Each episode of the new British web sitcom Where are the Joneses? ends with the words: “With Special Thanks to the Where are the Joneses? Community” and for the first time, it actually feels like users have a stake in the universe of an online, scripted show. And surprise, it’s still really funny.
Released daily and running about 3 minutes each, episodes revolve around Dawn, a slightly ditzy yet determined woman who just found out that she was “the product of sperm donation,” and has thus decided to chase down all of her 27 brothers and sisters who were also spawned from this same busy gentlemen.
The show is produced by Steve Coogan (“I’m Alan Partridge”) and Baby Cow Productions, sponsored by Ford, which just happens to be Dawn’s vehicle of choice as she journeys to find her many siblings across Europe.
But what makes this sitdotcom so unique is not the quirky show itself, but how it’s crafted, namely through its companion wiki, which brings users directly into writers meeting and gives us a seat on the casting couch. It lets us take part in all that business usually reserved for network executives, show writers, and other people much more important than we are.
True, other shows have helped to build this foundation that “Where are the Joneses?” has since expanded upon. Something to Be Desired (Tilzy.TV page) uses audience input when crafting new storylines, and Chasing Windmills (Tilzy.TV page) offers separate blogs for different characters, allowing us to delve more fully into the world of the show and interact with characters. Even It’s All in Your Hands (Tilzy.TV page) has successfully mounted a choose your own adventure format for the web. Still, WATJ has taken this notion of interactivity further.
Through a companion wiki, operated by wikidot.com, users can submit story ideas or even offer full-length scripts, all editable by other users. For example, a script submitted back on June, 21, has already been revised 24 times, and if you think a joke will fall flat, you can be the 25th editor and delete it. WATJ is comedy written in a group around a virtual table: a table with potentially an unlimited amount of chairs just waiting to be filled (by you!).
Eventually, show writers then use these scripts to create the final products that they film, making sure to twist certain scenarios to keep us all guessing. Users can also suggest new characters, even submit audition videos showing why they would be the perfect person to cast. Two users have already joined the production.
But is the show successful? If you judge that answer upon youtube views or comments on the site, its seems like the show has yet to find a mainstream audience. Most episodes have about 400 views on Youtube and comments are steady but don’t seem to be coming in large numbers. But if you’re judging by audience interaction, the show is faring a little better. About a dozen or so story ideas are added each day, along with a handful of new or edited scripts.
On the other hand, the show is really funny so perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the masses find this original, breakthrough sitdotcom. More importantly, I think the show will serve as a model for more mainstream shows, demonstrating that when given the tools, users will gleefully take part in a universe they’ve come to know and love, and equally help sustain this universe through script and story submissions.
Imagine a more popular show like The Office offering a wiki on NBC.com, that lets viewers write scripts using characters and back story from this already fleshed-out universe? Or if Lostpedia worked backwards. Rather than having viewers flesh out episode synopses and find common themes after episodes air, why not let us all take a crack at writing the next season? Sheer chaos? Most likely, but at the very least, the real show writers would have a well organized pool to fish for ideas, which seems much more focused than simple user comments on show blogs.
Keep your eye on “Where are the Joneses?” not only because it’ll probably make you laugh, but it’ll certainly have far-reaching effects in dictating the future of the sitdotcom.