After months of speculation, Undateable was officially cancelled by NBC last week. The sitcom was broadcast live for its entire third season, which in itself was unique, but where the show truly broke ground was the cast and crew’s integration of social media into the home viewer experience.
The show centered around mismatched roommates Danny (Chris D’Elia) and Justin (Brent Morin) and their group of friends who hang out at Justin’s bar – Leslie (Bianca Kajlich), Shelly (Ron Funches), Burski (Rick Glassman), Brett the bartender (David Flynn) and waitress Candace (Bridgit Mendler). During it’s third all-live season, the show also featured musical guests who played in and out of commercials and closed the show with a full performance, and even gave showrunner Bill Lawrence screen time when he walked the audience between scenes strumming his guitar.
The show experience was so much more than passive viewing. The first indication that we were all in for something unique, was during the first episode of their live third season, when Brent Morin gave out Chris D’Elia’s cell phone number live on the air. Fans called the number and the cast actually answered. That number was kept live all through the season, as fans reported on Twitter that they would talk or text with a cast member.
According to Rick Glassman (@RickGlassman), the cast was encouraged to utilize social media so there was access to behind the scene situations to be Tweeted or Instagramed to the audience. But the cast went much further, deciding to utilize Periscope to put the fans INTO the show. So fans could see the writers working out ideas, witness table reads as they happened, and sit in on music rehearsals with stars like the Backstreet Boys and Meghan Trainor.
The height of viewer involvement in the show was Rick’s live Periscope of the show DURING the broadcast. He explained his use of Periscope as a device within the “world” so he always had something to focus on, since his character had a lot of down time. During the show he could continue the scene even after the cameras left so people watching at home could see a continuation of a conversation for instance. They would usually improvise extensions during rehearsals and bring them into the live show.
Periscope was also used by the cast outside of the show giving fans more of a glimpse into the actors and their relationships with each other, like the day fans could see Rick, Brent and David drive to work and sing along to the radio, or Rick playing basketball with the Backstreet Boys.
The ultimate companion to the show was created by Rick Glassman – “The Sixth Lead” a web series about an NBC sitcom actor who doesn’t really talk much. The five episode series chronicles Rick’s attempt to be featured more on the show, so it takes the viewer behind the scenes to meet Bill Lawrence, the showrunner, the writers, even the security guard at the studio. Rick proposed the show to Bill and was given the opportunity to write and direct the series. He purposely filmed real table reads and rehearsals and used real footage from the show, then wrote situations around them to create a fictitious yet inspired story. Everyone played a character/heightened version of themselves. For Rick, it was a great bonding experience to work and act with the writers and for the fans, it was yet another unique insider experience with the show. Rick has edited the series into a short film and has entered it into a few film festivals. It actually won Best Short Film at the IFS Festival (www.ifs.com) and will be screened next week at the Pacific Theater at The Grove.
In addition to the cast Twitter accounts, fans set up their own, such as @UndateableFans and #JSquad to regularly tweet and retweet the cast and crew. Michelle Wheeler runs @GlassmanBoppers and in her opinion, the cast heavy use of Twitter and Periscope in particular really heightened the experience of everyone involved on both sides of the camera, giving the fans a 360 degree view of the show. That kind of access was usually reserved for DVD special features, but Undateable fans got it every day leading up to and during that week’s live episode.
So, will the social media model utilized by Undateable translate to future sitcoms, and become a standard to which they all aspire? Only time will tell, but to the Undateable fans who had a chance to be a part of it, it was a truly personal and rewarding audience experience. And one that will be missed.
Showrunner Bill Lawrence (@VDoozer) tweeted recently that he will try to keep the show going.
TV!! I'm so lucky to do this for a living. Will try to keep #Undateable going because it's good/fun/love working w friends. Wish me luck.
— Bill Lawrence (@VDOOZER) May 13, 2016
Episodes and clips are available to binge watch at nbc.com/undateable. The Sixth Lead can be viewed at thesixthlead.com
(Note: A special thank you to Rick Glassman, who provided so much information for this article and who made this author’s viewing of UndateableLive so enjoyable. I am now, and will always be, a GlassmanBopper!)