How show runners should be using social TV, an interview with Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter

By Natan Edelsburg 

Social TV storytelling is on the rise. Proof of this is not only from the digital executives that have gone above and beyond to bring storytelling into the marketing mix. TV creators and show runners, who have always been the backbone of the TV content we love are now embracing social in ways we could have never imagined. Kurt Sutter, the creator and genius behind FX’s Sons of Anarchy (where he also play the crazy and imprisoned Otto) is proof of how important it is for show runners to genuinely and constantly use the social web. The day after Sons’ season five finale topped the ratings we interviewed Sutter about using social for storytelling in between seasons.

Sutter has generated press (sometimes negative) by saying exactly what he thinks on his Twitter account and blog. He’s not afraid to use the “c” word (even though he shouldn’t be) and he doesn’t care what people think. For those obsessed with Sons of Anarchy, the Hamlet inspired biker story, you’ll see how every character in the show basically embodies that exact life motto (only in Sons it often gets you killed).

Sutter’s voice on Twitter isn’t just a dirty mouth. Over a year ago, before season four he ran a contest for his followers – if the premiere reached a certain ratings point (which it did) he would fly two of his fans to LA. He ran the same contest again this year. He also video blogs on YouTube almost once a week a series he calls “WTF Sutter”.We asked Sutter, now that the season is over, how do you plan on using Twitter and your blog to keep fans engaged so they’ll tune in next September? He discussed how he’ll be teasing from the writers room, continuing his vide blog and launching merchandise and graphic novels to keep fans hooked until September.

Pretty much the same way that I always do. I just don’t blog as much anymore. I’ve become sort of a lazy blogger, mainly because of Twitter. Also my “What the fuck Sutter,” it’s a video blog. I’ll continue to do those each week. I have fun with those, and now I’ll really be able to go back to answering the questions that fans send in every week. When we’re back in February and I start meeting with the writers, I [will] tell the fans I sat down with the writers – We had our first meeting with the writers for Season 6. I just think it’s such a long wait between seasons, and I try to do everything I can do to keep people engaged, to keep people excited. If there’s an announcement to make, and I can make it without stepping on the toes of my great media team at FX, I’ll make that announcement.

As I start to develop stuff, we’ll do something like we did this year. We did the behind the scenes of the before the anarchy stuff, which I really loved. HD films did a really great job. Maybe we’ll do another variation of that this season. As we start to develop those ideas, I’ll put it out to Twitter and get people’s feedback on it, and whether or not they dig it. I just try to keep people plugged into my process as I’m coming up with these ideas. I think the success that I’ve had with the fans, and why it’s been helpful for the show is that it’s really just me opening up people to kind of my process with all of this, and making them feel like they’re part of that. My fans are very vocal, and they have a lot of opinions, and they have no problems sharing them. It will be the continuation of that.

We’re doing some really great stuff with merchandising this year, and expanding the content world. We’re doing novelizations and graphic novels, and really expanding the mythology in a lot of different directions. That will be happening this year. I will keep people plugged in to what we’re doing with all of that. It will continue to allow me to do all of that.

I also dug up @SutterInk’s Shorty Awards Interview  – a feature from the website of the social voting competition I produce, that asks our nominees short, fun questions about their use of social (he was a finalist). The entire interview is worth reading, but here’s how he answered, how do you use Twitter in your professional life? “to update fans of Sons of Anarchy about the show and to generally make the entertainment community uncomfortable.” Sutter gets it. Whether or not you agree with his tone of voice, vulgar language, or opionions every show runner should learn from his passion, learn from his use of Twitter, YouTube and more and realize that if you’re the creator of a massively popular scripted show and not doing these things, you’re doing a disservice to your fans.