDE PACT — OR WAS IT A HOMICIDE EXPRESS? — In the bloody wake of a multiple suicide pact gone wrong, Detectives Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe) consider the deaths of four young adults who parked their car on railroad tracks and waited for the inevitable . And while the cops probe a “suicide matchmaking” website, they discover that one of the victims tried vainly to escape. Backtracking, the investigators seek to learn what brought the four together that night, and they wonder if office politics and an illicit romance were factors in the tragedy — and subsequent coverup. Jamey Sheridan and Courtney B. Vance also star. TV-14 

It is obvious now (unless I’m wrong) that the website (www.doyouwanttodie.com) is not only a provocative teaser to the show, but part of the storyworld — a site to lure those keen to commit suicide. The lack of content on the site, however, is a worry. If the site is understated prior to the broadcast to promote conjecture and suspense, and then the site changes during or after the broadcast, then I’m impressed. If not, I’m disappointed.

There is also a lesson here, for creators or such cross-media works. There will be audience members who, like me, will search for info about the show on the web. Obviously you cannot control content on the web, but be aware that some audiences will be proactive and you should provide content that meets their ingenuity. Audiences don’t just look at the local websites. Indeed, I quite often search for info about shows on OS sites because the ones in Oz are so puny.