Examining the fan labor of episodic TV podcast hosts

Lauren Savit

Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, United States

[0.1] Abstract—In podcasting—an understudied site of fan engagement—hosts of episodic TV podcasts, who are self-professed fans of a particular television series, engage in their fandom through a particular form of fan labor: producing and hosting a weekly podcast. Hosting an episodic TV podcast is a form of digital fan labor situated within the online fan gift economy. The resulting subcultural celebrity status that the hosts attain is ultimately what drives them to continue podcasting, regardless of any financial incentives that may arise from hosting a successful podcast. Through interviews with the hosts of the Friends (NBC, 1994–2004) podcast Best of Friends (2015–), Erin Mallory Long and Jamie Woodham, it becomes clear that by closely examining the different modes of fandoms that emerge from episodic TV podcasts, we can expand legible fan studies methodologies and apply them in the study of new and emerging fan practices and behaviors.

[0.2] Keywords—Best of Friends; Fans with fans; Friends; Gift economy; Subcultural celebrity

Savit, Lauren. 2020. "Examining the Fan Labor of Episodic TV Podcast Hosts." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 34.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The ubiquity of podcasting poses a dilemma for fan studies researchers. On the one hand, podcasting has been recognized in the field as an emergent technology, with scholars like Busse (2006) and Diffrient (2010) acknowledging that the unique attributes of podcasting enable a kind of online fan community. Similarly, Włodarczyk and Tyminka (2015) have recognized the potential that podcasts have as objects of fandom, using the popular Welcome to Night Vale (2012–) as one useful example. Yet, little scholarship exists that considers both the practice of podcasting itself as a kind of fan behavior and podcasts as objects of fandom simultaneously. This gap in the literature is evident when considering a particular genre within podcasting: the episodic TV podcast. These podcasts are dedicated to examining a particular television series by engaging with it through episode-by-episode analysis, one or two episodes at a time. This type of podcast not only demonstrates the convergence of old and new media technologies afforded through podcasting but also reveals how podcasting is "a good example of the way the divide between consumers and creators has become more complicated" (Busse 2006). While the phenomenon of episodic TV podcasts is well reported in mainstream media and entertainment news outlets, to date it has been given less attention within the academy (note 1).

[1.2] Just a few of the seemingly countless examples of episodic TV podcasts include Go Bayside (2013–17), which analyzed episodes of Saved by the Bell (NBC 1989–93); Out on the Lanai (2014–2019), which delved into The Golden Girls (NBC 1985–92); and the Best of Friends Podcast (2015–2019), which takes Friends (NBC, 1994–2004) as its source text for episodic analysis. In terms of both form and content, each of the aforementioned podcasts are nearly identical: one or two hosts frequently joined by one or more guests comedically discuss and debate plot, characters, the political economy of the production and reception of the episode, and finally, their affective responses to each episode. For the most part, these podcast series release episodes on a weekly basis, but their creative output often extends much further than their hosting and producing duties, including maintaining social media accounts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and/or Instagram where they interact with their followers.

[1.3] In attempting to critically examine my own fandom of podcasts such as Go Bayside, Out on the Lanai, and especially the Best of Friends Podcast, I started to think about how fan studies scholars might apply established methodologies and theoretical frameworks to episodic TV podcasts, particularly given that they represent and engage with a number of different modes of fandom. The very existence of a television podcast signals a robust fan community for the podcast's original source text: the TV show. Additionally, as these podcasts grow in popularity, they develop fandoms of their own, creating even more specialized fandoms in the process. With the success of the episodic TV podcast, three distinct fan groups emerge: the fan-producers who create and host the episodic TV podcast; fans of the original source text who then also identify as fans of the podcast; and finally, people who were not fans of the original source material but still listen to and identify as fans of the podcast. While each group merits critical examination, the group that most clearly illustrates the unique form of fannish production and consumption that podcasts enable are the hosts. That is, individuals who have elected to enact their television fandom through the fan labor of producing an episodic TV podcast.

[1.4] In the following article I argue that the work of podcast hosts is part of a lineage of digital fan labor, rendering episodic TV podcasts as a kind of fannish object. At the same time, because these podcasts attract fans themselves, I contend that episodic TV podcasts are simultaneously fan objects, turning the hosts into subcultural celebrities within the larger fandom. As part of my analysis, I explore this slippage between being a fan of an episodic TV podcast as a text and being a fan of the hosts. In doing so I challenge previous understandings of fan hierarchies, be it the fantrepreneur or the Big Name Fan (BNF), further underscoring the unique fannish production and consumption practices of episodic TV podcasts. In the end, my hope is to demonstrate that by closely examining episodic TV podcasts as both a fannish object and a fan object, fan studies scholars can continue to expand legible fan studies methodologies and apply them to the study of new and emerging fan practices and behaviors.

2. Case study: The Best of Friends Podcast

[2.1] In order to examine how episodic TV podcasts are both fannish objects and fan objects, I conducted a case study of the Best of Friends Podcast. Launched on December 31, 2014, to coincide with Netflix's January 1, 2015, release of all ten seasons of Friends on the streaming platform, the Best of Friends Podcast (BoF) is a weekly podcast in which cohosts Jamie Woodham and Erin Mallory Long (note 2) analyze and examine two episodes of Friends. Although it has gone through various affiliations with podcast networks, currently I consider BoF to be an independent venture that relies on the fan labor of Woodham and Long, and in turn contributions from their fans.

[2.2] Each podcast episode (ranging from one to two hours in length) begins with a short audio clip from one of the Friends episodes that Woodham, Long, and the occasional guest will be discussing that week. Next, the BoF theme song plays—a cover of "I'll Be There for You," the Friends theme song sung by The Rembrandts—which is then followed by some opening banter from the hosts. The first segment proper is the "The Lightning Round," in which Woodham and Long respond to emails from the podcast fans, whom they refer to as the Friendlings. Woodham and Long's identities as Friends fans is even more apparent during the second half of the podcast, in which they discuss two episodes from the series in minute detail. Here, Woodham and Long not only recount major plot points and jokes but also discuss their affective responses to the episodes, while at the same time considering the writing, production, and reception of the episodes, both contemporaneously as well as when they initially aired. As television writers and producers themselves—positions I discuss at length later in this article—occasionally Woodham and Long will draw on their professional identities to offer story ideas that might make the episode work better. After a more freewheeling discussion of each episode, the hosts and the guest(s) pick their best friend of the episode, followed by rating it on a scale of 0 to 5, and finally suggesting alternative titles for each Friends episode. Similar to "The Lightning Round," each of these segments are rife with inside jokes between the hosts and the Friendlings (the special nickname the hosts gave to the fans) utilizing repeated catchphrases and showcasing the endearing and idiosyncratic behaviors of both Woodham and Long. That the podcast features not just any Friends fans but Woodham and Long specifically is where I decided to begin my research on episodic TV podcasts, looking purposely at how the hosts leveraged their positionalities as both industry insiders and Friends mega fans to create the podcast, resulting in BoF—and by extension Woodham and Long—garnering fans of their own.

[2.3] Upon reaching out to the hosts via email in February 2017 to inquire about potentially interviewing them for my project, I conducted an in-depth interview with Erin Mallory Long and Jamie Woodham on April 9, 2017, via Google Hangout, the audio of which I recorded and later transcribed. Additionally, Woodham and Long gave informed consent to my conducting and recording the interview and later reviewed the article and gave their permission to include all of the information and quotations contained herein. We spoke for approximately one hour about their experiences as the Best of Friends Podcast hosts, podcasting as a medium in general, the scope of Friends fandom, and the Friendlings. Although the interview was open-ended and I generally followed the flow of conversation, I prepared a list of interview questions ahead of time, which I have included at the end of this article as an Appendix.

[2.4] As is perhaps evident by my in-depth knowledge of BoF, I will pause here to disclose my dual Friends and BoF fandom. I am a self-identified Friendling, and although I am not the explicit object of study here, my own relationship to and fandom of Woodham and Long as the hosts of the Best of Friends Podcast and within the larger scope of Friends fandom is always implicitly present. Thus, while I will not be overtly conducting an autoethnography of my overlapping fandoms of Friends and BoF, I will be using autoethnography as "both process and product" (Ellis, Adams, and Bochner 2011, 273) in order to manage and critically examine my own fandom of Woodham and Long. This was—and is—vitally important to me throughout the researching and writing phases of this article, including as part of my preparation and interview with Woodham and Long in order to examine their particular experiences with fandom.

[2.5] In addition to exploring how episodic TV podcasts are simultaneously fannish and fan objects in and of themselves, I also specifically chose BoF for my case study in order to fill a gap in the literature on fans of episodic television such as sitcoms, or texts that don't conform to cult, complex, or hypermythologized genre premises (note 3). In doing so, my analysis provides a space to broaden the kinds of fan communities that fan studies scholars tend to examine by demonstrating the ways in which the robust Friendling community is declaring their fandom of one of the most popular television sitcoms of the 1990s and early 2000s—if not ever. As self-identified Friends super fans, both Woodham and Long acknowledge that engaging with or enacting Friends fandom is a little bit more difficult than other kinds of media- or television-related fandoms. According to Woodham, Friends "lacks a certain degree of fandom because it's so popular and successful, which is a really weird Catch-22. It's almost too big to have any sort of true fandom because it would be easier to put together a club of people that don't like it than [those] who do," adding that unlike most science fiction or cult TV series with long entrenched, active fandoms, "there's inherently no mythology or background for the most part" when it comes to the Friends universe (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017).

[2.6] On the other hand, its ubiquity and popularity for the last twenty-five years has led some, like Long, to realize how much they are fans of the series. She told me: "so many people don't realize that they're fans [of Friends]. They think, 'Oh yeah, I've seen Friends before,' and then they realize, 'Oh no I've seen every single episode, like, eight times!' At least, that's what happened to me. I feel like I didn't realize that I loved Friends for a very long time, and then I was like, 'Oh! I think this is my favorite show. I think this is the show I watch the most!'" (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017). For Long, the post-object status of Friends enabled her to identify so strongly as a fan as a result of the long term availability and accessibility of the series. In her expansive study on the subject, Rebecca Williams (2015) identified post-object fandom as fandom of texts that are dormant, or as with the case of television texts, no longer producing new episodes. Yet in many instances, such as with Friends fandom in general and the BoF hosts in particular, Williams notes that "fan attachment will not necessarily end in the post-object period" (16). As part of an overall survey on post-object television fandom, Williams found that "while the show itself was of key importance, continued engagement with fellow fans was important for many respondents, with 60 percent continuing to discuss their fandom via social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, and 27 percent discussing online on message boards and fan forums" (42). Though her study did not account for podcast production or consumption as a kind of fan engagement, in the following section I argue that BoF is both a mode of continued engagement for Friends fans in the post-object period and a way for Woodham and Long to enact their fandom as a form of digital labor. Thus, I first identify episodic TV podcasts as a fannish object by establishing it as part of a lineage of digital fan labor before delving into the ways in which it is simultaneously a fan object as well.

3. Episodic TV podcasts as a form of digital fan labor

[3.1] Since podcasts are frequently omitted from lists of fan works, I demonstrate here that episodic TV podcasts are an example of digital fan labor, even as they engender unique fandoms of their own, because for many, producing and hosting a podcast is an online activity done apart from one's waged labor. Tiziana Terranova (2000) was one of the earliest scholars to theorize the ways in which online activity done beyond the scope of work, or earning a wage in exchange for one's labor, still constitutes a form of labor. Terranova's influential scholarship on digital labor is important because it recognizes how the digital economy, or labor done on and for the internet, is "labor we do not immediately recognize as such" (38). In other words, labor that does not arise out of "the economic needs of capital" but rather labor that enables the development and flow of knowledge, culture, and affect (38). For Terranova, the emergence of new digital technologies is what facilitated this type of nonwork labor, and the accessibility of podcasting production and consumption makes it an ideal site for such digital labor.

[3.2] However, other key cultural considerations within late capitalist societies also play a role in normalizing the prevalence of digital labor. Eileen R. Meehan (2000) argues that this kind of nonwork labor has always occurred within industrialized American society because leisure has become conflated with consumption, which in turn becomes another form of labor. She writes that leisure time is either spent outside the home in "the workplace of others," such as supermarkets, theme parks, sports arenas, movie theaters, and shopping malls, or in the home, but is "increasingly depend[ent] on mass-produced media" such as television and video games (77). As she summarizes it: "Leisure time spent working with media, then, becomes a necessary element of contemporary [late] capitalism" (78). That we are constantly engaged in labor during our nonwork time, particularly for the digital economy as it relates to media, should come as no surprise to those of us living in a postindustrial, late capitalist United States. Yet, it is also important to note the extent to which this labor can be understood as fannish behavior, which is perhaps not quite as obvious.

[3.3] The work of fan studies scholars such as Abigail De Kosnik (2013) and Tisha Turk (2014) articulates how fan practices are a form of labor situated directly within the realm of leisure. De Kosnik says that, most broadly, "fandom is a form of free labor," and that any sort of fan production constitutes a "category of work" (189). By categorizing fan practices as work within the scope of one's leisure time, De Kosnik also argues that by its very nature, fandom adds or creates exchange value (200). Yet according to De Kosnik, the majority of fans do not see it this way. As she is quick to note, most fans believe that instead of adding or creating exchange value, they simply add personal value through their labor (200), which they are then more than happy to share online for free (202). For instance, Turk contributes further to De Kosnik's argument, detailing the specific ways that digital fan labor adds exchange value to objects beyond the realm of fan art, such as fanfic or fan vids, but is in fact rigorous and necessary "behind-the-scenes labor," ( ¶ 2.3). This labor is done by fans for fans, but for the most part is situated within the realm of leisure. Thus, fan studies scholars argue that it is vitally important to recognize this creative fan output as a form of labor that adds exchange value to objects—both material and ephemeral—that is then distributed and shared among an online fan community entirely for free.

[3.4] While neither De Kosnik (2013) nor Turk (2014) appear to be discussing podcasting as either a form of digital fan labor or an online fan community, I argue that the work that hosts of episodic TV podcasts do to produce their podcasts is indicative of the same kind of digital fan labor that is freely distributed and widely circulated within other online fan communities. Podcasts are also a useful example of fan labor because they are an example of "produsage culture," which is an "open feedback system where people, often amateurs, collaboratively produce, consume, and interact about and through content" (Markman 2011, 549). Thus, episodic TV podcasts and the fan communities of which they are a part and that they engender are precisely the kind of online fan communities that run on the forms of fan labor as described by both De Kosnik and Turk.

[3.5] Significantly, Woodham and Long work on BoF in their leisure time. Of course, this does not mean that producing, hosting, and distributing the podcast—not to mention interacting with the Friendlings through social media—is not a significant amount of labor. Between the two of them, the workload breaks down as follows: Long does most of the pre-production, including scheduling the podcast recording times and booking the guests, while Woodham is responsible for most of the post-production, including editing the episodes and pulling the audio clips, writing the show descriptions, and posting the episodes to iTunes (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017). Additionally, Long is responsible for maintaining the podcast's social media presence, and also was the one I corresponded with to schedule our interview. While both cohosts contribute equally during the recording of the podcast episodes, they each play a role as part of their hosting personas. Long usually plays the straight man to Woodham's comic foil. This even extends to how they interact with the Friendlings and/or guests during recordings: Long is usually responsible for keeping the episode on track, while Woodham often engages in recurring comedic bits throughout.

[3.6] That said, the tremendous amount of labor Woodham and Long put into producing, hosting, and distributing the podcast have ancillary benefits, despite the fact that there are "little to no financial benefits" for the hosts resulting directly from BoF (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017). According to Woodham, the show is self-sustaining, in that they have always been able to generate a small amount of income that covers the costs of operations, which for non-network affiliated podcasts generally includes hosting services and perhaps audio equipment. While BoF has not incorporated advertising into its episodes since early 2016 and thus does not rely on ad revenue, it has in the past utilized Patreon, an online crowdfunding platform where fans can contribute monthly donations to help offset the costs of producing the podcast. BoF has had as many as 108 monthly patrons, contributing approximately $1,300 annually. Thus, while this example shows how the production and distribution of BoF are a part of the lineage of digital fan labor done during one's leisure time, that they are able to crowdfund through Patreon reveals that episodic TV podcasts are not exactly like other fannish objects.

4. Between a fan-professional and a professional fan

[4.1] Perhaps the biggest difference between episodic TV podcasts like BoF and other kinds of fan works is that its presence within a fan gift economy is a bit more complicated. According to De Kosnik (2013), the aforementioned gift economy is "one framework that affinity groups use to characterize their modes of exchange without pay" (202). Turk (2014) further explains that this is usually not a reciprocal or one-to-one exchange, but often a "circular" or "one-to-many" exchange, in which "some gifts are made for and presented to specific fans…[that] are typically made available not only to one individual but to the community as a whole" ( ¶ 3.1). While this is a useful explanation of BoF, which hosts and self-ascribed Friends fans Woodham and Long have made available to anyone who identifies as a Friends fan, it does not account for the previously mentioned Patreon account and the hosts' ability to raise money in order to produce and distribute the podcast. Similarly, as mentioned previously, both Woodham and Long are writers and comedians based in Los Angeles and are employed in the entertainment industries. While this does not detract from the labor of producing BoF or from their self-professed Friends fandom, it is vital to consider not only how their professional lives and their fan identities impact and inform one another but also how this separates the podcast from other fannish objects within the gift economy.

[4.2] In terms of their professional backgrounds, both Woodham and Long work in television: Woodham as a writer for the animated web series Talking Tom and Friends and Long as a producer for the E! network. Their positions from within the entertainment industries allow them to harness their talents as writers, comedians, and producers when hosting BoF. Their inside knowledge coupled with their industry connections and access to guests with similar comedic talents has been vital to the success of the podcast. This was also an important factor for Woodham and Long in even starting the podcast; they acknowledge that they were "in a good position [for hosting a podcast], both being writers and comedians in entertainment, so it wasn't weird for us to bring our own flavor and voice to something and have people respond to that positively because that's kind of the goal of all of the stuff we do. We were able to combine an aspect of what we do here in LA, with something we're also a fan of" (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017). In other words, the BoF hosts have married their professional identities as writer-producers with their fan identities, occupying both simultaneously.

[4.3] In this way, Woodham and Long have not only leveraged their professional skills to enact their fandom by producing and hosting BoF but also have gained fans of their own in the process. In the remainder of this section, I differentiate Woodham and Long from previous scholarship on the professionalization of fan labor, specifically the Big Name Fan (BNF) and the fantrepreneur. Significantly, both the post-object and mainstream status of Friends precludes Woodham and Long from either the BNF or the fantrepreneur designation. According to Suzanne Scott's (2019) analysis of the professionalization of fandom, "many BNFs derive their status from the perceived 'quality' (e.g., professionalism) of their work, and invitations to become officially and promotionally affiliated with the object of their fandom are explicitly bound up with their capacity to professionalize" (146). According to this logic, because Woodham and Long have the abilities and insider knowledge to produce a well-received episodic TV podcast, they in turn might receive access to official Friends promotional channels, be it through Warner Bros. Television, the studio that produced and distributes the series, or Netflix, the streaming platform that they and most of the Friendlings use to consume the series alongside the podcast (note 4). While the post-object status of the series limits the extent to which there remain official promotional channels that Woodham and Long might gain access to, the hosts also recognize the freedom they have to produce the podcast in any way they see fit. By not entering into any kind of formal or compensatory relationship with either the studio or the primary platform that distributes Friends, Woodham and Long are able to host a podcast that accurately reflects their identities as fans but which also includes frequent and not unwarranted critiques of the series, or the context in which it was created. As Long put it, "I definitely think that if [Warner Bros. or Netflix] were sponsoring us, we would have to produce a very different show" (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017).

[4.4] Similarly, Scott's (2019) multipronged understanding of the fantrepreneur also doesn't quite capture how Woodham and Long are fusing their personal identities as Friends fans with their professional identities as writers and comedians. Most generally, Scott uses the term fantrepreneur to describe someone "who openly leverages or strategically adopts a fannish identity for their own professional advancement" (169). While I am not suggesting that there are no professional gains or opportunities for self-branding to be had through hosting an episodic TV podcast (quite the opposite is true), I am arguing that Woodham and Long's Friends fandom was not strategically adopted for these purposes, especially considering that the series is a widely syndicated sitcom. As Scott further delineates the meaning of fantrepreneurs, she notes that they "are adept at capitalizing on the mainstreaming of geek and fan culture, using their preexisting ties to various fan communities to build a network of collaborators and followers" (169). I contend Woodham and Long are doing just the opposite: instead of capitalizing on the mainstreaming of geek culture, they are creating a space for a more niche or specialized fandom of a mainstream, globally popular text.

[4.5] Thus, rather than identifying them as Big Name Fans (BNFs) or fantrepreneurs, I argue that as the hosts of an episodic TV podcast, Woodham and Long have become subcultural celebrities within Friends fandom because they were able to carve out a community of Friends fans by creating both a fannish and a fan object with their episodic TV podcast. They are able to achieve their subcultural celebrity statuses through hosting, producing, and distributing their podcast, which serves as a conduit between Woodham and Long and any number of fans within the community they generated through their fan labor. Additionally, the DIY nature of podcasting as an emerging media form facilitates a kind of "authentic presentation" (Symons 2017, 107) that further enables Woodham and Long to connect with members of the fan community of which they are both a part and one that they engendered. According to Matt Hills (2006), this kind of "niche-media reputation" is a viable way to not only achieve subcultural celebrity status but also helps to sustain it over a prolonged period of time (106).

[4.6] A number of factors have contributed to Woodham and Long attaining subcultural celebrity status among the Friendlings, the niche Friends fan community that subscribes to their podcast (note 5). First and foremost is the continued production of BoF, which is in a second round of recapping and analyzing episodes following its initial completion of the series, as well as its spin-off series Joey (NBC, 2004–6). I identify the ongoing existence of the podcast and the continued interest in it as a "subculturally-valorized achievement" (Hills 2006, 115) continuously celebrated by the podcast's fans as something that has helped Woodham and Long actively achieve and maintain their subcultural celebrity statuses. It is significant, however, that this Friendling feedback loop further inculcates a sense of subcultural celebrity for BoF hosts. Media podcasts in general, and TV-related podcasts in particular, have a tendency to rearticulate relationships between fans, casual viewers, and the power of the entertainment industry that originally produced the TV series on which a podcast is based (Busse 2006). Put another way, though the podcast started off as a means for Woodham and Long to enact their long-standing Friends fandom and was further bolstered by their professional skills, that they themselves gained fans as a result of BoF is crucial to understanding episodic TV podcasts as fan objects. In the remainder of this article I examine the various types of fan interaction between the Friendlings and the podcast hosts, demonstrating the extent to which through their hosting duties they have become Friends fans with fans of their own.

5. Fans of Friends with fans of their own

[5.1] Perhaps the clearest example of the extent to which Woodham and Long have attracted fans of their own through the podcast is through their interactions with BoF listeners, whom the hosts refer to as the Friendlings. This is most apparent during The Lightning Round segment of the podcast, in which Woodham and Long read and answer fan email sent in by the aforementioned Friendlings. It is important to note that this segment is exemplary of the kind of fan practices the Friendlings have adopted in order to pay tribute to their fandom of BoF and by extension Woodham and Long themselves. For instance, the vast majority of the emails sent in by the Friendlings have emojis as subject lines, a suggestion Woodham and Long made offhandedly early in the podcast's run that is now tradition. Too, it has become something of a game between the hosts and the Friendlings during this segment, in which cohost Long must describe each emoji in the subject line before reading the email aloud. In discussing this practice during my interview, Long shared her initial surprise at how earnestly the Friendlings take their suggestions, saying: "Once the emoji-subject line thing started I was like, 'Wow, this is crazy!' I just said this [nonchalantly] and then it's a thing that happens" (Woodham and Long, personal interview, April 9, 2017). It is also important to note that the content of the emails generally consists of questions that ask Woodham and Long to draw upon their expertise as the BoF hosts and Friends fans as they ruminate on and ultimately discuss their answers, taking up the bulk of the segment. Lastly, these Friendling emails frequently refer to inside jokes or colloquialisms used by Woodham and Long, or reference prevalent themes from past podcast episodes. Altogether, this segment demonstrates the extent to which Woodham and Long have not only become subcultural celebrities within a certain sect of Friends fandom but also are hailed by the Friendlings as Friends megafans.

[5.2] Here, the Friendlings project any knowledge they may have of the series onto BoF hosts, rendering themselves casual viewers who are less informed than Woodham and Long, regardless of whether this is actually true. The resulting dichotomy between Friendlings as theoretically subpar fans to Woodham and Long's proto-fannish authority should be read as a result of their subcultural celebrity status within the Friends fandom they have cultivated through the podcast rather than something the two of them ever stated outright. Although Woodham mentioned to me that when it comes to fandom of sitcoms, a genre which often lacks the ingrained mythology of a sci-fi or cult series, he and Long are "about as big of experts as you can be." I argue that this is symptomatic of the elevated subcultural celebrity status he and Long have achieved through their hosting duties of BoF and not something they consciously believed in December 2014 when the podcast began.

[5.3] Indeed, their subcultural celebrity status is something that Woodham and Long are continually negotiating with, even nearly five years and 189 episodes into hosting the podcast. As Long told me, "We started [the podcast] because we're fans of Friends, but I think our fandom of Friends has changed so much from doing this. And that has partly to do with having fans ourselves, [and] seeing what other people react to or what opinions we have about the show that other people respond to. We get comments that are more about our interactions than about anything we actually talk about [with regards to] Friends." Again, as evident by the content of the emails read aloud during "The Lightning Round," fans of BoF are quite fond of Woodham and Long's dynamic, one which is not only evident from listening to the podcast on a regular basis but one which they still maintained (whether intentionally or not) throughout my interview. Thus, I argue that it is not only the existence of the podcast or their Friends expertise on display during it that has helped them achieve subcultural celebrity status but also their ability to entertain beyond the scope of their Friends fandom.

[5.4] However, despite their goal of entertaining others through discussions of Friends and their fandom of the show, having fans of their own is something with which Woodham and Long are obviously still grappling. As I noted earlier, Long acknowledged that her and Woodham's fandom of Friends has changed as they have incorporated how listeners and Friendlings respond to the podcast into their production and recording of it. As evidenced by our conversation and the hundreds of hours I have spent listening to BoF, it is clear that while the hosts and the listeners share a common affinity for the show Friends, the fannish object Woodham and Long have created with BoF has also resulted in a fan community centered around the podcast as an object of fandom in and of itself. Comparing a December 2018 podcast episode dedicated to Woodham and Long's rewatch of the season one Friends episode "The One with the Butt" with the podcast episode from January 2015 during their original viewing reveals the extent to which the podcast has shifted from being a space for the hosts to engage with their fandom of Friends to a site where Woodham and Long engage with Friendlings' fandom of BoF. Not only was more than half of the more recent episode segment-free, mostly serving as a showcase for their personalities, but also when they did eventually delve into segments such as The Lightning Round in which they read an email aloud from a German Friendling, it was about a completely different episode than the one Woodham and Long were scheduled to discuss. That the fan writing in was more interested in facilitating Woodham and Long bantering in a manner only tangentially related to Friends demonstrates how much the BoF fans are drawn to the hosts and their personas, even beyond Woodham and Long's Friends fandom. The fact that now a vital part of every podcast episode includes the Friendlings' enacting their fandom of BoF and the hosts—and rarely distinguishing between the two—is exemplary of the extent to which the Best of Friends Podcast is both a fannish object for Woodham and Long and a fan object of Woodham and Long. That a singular episodic TV podcast can engender such a consistent amount of fan activity demonstrates why studies such as these are important to the field of fan studies broadly, while also offering an example of how to incorporate a variety of established fan studies frameworks and ethnographic methodologies and apply them to emerging fan practices.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] The growth and continued popularity of the episodic TV podcast genre not only reveals a robust fandom for the podcast's source text (the original television series on which the podcast is based) but also reveals new and productive fandoms that merit further analyses, including the podcasts' hosts who demonstrate their fandom to the source text by creating and producing a podcast dedicated to it; podcast listeners who also identify as fans of the original source text; and listeners who do not identify at all as fans of the source text, but do identify as fans of the podcast, and by extension, the podcast hosts.

[6.2] In this article I have examined the first set of fans identified above, the podcast hosts, by conducting a case study of the Best of Friends Podcast, hosted by self-professed Friends super fans Erin Mallory Long and Jamie Woodham. In looking at how the podcast is both a fannish object fueled by the digital fan labor of the hosts, who as Hollywood insiders occupy a liminal space between fan and professional, I have also argued that BoF has become a fan object in and of itself. I conclude that this simultaneous status as both fannish object and fan object suggests that TV and media-related podcasts in general, and episodic TV podcasts in particular, represent a unique form of fannish production and consumption. It is my hope that fan studies scholars, myself included, can continue to examine the intricate fandoms surrounding episodic TV podcasts in order to learn even more about what they can tell us about contemporary television fandom.

[6.3] Some potential future avenues that research on episodic TV podcasts can take is to consider the identity politics of the hosts and how that affects the dynamics of the relationship between fans of the source text, fans of the podcast, and the hosts. For instance, Gilmore Guys started with the premise that two men (hosts Kevin T. Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe) watching Gilmore Girls would have a different experience of watching the series than the predominantly young and female audience of the source material, Gilmore Girls. Another example is Out on the Lanai, an episodic TV podcast dedicated to The Golden Girls, which is cohosted by Kerri Doherty and H. Alan Scott, an openly gay man whose personal fandom and experience of hosting the podcast speaks to the ways in which the series has been queered as it is recirculated and reinterpreted decades after going off the air (Patterson 2016). Lastly, future work might also be interested in examining the accessibility that podcasting offers as a purely audio medium for disabled television fans, and how episodic TV podcasts may further empower marginalized television fans who are not usually considered in studies of television fandom. With the inclusion of episodic TV podcasts in analyses of fan practices, the possibilities are almost endless.

7. Appendix

[7.1] The following is the list of questions I used to help guide my interview with Jamie Woodham and Erin Mallory Long conducted on April 9, 2017.

1. What labor is involved in putting out this podcast every week, and how do you two break it down?

2. What costs are involved?

3. Do you get any material or affective benefits from doing the podcast?

4. Do you find that there are professional benefits with regards to the entertainment industry in doing the podcast, since you showcase your name and brand every week?

5. With this in mind, do you find the work/labor pleasurable? Do you still enjoy it?

6. Has anything surprised you about doing the podcast? Anything you were not anticipating?

7. Do you ever think about how much free advertising or labor you're doing for Netflix and Warner Bros? How do you feel about that? Do you have any concerns about playing unlicensed clips at the beginning of every episode?

8. Do you feel a kind of authority over Friends fandom now? Or television fandom in general? Do you feel affinity with podcast hosts for other TV shows?

9. I'm curious about the move away from the HeadGum Podcast Network; would you be willing to talk about what led to that decision and how the podcast has changed?

10. How do you feel now that although you're Friends fans engaged in a fan practice, a fandom has built up around BoF as a fan text?

11. Do you have a sense of how big the BoF audience is? Do you have a sense of the gender breakdown? How many people write in, or approximate download information?

12. Where do you see the podcast in relationship to other Friends fan practices?

13. How do you feel about all of the fan labor the Friendlings do for the podcast? For example, the Friendling who compiles the stats, or that it sounds like Friendlings provided you with Joey episodes?

14. How do you feel about podcasting as an emerging media industry? Is there any professionalization to it happening that you see, whether it is through unionizing or developing a guild?

8. Notes

1. Besides the recent Welcome to Nightvale article cited previously, for earlier scholarship on television, podcasting, and fandom see also Tussey and Ellcessor (2015).

2. As of November 2019, the podcast has been on an extended hiatus, with no new episodes released since episode 189: "The One With Friendsgivings Past." Additionally, from December 31, 2014 to January 27, 2016 (Episode 57: "The One with Krista's Farewell") the podcast was also hosted by Krista Doyle. Doyle's relocation from Los Angeles, CA to Austin, TX for a job opportunity prompted her to leave the podcast. However, she still occasionally records episodes, and by all appearances maintains good relationships with both Woodham and Long. Although I do not discuss Doyle's fan labor or her subcultural celebrity status in this article, it is important to recognize both.

3. For work that specifically examines cult television, podcasting, and fandom, see Kompare (2011). In attempting to complicate the notion of television authorship, his study focused on showrunners of series like Lost (ABC, 2004–2010) and Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Channel, 2004–2009) who adopted a fannish approach when podcasting about the television programs they created and/or executive produced.

4. Although at the time of my interview and writing Netflix was home to the streaming rights, as of May 2020 Friends is only available to stream cost-free for subscribers of HBO Max, a new streaming service from WarnerMedia.

5. While Woodham and Long did not disclose much in the way of audience data to me during our conversation, they did indicate that the number of downloads within the first three days of the podcast becoming available has remained consistent, which they believe is representative of the size of their fandom. Of course, podcast download numbers do not necessarily correlate directly to listeners, and despite the steady number, this does not necessarily indicate fandom.

9. References

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