Tila, Quarterlife and $#*!: Why Social Media and Old Media Don’t Mix

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The news that Warner Bros. has purchased a movie pitch as the result of posts made on Reddit shouldn’t come as a surprise to many people; if there’s one thing that social media has proven over the years, it’s that it exists as fodder for the creation of “mainstream” media like movies, television shows and music—as well as numerous news stories along the line of “OMG The Internet Has Made A TV Show – Now It Is Real!”

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What these stories—and, almost all reporting about the Reddit deal, which nonetheless consistently finds time to mention that the writer behind the Reddit posts is a two-time Jeopardy champion—fail to mention, however, is that almost all of these “mainstream” media projects that spin off from social media posts/personalities/whatever are appallingly bad, and seemingly the result of an executive or several saying “The kids like the internet, right? I don’t like it, but what the hell, let’s give it a shot.” Don’t believe me? Here are the greatest hits of the Social Media/Old Media collaboration machine.

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MySpace/Tila Tequila

Oh, MySpace. For all of its highpoints—I’m sure there were some, honest—its most fearsome legacy may be that it was responsible for the shortlived career of Tila Nguyen, AKA Tila Tequila, thanks to… Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely too sure just how Tequila managed to become “the most popular artist on MySpace” in 2006, but I suspect the internet’s continued desire for cute girls in little or no clothing may be involved.

Nonetheless, Tequila managed to turn internet fame into something approaching real fame with cameos in various low level sitcoms or movies. She played a Hooters Girl in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which may tell you all you need to know about her level of success.

She then managed to convince MTV to give her her own reality show A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila that, surprisingly, lasted two seasons (This was clearly pre-Twitter, otherwise it would have been called A Shot @Love). Never one to shake the preconceptions that she was selling herself based purely upon her looks and sex appeal, she went on to become a recording artist, releasing songs with titles like “Sex,” “Stripper Friends,” and “I F—-d The DJ.”


I’m not sure that social media gets the mainstream crossover it deserves, but I am willing to bet that Tila Tequila becoming the poster child for MySpace probably didn’t help with preconceptions that the site was better ignored for everyone who wasn’t a camera-obsessed teenager and/or those who like to look at them.

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It’s possible that some of you remember the extremely-shortlived NBC series Quarterlife, created by the same people behind thirtysomething, but it’s far, far less likely that you remember that said series actually came with its own social network.

Yes, that surprised, confused expression on your face is exactly what I was expecting.


Quarterlife was created as a series of web shorts that would debut online on YouTube, MySpace and its own Quarterlife site—memorably described as “a destination and social networking location for what it calls ‘artists, thinkers and doers’”—before being re-edited into hourlong episodes for broadcast on network television. Canceled by NBC after its first episode delivered the worst ratings for 10pm on the network in 17 years, the remaining episodes were eventually broadcast on Bravo in between re-runs of Queer Eye for The Straight Guy and Top Chef.

Despite claims of online success, the series only lasted one season, and the whole social networking aspect never even hit Friendster levels.

(MORE: Study: Women Better at Using Social media to Keep in Touch)

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Twitter/$#*! My Dad Says

Perhaps the greatest example of old media completely misunderstanding the appeal of new media, the CBS show $#*! My Dad Says apparently looked at Justin Halpern’s Twitter feed, realized what made it so funny—the lack of context, the bluntness and occasional cruelty of the quotes—and pretty much did away with it in favor of a generic sitcom about a grouchy old man who just so happened to be played by William Shatner, and so therefore seemed kind of lovable. It was a strange case of slapping a brand known by only a certain few—albeit almost all of them likely to be in the demographics much beloved by advertisers—on something almost entirely unrelated, and in the process, probably doing a lot of harm to both things.


Let’s face it; we all wanted to watch $#*! Denny Crane Says anyway, didn’t we?

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Okay, I admit it; there isn’t actually a @UrFRENZ social network, but one look at the trailer for the upcoming “thriller” leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind that the social network in question is really Facebook. Yes, Facebook had a real, and an “exception that proves the rule”-esque appearance in a movie with The Social Network, but you could argue that that isn’t really a movie about Facebook the experience as much as it is Facebook the site.

There’s very little actual Facebooking that happens in the movie; no getting annoying friend requests from people you went to high school with and had hoped would have forgotten you exist by now, no status updates that you thought were funny at the time but bring worried and/or judgmental comments from confused family members, and no requests to play games that you really, really wish would somehow magically be wiped from the entire internet forever. The Social Network is just a film about some guys and a company. @UrFRENZ is about the real Facebook.


Except, of course, it’s not. Sure, there’s the whole thing about bullying and cyberstalking and “Who knows if that cute guy on the internet is really someone’s mom who’s freaking out?” and all of that, but this is pretty much about Facebook in the same way that Catfish is. That is to say, something that’s playing on fears and paranoia about the simultaneous anonymity and intimacy that social networking offers, but more interested in saying “Boo!” or pointing and laughing than actually saying anything of any weight about the contradiction.

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The fact that Facebook hasn’t spawned its own movie or television spin-off yet is probably a good thing (The fact that media companies would rather appear on Facebook than steal ideas from it is definitely one). It suggests that Facebook is more than just a fad or niche to be exploited, but something that’s just part of life. Well, until someone comes up with that status update that’s just so perfect that Hollywood can’t resist asking how much the rights would go for, of course…

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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