The 2005-06 television season will pick up after the holidays with CBS hogging three of the top five Nielsen rating slots with a few of its slew of crime procedurals.
This season has seen a surge of official online offerings for a wide variety of shows. Housewives aren't the only ones who are desperate – networks are desperate for younger viewers, viewers who are beginning to spend more time on the Internet than watching TV. So using the web more fully as a marketing tool is not only a logical step, it allows execs to feel clever by throwing around buzzwords like synergy and value-added.
Here's the top five shows so far this season, and their best online extras:
1. CSI (CBS)
The CSI site has the usual character and episode profiles, along with video clips, and adds a Handbook where you can learn more about tools, evidence, and procedures used by crime scene investigators. But for interactivity, the Clue Tracker lets you play detective at home while the show is airing. Gather clues about suspects, motives, and methods, answer skill-testing questions, participate in polls and compare your answers to the rest of the audience, and receive online clues and predict how useful they'll be in solving the case. You can play anonymously, but only registered users can use the chat function that lets you talk with other viewers. At the end, you're given a profile that rates your investigative skills.
It's a mildly inventive, logical connection between show and website, but it's not for everyone. Setting up the Shockwave-based game was a pain on my system – I couldn't get it to work at all in Firefox – but more importantly ... well, pick your complaint: my computer isn't in the same room as my television, I prefer to watch my favourite shows without distractions, and I don't watch CSI. Still, for those who don't suffer from the same objections, it could be a fun way to come as close as possible to being the next Gil Grissom or Catherine Willows, without all that messy blood.
2. Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Polls and quizzes are the only features on this site that interact with a visitor, unless you count the online store selling Desperate merchandise, like shirts that say “I'm a Bree.” I guess handing over your money counts as interactive, right? The “Which Housewife Are You?” quiz is the only thing I could call fun, but it's a one-time kind of fun unless you want to skew your answers next time (I'm a Susan. I'd redo it, but given the other choices ...). The site is full of other features, though, including bios, recaps, videos, photos, and downloads of wallpapers and icons.
3. Without a Trace (CBS)
Without a Trace gets the prize for most depressing but socially responsible audience participation feature. Amid the bland links about the show, cast, videos, and photos, there's a Find a Missing Person link. It shows photos and descriptions of actual missing people, with links to contact information for the FBI and United States embassies and consulates if visitors have any information.
4. CSI: Miami (CBS)
The CSI: Miami site is similar to its older sibling's, except with a writer's blog instead of the Clue Tracker. It's written by Corey Miller, Executive Story Editor, and even for someone who doesn't watch the show, it's a good read - educational and funny at the same time (“We’re on practically everywhere. I always thought love was the international language. Maybe it’s actually…death?”). He gives some great insight into how a show is put together, what it's like on the set, and what some of those jobs we see in the credits mean. Though there's no comments, Miller solicits feedback by e-mail and uses reader questions as the basis of some of his posts. That may not make it as interactive as some features, but it's a great way to investigate the inner workings of the show.
5. Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
Here you can learn about the medical procedures featured on the show, read character bios from a nicely designed page that pulls “Intern Quarterly Evaluations” from a filing cabinet, and of course catch up on episode summaries, cast bios, and browse through photos. The blogs really add the audience participation, though.
Grey Matter: From the Writers of Grey's Anatomy is a blog with episode-specific entries from the episode writers, including creator Shonda Rhimes, offering their perspective on the story and characters and explanations for where their ideas come from. There are also blogs for Joe the bartender and Debbie the nurse, which add some truly trivial additional show content through the show's lesser characters. Commenting is enabled on all the blogs, so viewers can leave feedback or join in on the illusion that they're conversing with the characters.
The show uses music effectively to add atmosphere, and the website not only lists the songs used in a particular episode, but has insider comments by Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor, explaining why certain bands or songs were chosen. It's not exactly a blog, but it'll help you run to iTunes for that great song you heard on the show.
Which reminds me ... the theme song is catchy enough, but thank you website creator for letting us turn off the annoying loop of it on the Grey's Anatomy website. Except you have to do it with every page. Interactivity is great, but forcing a visitor to select "Music Off" every time they leave a page is not the best use of their engagement with the site.
(Information on season-to-date rankings by total households from Zap2It)
(Cross posted to Blogcritics)