Events like New York Comic and San Diego Comic-Con have turned into some of the largest media gatherings and press opportunities in the world, and it’s all because of the growing explosion of fandom. Areas that used to be reserved for cult audiences or a small, vocal crowd have now become the norm.
Everyone is a super fan.
Sometimes that means going to a message board, seeking other fans online, or starting a fan club. That simple premise of fandom has grown in such a tremendous way that some fans can actually become part of their favorite shows.
Never before has this boundary been more blurred. In lieu of this, here are some of the most impressive examples of acts of fandom appearing in TV shows.
Sealab 2021: “Dearly Beloved Seed”
Sealab 2021, one of Adult Swim’s flagship programs during its infancy as a network, suffered a steep drop in quality after the passing of a major cast member. This not only led to the loss of a crucial character, but also the introduction of a new, problematic one whom often left the series feeling passionless during its final year and a half.
During this tumultuous time of experimentation, the series let one of the show’s most vocal fans and members of Adult Swim’s message board, “mcheshpants420,” pen an episode of the show when the team was unsatisfied with their finished script for “Dearly Beloved.”
A lot of this feels more like Sealab’s team simply not caring and allowing a madman to run the asylum (the show also lets an enraged fan, Karl Olson, do an episode’s audio commentary on the DVD where he just incessantly attacks how terrible the show has become). However, it did still mark some interesting precedent.
This episode is not good and mcheshpants420 (which is the name listed in the credits, too) indulges in tired tropes like random marriages, Matrix riffs, and puts the spotlight on his favorite supporting character, Hesh. I suppose at the same time this whole thing operates as a meta experiment on the powers of fandom going too far, too.
Xavier: Renegade Angel: “Damnesia You”
This piece of gonzo, Dadaist television is perhaps one of the best examples of fan appreciation. Adult Swim consistently encourages fan-made ads and promos and has even hosted a slew of contests that push this practice. PFFR’s truly one of a kind program, Xavier: Renegade Angel, takes this principle one step further by constructing an episode entirely out of fan renditions submitted by viewers in a “Make Your Own Xavier Contest.”
Xavier is a pretty “Lynch on acid” kind of program, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising to see how well the show makes this concept and all of these disparate art styles mesh together. Versions of Xavier differ from drawings, puppetry, live-action, and nearly every medium in between. What’s even better is that the show properly sets up the existential who am I? crisis that Xavier is going through here with the episode’s prior entry, “Damnesia Vu.”
South Park: “Tweek x Craig”
South Park has been on a long time (the series has almost hit the legal drinking age!), so it shouldn’t come as a shock that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a healthy relationship with their fan community.
South Park’s 19th season was a long, connected piece of commentary on political correctness, making an episode all about yaoi culture (think the manga equivalent of man-on-man slash fiction) and the LGBT community perfect material to tackle. Students Tweek and Craig become the recent focus of a yaoi fascination from the Asian students at school and all of the homoerotic art featured in the episode actually being sent in from fans. The results are a pretty incredible representation of the yaoi scene and proof that South Park fans will respond if you send out a call.
Xena: Warrior Princess: “Coming Home” and “Legacy”
This is perhaps one of the more idealistic situations to come out of rampant fan love towards a series. Missie Good, a blogger who engaged in a ton of Xena: Warrior Princess fan fiction, ended up making a bit of a name for herself when her pieces of fan fic were starting to get some attention.
Good’s exercises in fandom led to her stories being seen as some of the most accomplished hypothetical Xena writings on the web. This clear admiration for the series combined with a talent for nailing the voices and tone of the show down actually saw Missie Good being picked up to be a staff writer for the series’ sixth and final season, where she’d go on to write two of the more satisfying installments.
“Legacy” enters into the flames of fan fiction pretty heavily by containing a scene where Xena and Gabrielle bathe together. While this sort of story is certainly atypical and speaks to a very specific time in the ‘90s, it still goes to show that fan fiction and other spec experiments can still end up yielding great rewards.
Adventure Time Episode, “Jake vs. Me-Mow”
This is the sort of scenario that just makes me so happy. It’s one of those rare instances where creators of a series get into a fringe community element.
It’s nice when a series can feed into the fan community in such a way, and in the case of Adventure Time, this not only saw series creator Pendleton Ward becoming enamored with a fan-art character, “Me-Mow,” but him also inserting the character into the show’s canon and giving him his own self-titled episode, “Jake vs. Me-Mow” of all things!
Me-Mow is the most adorable assassin cat that you’ll ever encounter. The character already appeared several times throughout the series. Ward is far from done with the guy. When it comes to this character, Ward puts it best, “it’s so cute and it was drawn by a tiny kid.”
Power Rangers Wild Force Promoting Amit Bhaumik to Story Editor
Amit Bhaumik has in many ways experienced the dream (and nightmare) of being a fan of the legendary Power Rangers franchise from both sides. While Power Rangers was still in its formative years, Bhaumik began displaying a fervent passion for the series and was the creator of the “Power Rangers Online Archives,” the go-to site for anything Power Rangers related.
Power Rangers would continually see a crossing of the guard with each new season, and in an incredible act of good faith, Bhaumik was not only plucked from fandom to write for the show, but he was also quickly put in charge of story editing—essentially planning out the whole season of the show—for Power Rangers’ 10th anniversary season, Wild Force.
Bhaumik was also notably responsible for some of the most fan service-friendly and satisfying installments of the season, like the connective tissue between Wild Force and the previous Rangers of Time Force, as well as the highly publicized 10th anniversary crossover-palooza, “Forever Red.” Bhaumik’s relationship with Power Rangers would become a complicated one with him leaving the series in 2002, and his involvement with the property was constantly in flux. It’s hard to tell a fan to quit, after all.
Doctor Who’s Companion, Adric, Being a “Doctor Who Fan Appreciation Society” Member
Doctor Who is not just a beloved series that has been running in England for over 50 years, it’s practically an institution. It might actually be easier to count how many people in the UK aren’t Doctor Who fans rather than the alternative. This love affair with the series (which has now spread to it being praised nearly to the same degree in America, too) has resulted in a very vocal relationship between the makers of Doctor Who and their fans. The “all Dalek” inclusive episode, “Asylum of the Daleks” even saw many fans submitting their own fan-made Dalek replicas to be used in the episode.
One of the most prominent examples of fandom breaking through to the other side would come in the form of the Fifth Doctor’s companion, Adric. Adric was a young boy, so the series decided to cast Doctor Who mega-fan and prominent member of the “Doctor Who Appreciation Society” (also, non-actor), Matthew Waterhouse, in the role. While the character of Adric and his casting might have not won everyone over, it’s still pretty incredible to see a fan get put in this degree of spotlight.
AMC Hiring Dyna Moe to Handle Mad Men’s Season 3 Promo Materials
This is a reaffirming little story that reminds you that you never know how you’re going to find work, or how much some fun side project might resonate with someone else.
Graphic artist Dyna Moe is a friend of Rich Sommer, who happened to play the character of Harry Crane on Mad Men. Naturally, Dyna was also a huge Mad Men fan. So when Sommer asked her to illustrate a Mad Men-inspired Christmas card, she jumped at the opportunity. Dyna Moe’s style and artwork in her Christmas card happened to be such a hit that it caught the eyes of AMC executives. Not only did they give Dyna a job to handle the promos for the show’s upcoming season, they also put her in charge of their website’s online avatar generator. Don’t pretend you’ve never logged on and Draper-ified yourself.
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s: “The Bonding”
You’ve maybe noticed at this point that one of the more common examples to happen here is a devout fan actually getting a script of theirs sold to a show, or even promotion in the area. So while by conventional standards this example might seem a little tame, the sheer amount of variables present in it—not to mention all of the formative work that has taken place because of it—is a little hard to ignore.
Ronald D. Moore, who is responsible for a ton of accomplished sci-fi programming, but most famously his revival of Battlestar Galactica, began his humble journey as a rabid Trekkie with a dream (and script) in his heart. It’s almost too coincidental that Moore’s then-girlfriend took him on a tour of the CBS lot where Moore just happened to get the opportunity to submit a fan script that would later end up becoming the episode, “The Bonding.” If this extreme happenstance and courage on Moore’s part didn’t end up taking place, who knows how the greater landscape of science fiction would be different in the process?
The Glee Project In General
Okay, so admittedly this pick is a little different than the others. Rather than fate, hard work, or who you know leading to acts of fandom invading programming, The Glee Project’s purpose was to orchestrate such a situation and turn some everyday fan into a new (recurring) cast member on Glee.
The reality competition series is your basic American Idol rip-off, but its charm comes from the fact that these are all die-hard Glee fans. A number of the contestant/fans were even suffering from ailments like blindness and paralysis. The Glee Project managed to last for two synergistic seasons and even if it might feel more orchestrated and manipulative than the other examples here, it still allowed several unknowns to become a large part of their favorite TV show.