Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On April Fools Jokes

For a textbook example of how to set up and sell an April Fools' Day joke, see the series of posts from American-born Canadian screenwriter Dennis McGrath. He started slowly with a vague rumour about possible changes as Canwest-Global. Next he moved on to a more detailed rumour involving real places people and events but still eminently plausible. And then he sprang the trap, "revealing" a merger between Canwest-Global and CTV-Globemedia to become CTV Canglobe Media, reshuffling their programming assets to form the ultimate in demographic targeting. One network would be Global Dude, featuring programming oriented to a male audience, while CTV would retain the female oriented shows. The only sticking point was supposedly which network would get House. In addition to his website, Dennis also used other assets – notably his Twitter account – to tease the story.

A nice addition – apparently triggered by the April Fools' Day joke from another site was the story that the new company would also integrate the assets of Toronto based Naked News Broadcasting Network (NSFW of course), with the Global Dude news being done by nude anchors both male and female. (Actually this isn't a totally absurd idea; Naked News has a reputation for excellent news coverage in addition to the nudity. Based on past rulings from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the Naked News could easily be shown on broadcast stations – and was seen for a time on CITY-TV in Toronto – since the nudity is in a non-sexual context, although the duration of the nudity force it to be aired later than the 9 p.m. watershed.) I'm ashamed that I didn't think of it.

Of course, in keeping with Canadian traditions related to April Fools' Day Dennis did reveal that it was all a joke at Noon and used the opportunity to show readers how this applies to screenwriting:

  • Basic plausibility allows you to slip in the ridiculous; just like a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down.
  • Let the rope out slowly.
  • Details, details, details.
  • There's always a spoiler.
  • Reward your audience.

Dennis's series of posts are a beautiful example of how to subtly play with your audience, and why – really – you can't do a great April Fools' joke on the spur of the moment like I did with mine (I had been too busy labouring over the PTC thing to really work on this one). I bow in the presence of a master.

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