Tonight is a milestone in television. A primetime drama, a GENRE show no less, has reached its 200th episode. Two. Hundred. For a show to reach 100 episodes in this market – with rampant cancellations plaguing shows with even the most vocal of fan bases – is considered a rarity. But not Supernatural. The CW’s flagship series is currently on its tenth season and nobody involved seems to be ready to pack it in yet. The episode in question, “Fan Fiction”, is a musical ode to the lives and travails of Sam and Dean Winchester (played to Tumblr-loving delight by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively) done entirely by high school girls. It’s at once tongue-in-cheek and completely earnest, a real love letter to the people who’ve kept the show on the air so long.
At a recent red carpet event celebrating the 200th episode, I got to speak to the stars and creator of Supernatural to talk about the show’s continued viability, the importance of its fans, and what exactly we have to look forward to for the rest of the tenth season.
The whole saga began back in 2005 in the very last year of The WB Network’s existence, and its continued existence was very much up in the air right away. Creator Eric Kripke told me, “Day one of every writers’ room on the show I always said this was our last season, so let’s smoke ‘em if we got ‘em.” He certainly had a plan, which has become the stuff of legend now, for a full arc to the series, but whether he actually got there was another matter. “I was really hoping we’d get to Season 5 because I had this story I wanted to tell and I wanted to be able to get there. That it’s gone double that is humbling.” Kripke stepped away from the series after this milestone was reached, but he’s as proud as any parent could be that it’s kept going, adding “You never know that anything you’re ever going to write is going to work, and for it to work this long is surreal.”
Jensen Ackles, who’s been playing Dean since Season 1 Episode 1, also didn’t expect to be talking about episode 200. “I didn’t think we were going to get to Season 2,” he said. “I knew that we had a good show. I knew that we had a very, very creative and intellectual writer in Eric, and I knew it had the potential to be something. But, the industry is so fickle. We’re talking ten years ago when shows had an 87% failure rate even if they got on the air. So, just to make it to episode 3, we were already beating odds.”
But here they are now, a decade later, and one thing that can be said for all of the cast of Supernatural – Ackles and Padalecki specifically – is that they adore the show and the fans who watch it. It’s palpable that they couldn’t be prouder, or more grateful, that their show has stood the test of time, and “Fan Fiction” is a way of sharing a bit of that gratefulness with the fans. “There are so many ways that we could have said ‘thanks’ to the fans,” Padalecki said, “we’ve done 200 episodes and we’re here purely and totally because of the fans, and we’re so grateful and it’s so difficult to explain that.” This, he said, led to the kind of episode that fans will receive tonight. “The writers and producers really went through a whole collage of ideas and finally settled on this, and I’m happy” he continues with a nod. “I think it’s the proper way to be true to Supernatural but also have a little salute to the fans. It’s a funny interpretation of Sam and Dean kind of going meta again, but not meta for Jared and Jensen; meta for Sam and Dean. It’s always fun to see them on their heels, because they’re these big guys who kill evil things, but they get nervous around high school girls in a musical is kind of a fun situational comedy kind of bit.”
The fandom for Supernatural is as rabid and fervent as any beloved genre program, but they’ve got youth on their side. Misha Collins who plays fan-favorite Castiel, the fallen angel, chalks their continued success on young people being able to catch up with the show on the internet. “A couple of years ago,” he said, “Warner Bros struck a deal with Netflix and there was this explosion of high school and college kids who were probably too young to watch it when it started on television but now are old enough to catch up with the whole thing so all of a sudden the fanbase which seemed like it was quite a bit older, 20s and 30s, was now high school and college.” He adds with a chuckle, “The older we get, the younger our fans seem to get which is counterintuitive to say the least.”
Mark Sheppard, who plays the crossroads demon Crowley, another recurring character that fans have embraced, echoed Collins’ belief in Netflix and other new media helping keep the show vital. “The fans keep replicating,” he said. “That’s the most incredible thing. I was just with a group of fans, 12, 13, 14, 15 years old, who were huge Supernatural fans. They weren’t around at the beginning, so it’s a new generation and with new delivery systems and way that we get our content, it’s possible to watch 9 seasons of a show and binge-watch it.”
“I think it’s just good luck that we happen to be a group of people who’ve embraced the fans,” Collins replied to my question about how the cast connects with the people who watch them. “It’s easy to step into a dynamic where you’re an actor on a show or a quote-unquote celebrity where they say “fans need to be on the other side, I need to be over here, we need to keep our distance from one another.” We really embraced them early on and I think that that really helped fuel the fanbase. These people are personal, accessible, and willing to come out and do these events and meet us and so we have gotten to know the fans and they’ve gotten to know us in a way that none of us ever expected; totally and completely unexpected.”
So what exactly is the secret of the show’s success? It couldn’t possibly just be availability; something has to keep people coming back week to week. Creator Kripke thinks it’s twofold: “The short answer is Jared and Jensen,” he says, “but the long answer is, it’s not a show about monsters, it’s a show about family and I think because of that people really relate to it. Everyone can relate to having a family they both love and that drives them nuts and that they fight with and that they’d fight for. So I think because of that emotional core, people are really able to connect with it, and they wouldn’t be able to if the connection wasn’t real and genuine between Jared and Jensen. Each of them alone has incredible charisma, but together, their connection is really what makes Supernatural what it is.”
Padalecki thinks the show’s longevity comes from its ability to change things up but keep things grounded. “Supernatural is obviously a fantastical show about demons and goblins and ghouls,” he says, “and Dean’s possessed and Sam’s Lucifer and they go to Hell and yadda yadda, but I think we deal with very human issues. One thing that we deal with in this season specifically is dealing with the feeling you get as a human being after you’ve done something you really wish you didn’t, wishing you could turn back the clock, but you can’t, and how are you going to move forward?”
And Ackles summed the whole thing up very nicely, saying it’s all about the people he’s come to call family. “There’ve been so many remarkable things that have happened throughout the show,” he said, quite earnestly, “and I think one of the greatest things that I get to take away is the relationships that I’ve built, with Jared and [Executive Producer] Bob Singer and Eric Kripke and [writer and current showrunner] Jeremy Carver and Mischa Collins and Mark Sheppard. It’s such a remarkable group of people and it’s not like I’m dying to get away from it, which I think is one of the reasons it continues to go and it continues to be strong because we all really enjoy working on the show and we all really enjoy each other’s company. Sure, it’s a dysfunctional family, but without friction you wouldn’t have fire.”
However rough the friction might be, the fire of Supernatural is undeniable, and after 200 episodes, it doesn’t look like that flame is anywhere near getting doused. The 200th episode of Supernatural airs tonight, Tuesday November 11th, at 9/8c on The CW.
Photo Credits: The CW and Warner Bros.