With Supernatural now into its 15th (and final) season, I find my social media timeline swarmed with memes, GIFs, and posts reflecting on the series, speculating on how the Winchester brothers will save the world from the apocalypse (again), and bidding farewell to the show’s most beloved characters. But seeing all this internet chatter doesn’t necessarily stir up nostalgic feelings for me. Rather, it begs the question how a show about “saving people, hunting things—the family business” managed to last this long.
For those who don’t know, the show is the story of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt down and fight supernatural bad guys (ghosts, monsters, and even the devil himself). They’ve died and been resurrected more times than anyone can count, they’ve stopped at least a half-dozen apocalypses, and you always know they’ll be at it again next year, because every season finale begins with Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.”
I’ll be honest, I forgot that Supernatural even existed somewhere around the middle of the series. A few years after the fact, I realized that it was still going strong, but even then, I was dumbfounded it hadn’t been cancelled yet. According to ScreenRant, the show was actually slated to end with its fifth season. The creators had even aptly titled the final episode of that season, “Swan Song.” Without going into too many details, Lucifer (aka Satan) had risen from hell and the Winchesters found a way to send him back. And that was supposed to the end of it. They had defeated the ultimate bad guy! They had stopped the biblical apocalypse!
So why didn’t the show end as planned?
Well, in short, because of the fans. In addition to maintaining fairly consistent TV ratings, Supernatural has a rabid following online. According to Fansided, the show has one of the largest active fandoms on Tumblr. Fans (who call themselves the SPNFamily) have gained notoriety on Tumblr by proving there is a Supernatural GIF for everything. They even have a GIF to say they have GIF:
The show has spawned more than 125,000 fanfiction stories (fictional stories written by fans of the show) and been featured at Comic Con ever since the pilot first previewed there in 2005. The series has also created its own set of fan conventions called “Salute to Supernatural,” where the SPNFamily can get a more concerted Supernatural experience. And while this may not be the first fandom to spin off its own convention, it might be the first to be recognized within the show itself.
In Season Five, the Winchester brothers are shocked to discover a “prophet” has written books about their lives and that the books have sparked a cult following with a fan convention. The show also pays tribute to fanfiction in Season Ten when the brothers investigate a “haunting” at a high school where one of the students has written a fanfiction musical based on the books from Season Five.
The SPNFamily has further confirmed their dedication year after year by voting for Supernatural in the People’s Choice Awards (the only awards show where fans get to choose the winners). So far, Supernatural has been nominated for the Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Show award ten times (winning four times). It even won the award for Favorite Network TV Drama in 2012, topping competitors such as The Good Wife (which was nominated for seven Emmys that same year, winning one), Grey’s Anatomy, House, and another popular CW drama, The Vampire Diaries. As if that wasn’t enough, the SPNFamily established themselves as the fandom to beat all fandoms by winning the award for Favorite TV Fan Following in 2013.
Supernatural isn’t the first TV show withwildly dedicated fans, of course. In the 1960s, Star Trek arguably mobilized the first rabid TV fanbase. And while their support couldn’t push the original series past its three-season run, their tenacious love for the series eventually helped launch and justify a massive franchise—one that encompasses five spinoff television series (not counting a 1973-74 animated kids’ show) and 13 movies, not to mention books, comics, games and stand-alone conventions. But if anything, fans’ influence on their favorite television shows has only grown.
According to ABC, in 2007, fans of the CBS show Jericho ran a campaign to send the network’s offices millions of peanuts to protest the cancellation of the show. They didn’t get the renewal they were hoping for, but the network did throw them a bone by creating a seven-episode second season to wrap-up the storylines. In 2013, fans of the CW’s Veronica Mars launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million in order to create the Veronica Mars movie. They managed to raise $5.7 million—nearly triple their goal. And according to Kickstarter, with over 91 thousand backers, it has the most funders of any Kickstarter project in history.
However, not every fanbase has been as successful. Firefly, the poster child for “cancelled too soon,” was grounded after just 11 of its 14 episodes aired. After fan protests, the show was succeeded by the movie Serenity two years later, but the show never returned to air. Shadowhunters fans attempted to revive their show by firing off more than six million tweets containing the #SaveShadowhunters hashtag, but their efforts were in vain since IndieWire reports that the show was unable to secure the required funds to keep it alive. (Its last episode aired this May.)
Which makes the fans of Supernatural all the more unique. They’ve never had to beg network producers to keep the show going. For the past 15 years, by tuning in to each episode, coming to the conventions, and posting about the show online, the SPNFamily has kept the show alive through sheer force of presence. This commitment has been felt by the creators and kept the show on air. It’s also been felt by the cast, who often post on social media to keep the fans up to date.
But sadly, at least for the fans, the Winchesters are hanging up their flannel and preparing for their true swan song. Although the SPNFamily has managed to keep the show going, it feels like the Winchesters have run out of stories to tell. They beat Lucifer, they beat the archangel Michael, they beat God’s sister (wait for it…), and in this final season, they will likely defeat God himself (yes, this is a show that turns God into a villain). There’s been much speculation as to why the show won’t continue if it still has consistent ratings, but it’s very probable that the cast and crew wants to end the show on their own terms. This way, they can go out with a bang instead of slowly dropping off the radar and eventually getting unceremoniously cancelled mid-season on a cliffhanger.
But in case there was any doubt that a fandom’s presence can keep a show alive, at their final ComicCon appearance earlier this year, Jensen Ackles (who plays Dean Winchester) confirmed it by saying, “Thanks for showing up. Without you [the fans] we wouldn’t be here and it’s an amazing thing to see.”
If you read our review, you’ll see the show has many a wayward moment. But that never stopped the fans from carrying on.