Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, Fringe is my third-most favorite show of all time, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday I talk about lessons I learned from The Fringe Podcast.
Today’s Fun Fact: On December 5 five US Navy Avenger torpedo bombers flew from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the island of Bimini. The mission had 14 men. After about 90 minutes, the radio operators received a signal that the compass was not working. After that the communication was lost. The bombers were never found. One of the three planes that went for their rescue also disappeared. So here are some fun facts and theories about The Bermuda Triangle.
- The Bermuda Triangle is not small. In fact, it is quite large and covers an area of 440,000 miles of sea.
- Whenever any plane or ship disappears in the Triangle, its debris cannot be found. The reason behind this is that Gulf Stream runs near the triangle, which quickly gets rid of the debris.
- The first person to report about Bermuda Triangle was Christopher Columbus. He wrote in his journals that inside the triangle, the ship’s compass stopped working and he also saw a fireball in the sky.
- On average, 4 aircraft and 20 yachts go missing in the Triangle each year.
- Bruce Gernon claims he lost 28 minutes after flying through a time warping cloud tunnel.
- In 1918, 306 lives were lost when the US Navy ship USS Cyclops vanished. It is the single largest loss of life in US Naval history outside of combat.
What I Learned Yesterday
Believe it or not, I’m not a big TV watcher. It’s true. But few things on TV have excited me as much as the first teaser trailer for Fringe. I thought it was exciting, mysterious, and jaw dropping (no pun intended). At work the next day I remember talking with some of my co-workers about how cool it was. So when one of those co-workers suggested that we do a podcast about the show, I loved the idea!
That co-worker was named Jason and he soon had our other co-worker, Courtney, on board. We all pitched in some money and got the best equipment we could afford, which wasn’t much. I also bought a bunch of random gear from a friend who had it sitting in his garage. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Courtney, Jason, and I were all big podcast listeners and we began brainstorming ideas on how our podcast would be structured. Months before the show even premiered, we were planning our show, researching things online, and trying to make sense out of all the teaser materials that FOX was releasing. We soon began looking for someone with a science background, and that’s when my friend Clint joined the team.
Once the show premiered, our structure quickly changed. Even though we’d done a tremendous amount of planning and did our best to be prepared, there’s no way we could have fully predicted all that would change. Some of those changes were internal that our audience never new about. For example, for the first few episodes, we all had separate notes on notebook paper. When people got to my house to record, I’d quickly try to merge them all together and sometimes we’d work off different sets of notes, having no idea what other people wanted to talk about. It was okay, but it made for a bit of a disorganized show. When someone suggested we use Google Docs, it was the exact solution we needed. We also had a segment or two in our early shows that simply didn’t fit after a while. We cut those segments due to time or other constraints.
When we started the podcast, I don’t think any of us had visions of reaching a thousand downloads a week, let alone seven thousand. We never dreamed of interviewing John Noble or Leonard Nimoy. We never aspired to show up in a British magazine. We never expected FOX to send us promotional goodies in the mail. We never dreamed that Courtney would become best friends with a wacky and lovely lady named Patty from Canadia. The idea of one day starting a white tulip campaign to comfort a grieving mother would have been impossible to predict.
But each of those things did happen, and so much more.
It didn’t take long for things to take an unexpected turn. Almost immediately after the show premiered, we began to see unexpected happenings. People wanted us to do our show live and broadcast it on the internet. None of us had a webcam, so we started out just doing them as audio broadcasts. We soon got a webcam, added a chat room, and a movement began. Soon after that, we started getting so much listener feedback, we had to decide what to do with it all. We decided to double the number of podcasts we were doing each week, and have an entire show devoted to listener thoughts and theories. We also started a weekly watch party on our website and chatted about the show as it was airing in real time.
Relationships were formed. A kinship was kindled. A community was created.
Over its last few seasons, we weren’t sure if Fringe would be renewed. After season 3, we began wondering what would happen if Fringe was cancelled. I mean, if Fringe got cancelled, that meant our podcast was cancelled too. By that time we’d already started other podcasts like Cutting the Cable Podcast and Triplecast. But those podcasts were different than The Fringe Podcast. They covered material that was years old. Fringe was the only podcast we had that covered material that was airing for the first time each week. We did not want Fringe to get cancelled and then lose our audience.
In the fall of 2011 there were a few shows that intrigued us, but none that got both Clint and I excited. (In case you didn’t follow our podcast in those days, Courtney and Jason both left the podcast in the middle of Fringe’s second season) We were intrigued by shows like Awake, Alcatraz, Terra Nova, and Grimm. I do wish that Person of Interest had piqued my interest more back then. I did give the first 4 episodes a watch, but then gave up on it and didn’t rediscover it for nearly a year and a half.
However, the fall of 2012 was different. First, Fringe had been renewed, but we knew that it would be the final season, and a short one at that. Second, I finally found a show that I was ready to jump into with both feet. That show was Revolution. This time I’d be jumping into a show not as a fledgling podcaster, but as a podcaster who’d figured a lot of things out, sounded like a pro, and had a loyal, passionate fanbase from day one. In my mind, Revolution was going to blow away anything we’d been able to accomplish with Fringe.
By the time the final season of Fringe was coming, I had contacts in hand with FOX and Warner Brothers. I had participated in weekly conference calls with the network, and I’d interviewed dozens of celebrities from various shows. I was confident that we had a brand and level of professionalism that a TV network would want to take advantage of.
Confident that we’d have the audience and the connection with the network, I jumped in. I swapped a few emails with media contacts at NBC and Warner Brothers and told them about us. I created a media kit, teaser video, made up some necklaces like those from the show, and sent them all to contacts I had made at Warner Brothers and NBC. Each of my contacts confirmed that they received the kit. And then each of them went silent. I mean, totally silent. To this day, I’m not sure that I’ve spoken with either of them again. I might have, but only once or perhaps twice.
No worries, I thought. We have our awesome audience. That’s what matters most. I’d hoped to be able to forge a relationship with the network or production studio to deliver bonus content to the listeners each week, but that was okay. We could still do amazing things without their participation.
So on September 17, 2012 Revolution premiered on NBC. The good news was that over 2.5 million more people watched the pilot for Revolution than had watched the pilot for Fringe! Things were looking good. We had this in the bag. We weren’t going to lose our audience!
Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch?”
As it turned out, our audience size for Revolution never did compete with of Fringe. In fact, if I look at our top 20 Fringe podcast episodes, those have been downloaded 188,000 times. If I look at our top 20 Revolution episodes, they’ve only been downloaded 88,000 times. But truthfully, it’s not even that close. Most of the top 20 Revolution episodes are early in the first season. Many people abandoned the show after about 4 or 5 episodes, and our podcast was abandoned with it. The average is probably closer to 2,000 or 2,500 per episode.
No worries. In 2012 a show called Almost Human was picked up by FOX. That show would have many of the same creative team that worked on Fringe, and had a great cast with Karl Urban headlining it. I thought it would be an easy road to success for us. Clint, who had opted not to host The Revolution Podcast with me, was back in the co-host chair, we had our connections back at FOX who loved us during Fringe, the audience was pumped to have the creative team back at work…yup, this was a no brainer.
No so fast. The pilot was viewed by nearly the same number of people who’d watched the Fringe pilot, but our numbers did not stack up. The download numbers were pretty much the same as we’d seen for Revolution.
Here’s What I Learned
Before I go any further in this episode, let me make it clear that I don’t place a lot of importance on download numbers. Like most new podcasters, I kept an eye on them early on, but well before Fringe took its bow, I was no longer looking at stats on a regular basis. Prior to me looking up the numbers so I could do this episode, I hadn’t looked at stats on our shows for at least six months. They simply aren’t what motives me.
What does motivate me is engaging an audience. I think we’ve done that successfully with every show I’ve hosted. Whether it’s one of the podcasts I’ve already mentioned, or the podcasts I did for Falling Skies, Person of Interest, The X-Files, Gracepoint, or LOST, I’ve always tried to build relationships with the audience. Of course, this podcast is no exception to that.
But that’s not the lesson for today’s episode.
The lesson for today is one that should have been evident to me all along. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn it after Revolution. No, it was only after Almost Human that I learned it. That lesson is that nothing can be taken for granted. The fact is that I took our audience for granted. I assumed that they’d be there for Revolution because they’d been there for Fringe. When that didn’t happen, I looked at NBC, marketing decisions, and other outside factors for blame. I looked at the different chemistry that Jeremy and I shared and put some blame on that.
So when Almost Human came along, all of those issues were gone. I had my preferred network back. I had the creative team I knew and loved. I was sure that the droves of people that listened to our Fringe podcast felt the same way, and they be eagerly waiting by their iPods to hit that play button. I even had Clint sitting beside me so our chemistry was back to what people had come to love.
Yep. I took it all for granted.
I forgot how much I’d had to bust my butt on forums, blogs, and social media to earn every ear. I forgot the extra hours I’d poured in day after day, week after week, trying to be the most knowledgeable person on the planet for the TV show Fringe. I failed to recognize that each show is different. Each show is separate. Each audience is unique. Each audience member must be earned.
Of course, this lesson is true in so many aspects of our lives. Each role we play must not be taken for granted. Each relationship we have is different. Just because we’ve had success does not mean we are guaranteed success in perpetuity. We can’t take anything for granted, and we should certainly never take anyONE for granted. If you’ve been listening to me since the Fringe days, I’m sorry that I took you for granted.
Today is Monday. In fact, it’s the first Monday of the month. It’s a time of year where we often think about accomplishments, goals, and how we can improve upon things next year. How’s this: Make today count. Make this week count. Make every moment count. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t forget that hard work is required to accomplish your dreams, and don’t forget the hard work you’ve had to do to get where you’re at. Keep at it. Appreciate what you have and who has joined you for the journey. This journey is the only one we get and the people we share it with matter most.
As we enter into this final month of SILY, I want you to know how much I appreciate you. Thank you for joining in this journey with me. My life is better because of you. Let’s finish this strong, together.
I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.
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