Dexter in transmedia
by Ana Vasile et Olivier Godest , published on 31.03.2011
In December 2010, Showtime announced that a new season of the series Dexter will start shooting in spring 2011 (the sixth one). Since we have some early day fans in our team, we couldn’t resist telling you a little more about this series, which is presently beating audience records in the US. Here’s an analysis of this phenomenon that obviously found an echo in transmedia.
Origin of Dexter’s universe
Before the TV series, we can find the origin of Dexter’s universe in Jeff Lindsay’s books.
In 2004, the author published “Darkly dreaming Dexter”, the book where Dexter Morgan was created. A brilliant scientist working for the Miami Police Department as a forensic expert, specialized in blood projections.
But this likeable character has a dark side! He’s also a very peculiar serial killer: he has a very strict moral code and a unique vision of justice. Dexter only kills other killers that have escaped the legal system. Traumatized by childhood events, he says he’s incapable of feeling any emotion, except during criminal acts. In the end, it’s the character’s moral and psychological contradictions that make the series interesting.
The first book sets up the context (locations, characters, origins) of the first season, we’re therefore not surprised to see that Jeff Lindsay participated in writing several episodes. The rest of the series is an original story without links to the other books of the same author. The series and the books therefore quickly diverge into different and complementary stories.
Today, it’s one of the most watched series on Showtime. With an audience peak of 2,5 million viewers during the broadcast of the last episode of the fifth season.
Dexter goes viral in the UK
The FX channel set up a viral campaign to promote the launch of Dexter’s second season. The campaign was called “The Dexter Hit List” and its goal was to promote the series by building up fan interest.
The video application developed by the digital marketing agency Ralph & Co allowed internet users to send a personalized recording of a press conference and a text message from Dexter: “Hi. I’m coming to the UK sooner than expected. Dexter”
This text message was followed by an email with the personalized press conference. The surprise was in the content: London police identified the recipient as the potential target of a crime, referring to Dexter as “The Bay Harbor Butcher” as the press nicknamed him in the TV series.
The jokesters could record their own questions and witness reports to influence the content of the video. They could also choose the questions that the journalists would ask the police officer during the press conference. The recipient of the video could see his name written on a list in blood on the letters shown by the police as proof: “You Are Next”
This was relayed by a print, TV and press campaign. The campaign created such a buzz in London that Scotland Yard police received terrified calls to denounce the criminal. Yet another example of how hard it is to create efficient borders between fiction and reality.
But the results were there: for the first episode of season 2 on FX, 348 000 people were tuned in, one of the channel’s best audiences!
The blood fountains
Showtime and Pop2Life, an American marketing agency, created a street marketing event in the US to attract the audience’s
attention for the launch of the series’ second season. Twelve American cities got red public fountains.
The fountains became the “scenes of the crime”, surrounded by yellow tape marked with Dexter’s name.
Mobile crews in white coats were distributing promotional objects and free DVDs on the street. You can see pictures of all the cities touched by this epidemic, here.
Dexter on the front page
For the third season, Showtime launched an ad campaign spoofing the covers of different mainstream American magazines. Dexter is already nicknamed “America’s favorite serial killer”, he graced the covers of Wired, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, US Weekly and Rolling Stone, among others.
Creative Commons : Adam Crowe
Some magazines, such as Rolling Stone, had articles of six to eight pages about the new season.
To increase the impact of this campaign, the producers set up “Dexter news-stands” with fake magazines and promotional products.
Early Cuts : : the Dexter web series
Dexter’s fourth season marked the launch of its spin-off: “Dexter: Early Cuts”, an animated web-series positioned as the prequel to the series, aired on the Showtime website in 2009. To maintain the coherence with Dexter’s universe, the main character Michael C. Hall dubbed the voice of his character.
Produced by KTV Media International, the web episodes were directed by Bullseye Art, a web animation collective. The directors worked with illustrators such as Kyle Baker, Ty Templeton, Andrés Vera Martinez and Devin Lawson. The story for animation purists is that the episodes were animated in 2.5D style, meaning that two dimensional illustrations were animated in a three dimensional space.
The narrative of the web-series takes place during the chase of the serial killer of three victims mentioned in the sixth episode of the first season, “Return to Sender”. Each victim’s story is divided into two minute chapters.
“Dexter: Early Cuts” aims to give a better understanding of the character’s complex reasoning and reveal the development of his sociopath behavior, progressively unveiled under the guardianship of this adoptive father Harry. Early Cuts explores Dexter’s beginnings and technical progression.
Early Cuts : Dark Echo, a second season on the web
This second season of the web-series Early Cuts came out in October 2010 during the San Diego Comic-Con. Written by Tim Schlattmann, the TV series’ co-producer, and illustrated by two artists with different graphic universes, Bill Sienkiewicz and David Mack, the story of this web-series begins just after Harry’s death, Dexter’s adoptive father.
Structured in six chapters: “Early Cuts: Dark Echo” presents a young Dexter at the medical school where he studies anatomy. He’s confronted to a killer who’s copying him but without respecting his “code” to only target murderers. It’s the first time that Dexter is confronted to ethical doubts.
Dexter Interactive Investigation : a real online investigation!
And a real success! Online since late 2010, this interactive video module directly implemented on Youtube, allows people to play detective, taking on Dexter’s role. For those who don’t know it yet, it’s really worth a detour!
Mini online and mobile games
Dexter Body Bag Toss is based on the same principle as the game Yeti Sport. If you’ve practiced your penguin throwing skills in the last few years, you’ll understand what I mean.
In this mini Flash game, Dexter is on his boat and your goal is to throw a garbage bag containing the pieces of his last victim as far as possible. The interest and gameplay is quite limited. But the fact that it’s based on a pre existing game model must have considerably diminished development costs.
The game Where’s Dexter is much more fun. After the Yeti game, you must have already played “Where’s Charlie?” The idea is similar, you must find Dexter in the middle of a crowd (since he always tries to be as discreet as possible and can easily find his prey). Available on Youtube, you must click directly in the video when you’ve spotted him to go to the next level.
The Blood Spatter Analysis game will teach you to identify which weapons were used for a crime as well as Dexter.
On IPhone (4,99€) and iPad (5,99€) you can take Dexter’s role in a 3D game. On your smartphone, you can also play a little game for free, where you have to put pieces of a photo of Dexter back into the right order (not revolutionary…) or, for 0,79€, you can take a little quiz about the series. Another application for fans, Dexter Insider Plus, is a database of the series, available for 2,39€.
The Hunter Prey : the Dexter ARG
Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, mobile applications, mirror sites etc. were used in the following steps and all along in the investigation. The video below is a good summary of the game. Here, you’ll find some more info about the game in French, or you can go directly on the website of the ARG The Hunter Prey
The Twitter account , has no less than 105 000 followers, with frequently updated statuses allowing fans to follow all the series’ news.
Street marketing in Madrid
For the launch of season 4 in Spain, a street marketing campaign was set up in Madrid. It might be in bad taste, but nonetheless efficient. Discover it on video, the images speak for themselves…
For fans looking for extra information
An official Wiki of series fans is available on DexterWiki
You can also discover the box containing all of Dexter’s victims blood samples, with complete information about each one.
If you know of other elements of Dexter’s transmedia system, don’t hesitate to share them with us in the comments!