Whether you’re a fan or not, you’ve got to tip your hat in respect to any show that can make it into a tenth season. Especially when that show isn’t on a top network, has a ridiculously small budget, a core cast of two and and is about improbably handsome people shooting ghosts in the face. But here we are. So I thought I’d step out of my fan shoes and into my scholarly slippers and consider the question of why is this strange, cult show still on the air? The answer is threefold, I think: quality of the show, timing, and the power of digital media and fandom.
Supernatural premiered in the Fall of 2005 on the WB. In 2001 the WB sold Buffy to UPN, but kept angel, which closed up shop in 2004. Charmed started on the WB in 1998 and when SPN premiered in 2005, Charmed was beginning it’s final season. Angel had ended in 2004. This is a long way of saying that SPN was intended to fill a slot in the WB, and later CW, schedule carved out for magical and, heh, supernatural focused shows. I remember that the reason I didn’t start watching SPN when it first aired was because I was still bitter about Buffy and Angel going off the air (Iespecially felt burned by Buffy’s final season which I found underwhelming) and being replaced by a show about, eughhh, boys.
So, SPN filled the magical void on the WB. It was also the spiritual and creative descendant of The X-Files. Much of the creative team and crew came from the X-Files, which wrapped in 2002. This was another show about two people investigating monsters and mysteries every week. So it again filled a need.
SPN took all these elements - a lead duo (X-Files), a supernatural theme (Buffy, Angel), and a story about family (Charmed) and added in what had become a hallmark of WB shows - really, really pretty people in the leads. It was a perfect storm.
But that wouldn’t have meant anything if the show hadn’t been good. But it was, it was really good. The Pilot episode of SPN is one of the best pilots I’ve ever watched. It’s confident in tone, sets up amazing characters. draws you in and shocks you into wanting to know what happens next. all while telling a spooky, atmospheric story. Nine years later and it’s still one of my favorite episodes of the series.
But there was another element to the timing of Supernatural that got it to where it is today, and that was that it his as internet fandoms were both looking for new shows, and as platforms like livejournal were exploding.
I talk about this is the book, but the importance of having platforms like live journal and tumblr that were dedicated to people sharing content, rather that discussion of one idea or show was a massive thing for fandom. These platforms allow things to go viral, for toy to discover new shows and ideas through your friends and other fans. First it was live journal, and then, in February of 2007, came tumblr.
I don’t think the power of tumblr, and other social media but probably tumblr most of all, can be overstated when it comes to the eternal life of Supernatural. I personally started watching the show between seasons seven and eight because I kept seeing it on tumblr. And that brings me to the other thing that’s made it so that SPN has done the near impossible feat of gaining viewers in it’s eighth and ninth seasons - Netflix.
If I hadn’t been able to watch 144 episodes over the summer and catchup with the show on Netflix, I wouldn’t be writing this. SPN is a perfect show for Netflix - it’s fun, but its serialized so it puts you into the “just one more episode I need to know if Dean and Sam and Cas are okay…” mindset (the answer btw is no, they are never okay). The show hooks you and doesn’t let go. And that’s why it’s gaining viewers, like me, who can come join the party eight, nine years after it started because it’s accessible and addictive.
And that brings me back to the first (I think?) point I made about why they show is successful - it’s really good. Good, smart, well thought out and surprisingly subtle writing; beautiful direction, cinematography and set design; and a phenomenal cast. SPN would not be going nine seasons without Jared, Jensen and Misha. All of them contribute to the quality of the show, and the success of the show in engaging with fandom in different ways. They’re great actors but also people fans admire and want to know and love. Like I said, perfect storm.
And then there’s the other reason SPN is going strong: the fans. We tell people about the show, give it our intense attention and devotion and love. And that love is recognized by the cast and crew. They no we are watching, that we care and that the show truly matters to us. They don’t always give us what we want, but the make the show in a manner that is cognizant of how much we care, which is pretty cool.
Most fandoms and fans have names: Whovians, Whedonites, Sherlockians, etc. And those names refer to just the fandom. SPN fans are part of the Supernatural Family…and so are the creators, actors, writers and crew. The divide is lessened in our little family. And that’s also what the show is about.
"Up against, Good, Evil, angels, devils, Destiny, and God himself, they made their own choice. They chose family. And, well… isn’t that kinda the whole point?"
Happy Anniversary, SPN. Here’s to nine more years.
I don’t like it when Tumblr makes me unfollow people by mistake. - -
:( Sorry for the ones concerned.