It used to be that celebrity beefs were settled privately by their handlers and fan gripes were reserved for chat rooms. Now, with much of Hollywood hitting the social-network scene, these formerly undisclosed matters are on display for the world to weigh in on. The revolution is being Twitterized.
Whether it's Joan Rivers ripping on Lindsay Lohan, Suze Orman calling out the Kardashian sisters for hidden fees in their debit card (they've since dropped the project) or Kanye West blasting Matt Lauer, Twitter has become a public thunderdome where celebs can show their true colors in 140-character splashes free from publicist spin. Take the Lauer-West fracas, which resulted in upward of 24 Tweets from West over two days. In a pretaped interview on November 9, Today's Lauer asked West about calling President Bush a racist and interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV VMAs. Before the interview aired, West Tweeted his anger: "He tried to force my answers. It was very brutal." When Lauer introduced the package on November 11, he acknowledged the Tweets. So now that these kinds of issues are being dealt with in a forum that any fan on Twitter can follow, is there too much transparency?
"Accessibility and mystique are at odds here, and how celebrities engage in social networks either amplifies or deteriorates our perception of them," says social-media expert Brian Solis (@briansolis). "With social [networking], we're lured quite easily to a system that bypasses traditional gatekeepers."
That lack of filter may not only change one's image of a celebrity, but it also allows fans access to those working behind the scenes of their favorite shows, and the interaction is not all hearts and hashtags. "The upside? Unfiltered communication with the fans," says Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter (@sutterink). "The downside? Unfiltered communication with the fans. I don't follow people who give the show bad reviews, and I block anyone that hurts my feelings," he adds, half in jest, of the Twee-nut gallery. But when negative Tweets come through, Sutter doesn't hold back. His reply to a fan post from November 15 reads, "If you're gonna critique my show, you have to post your résumé so I can see all your retail and food-service experience." Ouch.
Bones executive producer Hart Hanson (@harthanson) has also taken steps to reduce the noise. "I honestly think some people believe all criticism is constructive, and I've felt obliged to point out that calling me 'stupid,' 'lazy' and 'incompetent' are actually insults." Things are less frustrating for Community exec producer Dan Harmon (@danharmon), who says even the bashers have a purpose. "People who care enough to say things I don't want to hear about the show? I hate them, they're irritating, they're trolling for attention...but they're invested in the show."
Ironically, Harmon was almost one of those trolls. "When Community was first [scheduled] at 8 o'clock [on Thursdays, opposite Bones], the first thing I wanted to do was hate on Bones," he admits. "Then I would see Hart mention me online and couldn't believe he was that cool." Their bromance — which plays out regularly in their Twitter back-and-forths — was borne after Hanson sent Harmon's Bones-loving mom some swag. And after Fox announced that come January, Bones will air Thursdays at 9, Harmon Tweeted this farewell: "@harthanson you're not a competitor anymore. Our friendship has become post-ironic. Can you handle it?"
Harmon, Hanson and Sutter can thank Greg Yaitanes, executive producer of House, for expanding the Twitterverse. It was Yaitanes (@gregyaitanes), one of Twitter's original backers, who first saw the site's potential for bringing TV viewers and industry types together. "I was brought on back in 2007 as an adviser of sorts for how to link our business with theirs," he says of his online experiment to offer "live commentary" during the airings of his previous series, Drive. Today, "it's funny to remember how hard it was to get the network interested. Along with the cast...all of whom have accounts now."
So can Hollywood keep up appearances in a world where there's no longer a curtain to hide behind? "It's a balance of self-restraint, self-promotion and empathy," says Solis. "Celebrities need to realize that the novelty of sharing what they're doing, thinking or buying works for and against them." And despite the occasional ugliness, producers still see the beauty of fan access and free promotion. Says Sutter: "The more buzz you can create, the better."