Because even Poe-obsessed serial killers need friends, Fox is giving fans of its dastardly drama The Following a shot at buddying up with murder-happy mastermind Joe Carroll.
Beginning Monday, visitors to The Following’s Tumblr page will be prompted to visit A Chamber Door, a new site designed to let viewers experience the cult of Joe Carroll firsthand. In a special video message, the charismatic killer (portrayed by actor James Purefoy) promises to “teach people to discover their own greatness,” adding that his job as a teacher is to “help people become part of something bigger than they are.”
All of which sounds fairly benign until you remember that Carroll’s modus operandi is to recruit suggestible young acolytes to serve as foot soldiers in his army of mass murderers. (Some people join book clubs, some people go on kill-crazy rampages at the behest of a “Raven”-quoting sociopath. Name your poison.)
Take the man up on his offer to contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org, and in short order a reply will slither its way into your in-box.
It’s an impressively creepy set-up. Without giving up the entire gimmick, suffice it to say that as a friend-in-waiting, you’ll need to answer a few questions. Among these: “What do you know about JOE CARROLL?”
The note ends by informing the recipient that there is “no need to reply to this email at this time,” and that “New Friends will be contacted very soon.”
As a bonus Easter Egg, the chamber door email includes a link to a URL that appears to be a string of random numbers but is actually a call-back to a code introduced in an earlier episode of The Following. Mosey on over to that site and bask in some more ghastly iconography; a judicious click of the mouse during Carroll’s recitation of “The Raven” leads to a video that cribs pretty liberally from Poe’s hemorrhagic short story “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Every twist in the Tumblr journey is remarkably creepy, and there’s a sort of authenticity at play that one wouldn’t necessarily associate with a broadcast promotional effort. “As the show progressed, we’ve been using Tumblr as a means to talk to fans in an organic way,” said Robin Benty, Fox’s senior director of current programming and digital scripted brands. “Using Tumblr as the platform for this has allowed us to make the experience creepy and cool. It doesn’t look and feel like just another overt marketing campaign.”
As Following fans dig into the material seeded throughout the Tumblr page, an already engaging linear TV series becomes a wholly immersive experience.
Another factor in Benty and svp of digital media William Bradford’s favor is that they didn’t simply hire a marketing pro to script the transmedia elements. Writer Jan Libby’s c.v. includes everything from alternate-reality gaming to the Lonelygirl15 series; as Benty notes, Libby’s visual arts background (Cal College of the Arts, ICA Boston) make her especially suited to crafting links between a linear narrative and multimedia storytelling.
Bradford said the Tumblr page has gathered disciples steadily from week to week. At present, visitors to the site number in the tens of thousands. “All of what we’re doing with Tumblr has been done in conjunction with showrunner Kevin Williamson and Warner Bros. TV,” Bradford said. “It’s really an opportunity for us to extend the palette of the show. It’s not just a tune-in vehicle.”
The Following airs Monday at 9 p.m. on Fox. After premiering on Jan. 21 to 10.4 million viewers and a 3.2 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, the Kevin Bacon vehicle remains one of the strongest new series of 2012-13, averaging 8.18 million viewers and a 2.7 in the dollar demo.
Fox renewed The Following for a second season (15 episodes) on March 4. The Season 1 finale airs April 29.