We’re used to fan interaction from the early days of American Idol, where texts and phone calls would determine a contestant’s staying power. But only in the last few years have scripted series invited fans to interact with the characters or stars. The latest is ABC’s Cougar Town: When watching tonight’s episode, the moment you hear a character say a phone number, call it up for the chance to talk to one of the stars. You might get Courteney Cox, Busy Phillips, Josh Hopkins, or another actor, depending who picks up.
(I had this brief brain fart where I thought that the actor would answer it in-character during the show’s premiere, but then I remembered that scripted shows a) don’t have the room for that kind of improv, and b) are taped ahead of time.)
You would think that more shows had already jumped on this bandwagon, but I could come up with only a few. At last year’s Super Bowl, Neil Patrick Harris sat in the stands in-character as Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother and held up a sign with the character’s phone number. Calling the number gave you a recording of Barney saying you should meet him at MacLaren’s on October 12, 2016. Who knows, there could be a Cheers-bar sort of tribute restaurant to the show by 2016…
Most of the plot of Supernatural‘s first season revolved around the Winchester boys calling their dad’s cell phone to determine his whereabouts. At one point, they called it in an episode and got a voicemail telling all callers to direct their calls to Dean’s (Jensen Ackles) cell phone. When viewers called that number, they got an in-character voicemail from Ackles asking for tips on demon whereabouts. In an example of cheeky crossover, a character on the show V called this number last season.
The producers of The West Wing made a similar move, but when viewers called a number that they saw in an episode, they were redirected not to a character’s voicemail, but to the actual switchboard for the White House.
And it’s not on television, but who could forget Jenny’s number? Sing it with me: