If there’s one thing the shippers don’t lack, it’s… passion. It happens about once a week: Somebody posts some self-indulgent, self-absorbed nonsense about how they’d disappointed with their ship, they’re sick of the drama related to their ship, they’re convinced the show’s writers are plotting against them and the whole world is hell bent on somehow destroying their oh-so-important vision of how the relationship between two fictional characters should be portrayed.
The McDannogasm that was “Pa’ani” is the topic of a later article for when I have more patience for adding photos and all that fun stuff. For tonight, I’ll attempt to address the latest complaint from out there in the shipping universe. The complaint is that the amount of bromance and gay subtext that is perceived to be present in the show amounts to queerbaiting, and that the characters should either just be gay or dump the camp.
First, let’s look at the use of the term “queer bait”. It’s a misuse, as much as we can really discuss “misuse” when we’re talking about a non-OED urban slang term, but queer bait is typically exactly what it sounds like. It’s someone or something that attracts gay men. Sure, Steve and Danny are queer bait because they’re attractive men. Sure, I can understand why the producers of the show want gay men as their audience (we’re a valuable share of the market to advertisers because of our higher-than-average amount of disposable income, and our willingness to spend it). However, anybody who’s done their marketing homework knows that slash shippers are mostly heterosexual women. Queer bait? Hardly. Slash bait? You betcha. There’s a reason for that, which I’ll explain after the bump.
“Pa’ani” is actually a good episode in which to discuss what attracts viewers, and what kind of viewers are valuable. At its core, television is still a business, and the success of the business is determined by how much money a show can make. Filming in Hawai’i is expensive, so shows filmed there have to draw in high enough ratings for the advertising space to command a premium. Ratings are what determine how much a network can charge for advertising. The higher the ratings in the coveted 18-49 demographic, the more the network can charge for the advertising space.
For its first two seasons, H50 averaged just under 12 million viewers per episode throughout the season. This season, the series is on track to average somewhere between 8 and 9 million. That’s a pretty big slide. While many weeks it “wins its timeslot” meaning no competing shows captured a larger share of the coveted 18-49 demo, the shows expense puts it in a position where it has to consistently outperform to remain on the air. Now the show is all but guaranteed a fourth season because it’s already been sold in syndication, which requires 88 episodes, but after that all bets are off, especially if the network receives a proposal for a cheaper show that is likely to capture the same percentage of viewers in the 18-49 demo.
Back to “queer baiting” (that’s not really queer baiting) for a moment. Some complain its pandering, some complain its cruel teasing. For example, this Monday night tweet by @HawaiiFive0CBS made it clear we were due for some bromance: “Are Danny & McGarrett going on a man date? Watch this sneak peek & don’t forget 2 tune in 4 a new
#H50 TONIGHT 10/9c: http://bit.ly/Z9O90H” What’s the idea here? Buzz. Social media is one of the great new measurements are using to determine what viewers like, and what keeps them watching. It amounts to nearly free market research. With an ear to the right door, they’ve figured out that not only do folks who appreciate a little McDanno with their H50 regularly watch they show, they’re also likely to generate buzz when they see what they tuned in for. That’s a win for the network because it generates buzz, which piques the curiosity of more potential viewers (and until the series is syndicated, “converted” viewers are the prime purchasers of previous seasons and episodes on iTunes and in stores). In short, they like bromance because it engages a very vocal segment of the viewership, and gets them to send out positive feedback to their social networks. Good bromance moments tend to blow up my Twitter, and that’s exactly what they’re looking for.
Let’s take a look at another very similar tweet from the following day: Which
@nfl player do you think Danno is most excited to see? Watch RIGHT NOW & chat @CBS Connect: http://bit.ly/SYU97g ! #H50 #NFL. Here’s more engagement. Football is an even more universal topic for social media buzz than bromance, and between Catherine and our boys there were some strong football allegiances on display during the last episode. Now my Twitter blew up with TNT during the McDanno moments, but Catherine waxing poetic about “America’s Team” and Steve and Danny sharing their own firm football religion was social media napalm. Everyone immediately felt compelled to either agree with one party or the other, and I’m sure the network just loved it. Maybe that’s “Football Baiting” because Twitter certainly got hooked.
In fact, I didn’t see any buzz about what a great procedural it was. The case itself was convoluted, dull, and somewhat confusing, but flashy guest stars like Pat Monahan and Arian Foster saved the procedural scenes from turning into dead air – they also rated some pretty consistent mentions throughout the evening on social media.
Let’s be realistic here: what we’re dealing with here is not a crusade, it’s not an epic battle to win the argument over whose perception of the show is correct. This is a product, and the primary goal is to write and promote the show to be successful. I think it’s a testament to our progressive times that bromance or gay subtext or slashiness or whatever we’re calling it has proven to be an ingredient for that success, and it’s worth celebrating. This is really just a bit of fun, after all, right? No? Well, it is for me.