When creators, producers and… just about anyone thinks about transmedia storytelling, more often than not they will think of giant blockbuster franchises.
Marvel, Star Wars, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are all huge standout examples, but transmedia doesn’t need to be a massive sprawling event with theme parks, dozens of films, or even a large presence on the international market.
Often transmedia is used in genre-driven stories to expand on the mythos, history, world et cetera. But Alan Partridge uses it differently.
It can in fact be used just as effectively on domestic, lower-budget content. And there is nothing more domestic than Alan Partridge.
Now, having grown up in Britain I would say that there are three noteworthy properties that Britain successfully exports when it comes to international transmedia storytelling.
The first is Harry Potter which has now seen its universe grow through the Pottermore website, The Cursed Child play, and of course the films and video games – all of which contributed to an understanding and immersion in the world.
Doctor Who similarly is first a television series, but has also dabbled in online media, animation, big finish production audio books, web series, and even AR and studio tours.
Finally, there’s James Bond. A book series that became a film series, with merchandise, comics, Young James Bond, video games, and so on.
Those are perhaps the big three most internationally-successful transmedia British franchises.
But then you have something like Alan Partridge, a comedic transmedia series that wasn’t designed to thrive beyond the British market.
Now that may sound a little bizarre especially if you are perhaps from America or outside of Britain where are you really haven’t had any interaction with this character.
Presently he is back on the telly with the current BBC series “This Time, with Alan Partridge, but he has become a staple of British media. So, to begin…
WHO IS ALAN PARTRIDGE?
I like to think my British readers already know the answer to this one, but for everyone else …
Starting off as a Steve Coogan character on the radio show On the Hour (1991) and continuing to a television debut on The Day Today (1994) Alan Partridge practically began as a transmedia character.
As a creation, Alan Partridge is a caricature of a British (very English) talk show host and presenter. I think this is partly why he hasn’t travelled – in fact I’m sure of it. In order to truly appreciate the essence of Partridge you need to have had exposure to British culture, society, and politics.
He is a definitive British
beta male, something that everyone here may understand but certainly a
character that doesn’t easily travel – especially with his unhealthy fixation
on British wars and military history.
It can be difficult to market outside of the UK as a result.
But as of now the character has existed in multiple different formats, various in universe talk shows, radio series, documentaries, and with two books detailing his fictional life and developing the character overall.
My personal favourite branch of this franchise is his first book I, Partridge – an in-universe book detailing what occurs between his various TV series and his personal life. It works well as comedy, satire, world-building, and personal biography.
Unlike larger transmedia franchises, there isn’t really a hierarchy. It’s not like Star Wars where there’s a core franchise and spin-offs. ALL branches of the “Partridge-verse” contribute equally to our interaction with the character.
This is what makes Alan Partridge a fantastic transmedia property, it is the use of different platforms to coherently develop the story of a fictional character. Sure, the series plays around with its own reality – many of the documentaries and book signings make it seem like Alan Partridge is in fact a real person.
Even at the release of the film Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Steve Coogan was in-character when answering questions.
It’s a very bizarre hyper-reality that you rarely see in long-running series.
But interestingly, you need to explore each outlet to fully appreciate the story. There are characters in the TV series and films where the conclusion and feet is only discussed in a certain chapter of the book or audiobook which is how I prefer to enjoy my Partridge.
It is an example of an entirely localised transmedia creation, and it has done very well for itself and continues to do so.
KNOWING HYPER REALISM KNOWING YOU – A HA
Sort of in the same vain as post-modernism, a hyper-reality is essentially when one is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not. In fiction especially it is the crafted blurring of fact and fiction. The characters and stories are presented as existing in the “real world” – and can be done effectively with multiple platforms.
In the same way that post-modernism is used in things like the Lego movies to better draw the audience in, hyperreality is also a way to create a more intimate connection between the viewer and the story.
Alan Partridge is one such example of this type of hyperreality, and the multi-platform makes him feel more tangible and real.
I think this is even more important in a social media age, where you can follow someone else’s life – could be an interesting approach to character-driven stories.
Another similar example would be something like Borat, a hyper-realistic mockumentary featuring a character that began as a television series. In this case, the reality is even more blurred with real people interacting with a fictional character in a documentary that they thought was real – simple as that.
TRANSMEDIA? WHY SHOULD I CARE?
When you look at creating a product, particularly if it’s in a non-studio system, transmedia can sometimes seem gimmicky, unattainable, or a blockbuster-era cash grab.
Again, the most noteworthy examples of transmedia seem not to come from local independent content creators, but rather those giant studios who can afford to produce spin-offs and other forms of merchandise.
But (as I’ve stated before) we are in the age of experience over product. We are looking less and less at merely acquiring consumable goods and wanting to make something more of an event or an experience.
Alan Partridge is a great example of executing a multi-platform experience on a comparatively low budget.
It proves that transmedia can move beyond comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy.
I think Alan Partridge has done this quite well moving beyond his original radio and television series into creating something which people can engage with on multiple levels.
Especially when creating a satirical character, it’s important that you were able to interact with them on a personal level. So having either Steve Coogan answer questions at the film premier in character, or producing in-universe audiobooks, television series and documentaries, it moves something from a product to an experience – there is a heightened engagement.
Regardless of the domestic market you’re trying to cater to, transmedia can be used to great effect.
So whether you’re watching his old 1990s BBC television series, reading about why and how it got cancelled in a fictional biography, or watching the out-of-universe sitcom events of his life in I’m Alan Partridge, That level of engagement has seen this character evolve in ways others have not.
It’s still early to assess how This Time, with Alan Partridge will be go down in a world that’s already blurring the lines between fact and fiction. It has certainly sparked debate about how a property like this can even function in a reality-TV world, and what it means moving forwards.
As for me, I’m optimistic that it will do justice to the slightly awkward transmedia entity that is … Alan Partridge.
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“And on that bombshell, goodnight.”