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Last month, a twentysomething woman quit her blog. It happens all the time—sharing the most intimate details of your life with strangers can be emotionally draining, especially, perhaps, when one of those details is that your husband can't always get it up.
The blogger in question was Margene Heffman, the young, pretty, and apparently tech-savvy third wife in HBO's Big Love. Launched two days before Big Love's 2006 premiere, the blog has become a venue for the show's writers to offer the viewing faithful further insight into Margene's character—she loves So You Think You Can Dance?; she thinks meter maids are terrible people—and even the occasional spoiler. The previous marriage of her sister-wife Nicki, for example, was first divulged on the blog.
Margene's is one of the best blogs ostensibly written by a fictional TV character, but it is hardly alone. Characters from The Office, The Closer, Grey's Anatomy, Nip/Tuck, How I Met Your Mother, Monk, the soap opera One Life To Live, and the kids' show Postcards From Buster all have blogs (and, in some cases, MySpace pages). Even the banker from Deal or No Deal has a blog, in which he confesses his intense dislike of the program's contestants. "Don't even start with me about their little stories about their little lives," he writes in a typically acerbic post. "If I have to hear about another 'deserving teacher,' I'll hurl a bucket of bile right out the Bank window onto the stage."
Character blogs started showing up in earnest a couple of years ago and are now a staple of the media campaigns for comedies and dramas, particularly those aimed at relatively young, affluent audiences. In general, they're written with more attention to detail—and better punctuation—than the average day-in-the-life blog. And, theoretically at least, they could be a welcome development, a way for writers and producers to further develop the TV characters who interest us most and give us a chance to spend time with them outside the bounds of the weekly television schedule. With a few notable exceptions, however, most of these blogs kind of stink.
The upkeep of these blogs falls to staff writers (in the case of the Grey's Anatomy blog, for instance) or writers' assistants (in the case of Big Love and How I Met Your Mother), with final approval for postings typically resting with the head writers and producers, who make sure that nothing conflicts with established, or impending, character arcs. Perhaps because of all the red tape, character blogs are typically updated only once a week, the night before or after the show airs.
But it's not just the pace of blogging the sites get wrong. The bigger problem is that they rarely challenge or expand our understanding of the character doing the posting. Take Schrute-Space, the blog of Office sycophant Dwight Schrute, which launched before the show's second season. Dwight's blog is full of grandiose pronouncements about Battlestar Galactica, laser tag, beets, and, of course, his employer, Dunder Mifflin. "Every time you read about Ninja's attacking somebody or assassinating some public figure, it seems to happen in the spring. I'm not sure why, it's just the way it is," he writes in his most recent post.
Funny? Yeah, kind of. But these posts fail to get at what makes Dwight such a compelling character. It's true that his bizarre hobbies are what made him an instant hit among viewers, but a fanatical devotion to beets will get you only so far. What's really interesting about Dwight is his relationships with his co-workers—his devotion to Michael, rivalry with Jim, and secret love of Angela—none of which is fleshed out, or even really touched on, in his blog.
Other TV blogs fall into a similar trap. The nurses on Grey's Anatomy are perhaps the dramedy's most redeeming characters: Though they're often belittled, it nevertheless frequently falls to them to save the day. On their blog, however, they do little more than gossip about what happened on last night's episode. Natalie, the assistant to Tony Shaloub's obsessive-compulsive private detective on Monk, offers more of the same on her blog. You would think a character who juggles a legitimately crazy boss, regular interactions with dead bodies, and single motherhood would have quite a bit to vent about. Instead, she's content to recap her most recent day at work.
Not all these blogs are quite so flat, though. The one maintained by Barney, Neil Patrick Harris' celebrated womanizer on How I Met Your Mother, captures his tone perfectly. Barney is calculatedly and unapologetically skeezy, and the blog takes those traits and runs with them. "Captain Ahab chased an elusive white whale. Dan Marino, the Superbowl. What's my personal Everest? Identical twins," Barney explained last fall. His most recent post featured a chart demonstrating how different wingmen affect his ability to score.
Barney's blog grew organically—in the pilot episode, he vows upon seeing his (usually disheveled) friend Ted in a suit, "This is totally going into my blog!" It certainly helps that you can imagine Barney actually having a blog—and indeed can imagine him publishing inappropriate material on it. "He's in some ways the most natural to do a blog, because he's the one who offers up unsolicited advice at all times, and in some ways, that's what blogging is," says How I Met Your Mother executive producer Carter Bays.
By contrast, it's a stretch to believe that Creed from TheOffice could muster a blog. Creed's site also sprang from an on-screen joke—a funny one, in fact, but one the show's producers seem not to have gotten. In an episode last season, Creed asked his colleague Ryan to start a blog for him. Ryan opens a Microsoft Word document, types a URL across the top (www.creedthoughts.gov.www\creedthoughts), and tells Creed his blog is up and running. On the show, Creed falls for it and starts typing up material that Ryan describes as shocking, "even for the Internet." In real life, however, Creed offers such gems as "Working in an office is fine, but I'd rather be a millionaire."
Fans who devote their downtime to their favorite shows deserve better. The model might well be Margene's blog. Her posts delve deep into the subject matter of the series—her struggle with polygamy, for instance, has been a consistent theme explored in ways that complement what's going on in the series. Late last year, the blog experimented with the form, going back in time to post flashback entries from 2003, before Margene married into the Henrickson family, giving readers inside information about her troubled relationship with her mother and her dates with a co-worker who later ended up on the show. In her recent signoff post, Margene dropped another a spoiler: The baby she's pregnant with is a girl.
Big Love's fans have followed the blog carefully and, in some cases, with alarming passion. When Margene posted her recent goodbye to blogging, she cited the cruelty of the Internet, noting that blogging was "making me feel worse about myself." The comments are indeed a bizarre mix of people questioning polygamy, professing their undying love for Margene, and occasionally snipping at the blog itself. But in the blogosphere, inflaming such passions is a good thing, and several commenters responded to Margene's signing off with pleas for her to return. One, from someone claiming to be a real-life polygamist, read: "Margene I'm so sorry people have been so hurtful to you. Nobody really understands our lifestyle unless they have lived it."
Now that's the kind of emotional involvement I want from my television.