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In a nutshell, fans are asked to send in stuff that will be put into the show's Canon. It could range from lines of dialogue, to costume/monster/vehicle designs, to entire plot points.
A common form is to directly ask fans for stuff, and they send it in. Sometimes there is a contest for a major thing to incorporate. Credit is usually given to the senders, partly as a courtesy to the fans, and partly to avoid Plagiarism.
This may or may not be considered a good thing. If fan-created elements seem to take over the show, it can be seen as the writers going creatively bankrupt. On the other hand, some elements help the fans feel like they are part of the show, helping old and new fans stay invested.
A Sister Trope to Ascended Fanon, Ascended Meme (neither one is directly asked for, but they're still incorporated into canon), Fourth Wall Mail Slot (which is directly asked for, but usually isn't canon).
Anime and Manga
- The creators of Kinnikuman and Kinnikuman Nisei thrive off fan-submissions, with many of the series Ensemble Darkhorses coming from fan characters that caught on, such as Ramenman.
- In Zatch Bell, there was a contest where fans design their own mamodo child to feature on a card.
- The Toriko manga and anime has featured several beasts/ingredients which were the winning entries of contests to design them. The manga goes so far as to actually credit the designer of the beast/ingredient.
- To celebrate the hundredth episode of Shin Lupin III, fans were urged to send in ideas for capers for Lupin. Four ideas were chosen and turned into full episodes, and the fan who submitted the idea was listed in the credits as a "story consultant."
- The first half of episode 67 of Gintama was based on the winning submission for a contest to create an amanto character.
- The 1980s version of the comic book Dial H for Hero had the protagonists use their H-dials to transform into fan-submitted characters.
- Katy Keene was able to have all that Costume Porn because the artists actually incorporated outfit submissions from fans. Virtually every submitted outfit has a caption nearby giving credit to whoever sent in the design.
- Millie the Model also incorporated costume submissions from fans.
- Patsy Walker also incorporated costume submissions from fans.
- Fans can have their submitted characters appear in Pride High. One fan-created character even joined the main cast.
- In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, at one point Pseudolus pretends to be a Fortune Teller to distract Erronius. He will sometimes turn to the audience and ask for help.
- Jet Jaguar in the film Godzilla vs. Megalon was based on a character created by a contest winner.
- Many of the later Xanth books incorporated puns from fans, and Piers Anthony would devote whole appendix chapters giving credit to the submitters.
Live Action TV
- Dirty Jobs relies on viewers to submit suggestions for jobs to cover. Every episode ends with a clip of Mike Rowe (usually covered in muck) asking for viewers to send in suggestions.
- The Myth Busters requested socks for the Knock Your Socks Off Myth (was originally going to be the "Lost Socks in the Dryer" myth, but they changed their minds). This is in addition to all of the unsolicited items sent in by fans.
- Many myths to test are suggested by fans on their forum. Most of the retests are based on users in the forum, the exception being the re-retest of the Archimedes death ray requested by Barack Obama.
- Blue Peter often has contests which ask viewers to submit ideas (such as costume designs or characters) for BBC shows or the program's own productions, with the prize usually being having their entry actually featured (sadly for older viewers and non-Brits they tend to only be open to UK residents under the age of 15).
- The monster from the Doctor Who episode "Love and Monsters" was from the winner of a Blue Peter contest. (Blue Peter also ran a similar competition back in the early days of the classic series, but that time the winning monster only appeared on Blue Peter, not in Doctor Who itself.)
- The half-a-TARDIS-console-room used by Idris and the Doctor in "The Doctor's Wife" was also designed by a Blue Peter contest.
- The short-lived 2009 comedy "In The Motherhood" depended on real life stories submitted by viewers for its scripts. Lasted 7 episodes.
- The Oyakodon Dopant from Kamen Rider Double's Hyper Battle DVD.
- Each episode of The Loretta Young Show was based on various fan letters she had received.
- Barenaked Ladies had a contest for people to send in video of them lipsynching to their song "Wind it Up", and various clips were made into the video.
- Placebo's music video for their cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" is made of clips from videos of fans lip-synching.
- The cover of Sonic Youth's Washing Machine is a picture sent in by a fan.
- In 1986, MTV sponsored a contest called "Make My Video" in which viewers were encouraged to send in a video set to Madonna's then recent single True Blue (from the album of the same name). Evidently, one day was dedicated to playing all of the submitted videos until the winning entry was announced. It was then shown until Madonna's official video for the song debuted.
- Magic the Gathering:
- Magic has held a "You Make the Card" event three times, allowing players to submit and vote on cards that would eventually become Forgotten Ancient, Crucible of Worlds, and Vanish Into Memory.
- The now-discontinued annual Magic Invitational tournament invited the game's top players to compete for the chance to submit their own custom card to the game and get their face featured in its artwork. Since the Invitational players included some of the best in the world, many of these cards turned out to be tournament powerhouses, like Dark Confidant, Solemn Simulacrum, and Snapcaster Mage.
- Occasionally, Capcom would hold a contest asking for drawings of villains to be in the next Mega Man game.
- On multiple occasions, RuneScape has solicited fan ideas for content. The pub in southeast Ardougne, for example, was designed and voted on by players, and the name of the sea monster Thalassus from the "Deadliest Catch" quest was suggested and selected by the public.
- Team Fortress 2 has added fan-created "community" weapons to the list of items that can be found during game.
- Several fan-created maps were also added to the official list of maps.
- After the developers made modding tools for World in Conflict available to gamers, several fan-created multiplayer maps have been distributed via Massgate, along with official maps.
- Free Software/Open Source games like OpenArena and Nexuiz/Xonotic are composed entirely of fan-made content.
- In Kingdom Hearts, a contest was held where the winning fan would get to name one of the upcoming game's special super-bosses. The winner was a boy named Kurt Zisa, who promptly named the boss after himself.
- In Atop the Fourth Wall, Pollo's new robot design was decided by a submission contest.
- The Riff Trax for Batman and Robin was of lines sent in by fans.
- Similarly, the Angry Video Game Nerd's review of Deadly Towers consists almost entirely of lines written by fans.
- The Beetlejuice ep "Brides of Funkenstein" was written by young fans.
- Dexters Laboratory has an episode, "Dexter and Computress Get Mandark!", that looks like it was animated by a small child. The story was written, and narrated, by a young fan.
- The Tiny Toon Adventures ep "Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian" was written by young fans.
- The Adventure Time episode “Jake vs. Me-Mow” featured a new character (Me-Mow) based on a drawing made by a young fan (used as the episode’s title card).
- with help from his mother