Study shows viewers develop relationship with TV characters

If you watch a TV show enough, it may feel like the characters on the show are your real friends.

The Journal of Broadcasting and Public Media conducted a study on parasocial relationships that determined for some people, it's not uncommon to feel as though a real friendship has ended when a Television show goes off the air.

Jeffrey Weinstock, professor of English who teaches ENG 324: Popular Culture in America, said the most intense relationships between viewers and characters are created by genre programs such as science fiction, fantasy or horror.

"People talk about these programs online and they feel like they were made for them," he said. "I was sad to see Twin Peaks go, I still feel like I have a relationship with the characters."

Weinstock said he can understand having a relationship with TV characters because people become invested in the characters they watch.

He said it is easier to develop relationships with characters on dramas or sitcoms because it is easy to relate with them.

"I watch a lot of 'South Park,' but I don't have a relationship with any of the characters because 'South Park' doesn't try to represent itself as the real world," he said.

Curt Sutterfield, a broadcast and cinematic arts faculty member, said he cares about certain characters from "Greek" because he can identify with them.

"TV characters are always in extreme situations which ups the drama," he said. "In real-life, it would be much more mundane."

He said that in the extreme situations that TV characters are in, it is easier to care about them than a real person on a surface level.

"Even fights on Facebook aren't nearly as interesting as fights on 'Desperate Housewives,'" he said.

Sutterfield said that a relationship between a TV character becomes more real when the show reflects real life.

He said that Ross and Rachel's relationship on Friends was so popular because the relationship showed a level of reality.

"Ross was a geek that represented our flaws and Rachel was the perfect person," he said. "They needed reasons why a girl like Rachel would fall for a guy like Ross."

Sutterfield said he's built a relationship with every character he's ever watched, which is the driving force of any show.

James Carroll, a psychology faculty member, said many people he knew were sad when M*A*S*H went off the air.

"If a person is similar to someone on the screen and that person went away, that could intensify into a feeling of loss that could even turn into a form of mild depression," he said.

He said with things like Netflix, where you can watch reruns, people with such relationships will never be without friends.

"As we grow and get older, Alan Alda (from M*A*S*H) will still be in Korea doing his thing," he said.