Supernatural will air its final season this year after an eventful 15-year run sustained in large part by a fanbase that was not only loyal, but active.
October marks the beginning of the end for the Winchester boys. The brothers and their Impala will finally ride off into the sunset as Supernatural comes to a close following 15 seasons and over 300 episodes.
This is no small feat. It’s hard to count the number of shows that not only made it to 15 seasons but did so in a landscape full of so much TV. Supernatural is a rare breed in that regard. While the series’ most diehard followers will mourn its impending (technically second) swan song, it’s important to celebrate how the show lasted 15 seasons to begin with. It’s important to celebrate the fans.
Yes, the content of the show deserves some credit for its longevity, but even the most vocal members of the defense squad will admit that there was a noticeable decline in later years compared to the show’s humble beginnings, particularly after Eric Kripke departed production as its original showrunner.
As fans well know, the series creator intended for the show to last only five seasons and only mapped out five years worth of storylines. Therefore, perhaps understandably, Kripke hightailed it out of there before the show’s sixth season. This forced new writers to try to continue and prolong a story that was, essentially, wrapped up in the aptly titled “Swan Song” season 5 finale. Results have varied from favorable to, well, not so favorable, to put it mildly.
Fans and critics tend to agree that the show started to decline quickly after, as Morgan Jeffrey at Digital Spy put it, an “uneven” season 6 that infamously struggled to find an antagonist that posed “an original and inventive threat that’s the equal of Azazel and Lucifer in future.” As a result, in more recent seasons, Supernatural has revived long-dead characters, including Sam and Dean’s mother, who wasn’t even alive when the opening credits rolled for the first time during the pilot.
Less fortunate shows have been canceled for similar storytelling struggles and too many returns to the same old wells. What made Supernatural different? One word: fanbase.
No, not in terms of size or sheer numbers, at least not just. While ratings have been fine compared to most shows, viewership has been on a steady decline ever since season 11, with the 13th season averaging a 0.55 rating in the 18-49 demographic and 1.687 million total viewers, per TVSeriesFinale.com. Season 14 averaged 1.435 million total viewers at the end of its season. While these ratings aren’t terrible, per se, most television shows do not last very long when such a steady decline in viewership number remains so prevalent. And yet, Supernatural made it all the way to a 15th season, freefall be damned.
It is vital to not only mention that this show had loyal fans but active fans as well.
So to highlight the show’s fanbase as the reason why it has lasted for so long is not just to say that they are loyal watchers and are invested enough to still sit through the show even when it is hard to watch. The passion of the audience to act on their fandom is what helped sustain the show’s longevity. It is vital to not only mention that this show had loyal fans but active fans as well.
Active simply refers to everything that the Wayward Sons and Daughters of the SPN Family — as the fandom is called — did to highlight the show. Supernatural fans have always been eager to represent and share their favorite television show through reaction GIFs, Tumblr posts, cosplay, Comic Con appearances, fan art and even their participation in GISHWHES (a scavenger hunt founded by Supernatural co-star Misha Collins). Such activity is a reason why FanSided’s SPNHunters site exists. These platforms have not only honored the fandom by celebrating its content, but also spreading the word of its existence.
During Tumblr’s heyday, Supernatural had an especially massive following and represented one of the most active fandoms on the platform. Even as recently as 2018, Supernatural has the largest amount of engagement on Tumblr from any live-action television series. Amanda Brennan, Tumblr’s head of content insights and social, hypothesized to Teen Vogue that shows like Supernatural do so well on Tumblr because “Tumblr users love to ship the characters.” In addition, the Supernatural fandom gained notoriety on Tumblr for proving how there really is a Supernatural GIF for everything.
Then, of course, there’s the fanfiction.
In fanfiction,Supernatural has arguably the most active fandom on the planet. Fanfiction.net features — as of this writing — 125,000 different SPN centered fanfics, more than any other on the site in any category. Even more than Doctor Who, whose fandom is just as active, but despite 50+ years of history comes second behind Supernatural.
Through all of this activity, fans increased the visibility of the show, especially on the internet. In this day and age, social media engagement is important. It’s difficult for most shows to remain sustainable without an internet presence of its fandom. Social media can project just how popular a show is when it at least looks like everyone is talking about it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Perhaps when the writers decided to have more fun with their content, so did the fans, which led to fans finding more creative ways to engage with the show and spread awareness.
Supernatural certainly has that sort of presence, seemingly since around season 3 when the show took their direction from darker horror into more tongue-in-cheek humor (i.e. “The Real Ghostfacers,” “Mystery Spot”). Perhaps when the writers decided to have more fun with their content, so did the fans, which led them to finding more creative ways to engage with the show and spread awareness. The growth of Supernatural’s online presence and social media engagement has proved to be a massive benefit to its success.
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The more visible the show happened to be online, the more likely it was to reach new, potential viewers. Older viewers who may not have watched the show in a few years may have seen a random GIF on their Twitter timeline, for example, and thought “This show is still on the air?” Then, out of a general curiosity, tuned back into an episode or two to catch up. Same with brand new viewers. They may have seen something about the show that sparks a genuine curiosity and in due time, have become a new member of the SPN Family. With the first 14 seasons of the show available to stream on Netflix and the fandom showing no signs of becoming less available, there’s no reason this cycle won’t continue well past the finale.
Supernatural will end in 2020 after 15 years on the air. While we as an audience need to give kudos to all of the actors, writers, producers, editors, sound operators and every other single person who worked on the show in that time, it is the incredibly dedicated fanbase that helped maintain its relevance and even existence.
Before Sam, Dean and Castiel drive off into the sunset one last time, the SPN Family oughta give themselves a good ole pat on the back. It is because of them that Supernatural can claim a long life of 15 eventful seasons.