If you’ve been following the trending topics on Sunday nights lately, you’d swear “Insecure” was the most-watched show on television.
The HBO dramedy follows a young, single African-American woman (co-creator/executive producer Issa Rae) and her friends in Los Angeles (also African-American). The show, now in its second year, is usually a heavily discussed topic of conversation on social media during and after it airs.
“Insecure” has become a prime example of how a TV show can get a loyal fanbase, thanks in part to social media. Heck, both “Insecure” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” have audiences that can be either highly supportive or highly critical online. (Remember the backlash “Thrones” got when viewers complained about that Ed Sheeran cameo in the most recent season premiere?)
It’s gotten to the point where you know a show is popular not through ratings, but through how many mentions they receive on Twitter and Facebook.
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“Insecure”’s online following definitely reached a fiery head after its first-season finale last year, which ended with Issa’s boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), who moved out when he discovered Issa cheated on him, graphically rebounding with a flirty bank teller. Audiences were so divided over this development – men were mostly rejoicing while women were mostly disgusted – that two hashtag camps arose: “#Team Issa” and “#Team Lawrence” (aka “#LawrenceHive”).
Ever since the show returned for a second season in July, Twitter has been usually clogged with tweets about the show during its timeslot, with viewers commenting on every move the characters make. And with the season finale airing Sunday at 10:30 p.m., expect them to give their own takes on the whole season right into Monday morning.
“Insecure” isn’t just an interactive experience for the audience. Rae and some of the cast members tweet right along with them: giving their own commentary, reposting their favorite tweets and even interacting with their fans. Ellis recently took it further when he tweeted that he was hosting a pop-up screening of an episode at a New York hotel lobby, only to be surprised when 400 people showed up to watch it with him. A writer for fashion/style site The Cut observed that the turnout was more than the “Game of Thrones” watch party the hotel had earlier that evening.
Welcome to 21st-century TV-watching, people, where the TV screen isn’t the only screen that’s on when people are tuning into their favorite program. A viewer doesn’t have to take in a show alone anymore; he or she can hop onto the Internet via their laptop, cellphone or tablet and mingle with all the fellow Twitterers and Facebookers who are watching the show, too. (Of course, for people who prefer to watch a show somewhere down the line, there is that downside of having to stay off social media to avoid the dreaded “spoilers.”)
As New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz wrote in 2012 of this new viewing practice:
“The social-media viewing experience is the most effective argument against piracy, and against so-called ‘time-shifting’ in general. DVRs can ease your packed Sunday viewing schedule, but if you’re not watching live, you’re giving up that intimate connection with other people who are watching with you even though they’re someplace else. There is new value in watching a show as it happens because of the ad hoc community that pops up in cyberspace every week.”
And don’t think the TV industry hasn’t noticed this. Rae isn’t the only showrunner who keeps tabs on how her show is doing on social media.
Major players like Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”) and Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”) rock verified Twitter accounts, where they can always check and see who is watching their respective, dozen-or-so shows. Last year, the ratings-tabulating company Nielsen announced it would include Facebook, along with Twitter, in measuring program-related conversation across the platform. So, what was once “Twitter TV Ratings” is now “Social Content Ratings.” (Even though “Thrones” doesn’t do well at viewing parties, the show usually topped these ratings every week during its recently wrapped seventh season.)
Ultimately, ratings still matter with networks and cable channels, and while shows like “Insecure” do well on social media, they still have to do well in the ratings. Thankfully, “Insecure” has done very well in that category, prompting HBO to already renew the show for a third season.
So, we can look forward to another season of “Insecure” fans making sure their favorite show rules the Twitterverse whenever it’s on.