Matt Bomer, White Collar Matt Bomer, White Collar

When Season 3 of White Collar premiered with a new opening title sequence last June, fans were not pleased. They took to social media — namely Twitter and Facebook — to express their displeasure, and it didn't go unnoticed. In an unprecedented move, USA bowed to the fan pressure and reverted back to the original titles. Jeff Eastin, the show's creator, talked to us about why he loves interacting with fans, which actress he snagged as a guest star using Twitter and whether he would ever let viewers decide the show's ending. How did you first get into social media, and what about it appealed to you?
Jeff Eastin: I got into Twitter mainly because I didn't understand what the big deal was. And then once we started moving forward with White Collar, fans started following me and I was able to communicate directly with them, which was nice. On the nights we aired, you would find every White Collar writer staring at their iPhone searching for "#WhiteCollar," and based on the amount of traffic, we would come pretty close to predicting the ratings the next day. To me, that was an incredibly powerful tool — to get that immediate feedback that you could never have gotten five to 10 years ago. What kind of feedback is the most useful?
Eastin: Last year we did a special-effects scene where a book dissolved, and we were really terrified it wasn't going to play well, but almost instantly we saw people really loved it. That became really powerful for us, just in terms of getting a sense of what people are thinking of the show. We get to instantly see what's working and what's not working.

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Tell us about the new opening credits, and why you changed it back.
Eastin: There was a lot of creative pressure to try to make it a little different, a little slicker. There was such a huge reaction on Twitter and Facebook almost instantly. What we hadn't anticipated was that people actually liked the original — they were used to the music and visuals. So we had a big debate and I ultimately suggested, "Well, why don't we have an online vote and see what happens?" And I give USA a lot of credit for actually agreeing to do it. Have you ever gotten in trouble for divulging too much?
Eastin: When I found out we had gotten Season 2 picked up, I tweeted "Congrats to the best cast and crew in television!" but I did it a couple days before I was supposed to. And I got in trouble. But for the most part, USA's been very encouraging.

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Why do you think it's beneficial for showrunners to keep up a dialogue with fans?
Eastin: We have these big breaks where it will be three months before a new episode airs. And it's like... how do you get people to remember the show's going to be on? How do you have them keep it in mind? I think it's much better than your standard ad campaign, which just puts the show in front of them. This keeps them interacting, and I can do it 140 characters at a time. What are some things you do to engage viewers?
Eastin: I put up a script page sneak peek a few days before we air, which is really popular with our fans. It's nice because essentially it's like a free commercial! Or if I'm sitting down to write and I'm just not in the mood yet, I'll say, "OK, I'm answering fan questions for the next 10 minutes." It's a nice way to get that behind-the-scenes look. Is it true that Twitter played a big part in getting Eliza Dushku to guest-star?
Eastin: We really wanted her on the show, and I tweeted at her, "Hey, you should do White Collar." She has over a million followers, and a lot of them who like the show wrote to her, "Oh my God! You gotta do White Collar!" So she got really excited about it. Ultimately I can't say that we wouldn't have gotten her without Twitter, but I think it definitely helped. Of course with all the positive feedback comes negative feedback. Does it ever get to you?
Eastin: Sometimes we'll introduce a character and the fans will get really nasty about it. Or once in a while I'll get "your show sucks" and it's like... coming home after a long day of work seeing that, it kind of hurts. But the great thing is that that's so rare.

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How do you keep the experience authentic for fans?
Eastin: I think the real secret to it is to keep it personal. If I stopped tweeting and turned it over the corporation, it would sort of lose its appeal. Do you think social TV — and a greater emphasis on fan engagement — is the future?
Eastin: It's such a no-brainer that companies are going to start to move into this. It's becoming increasingly important when not only launching a show, but also in maintaining the fan base. It's a great way to interact and keep people interested. I can see a day where I'll sign a contract as a showrunner and it'll come with a Facebook account. Have you ever thought about allowing fans to dictate the plot? Like a choose-your-own adventure situation?
Eastin: That's really an interesting idea. I never wanted to take the show that far, but who knows? Maybe Season 6 or 7 we might contemplate something like letting fans choose the ending. I would almost guarantee that if we don't do it, someone else will.