For the first few seasons after “Supernatural” debuted on the then-WB network in 2005 the show constantly lived on the bubble, with writers, producers and stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki unsure of its fate. But what a difference a few years, or in this case 14, can make. Now the show is not only a utility player ranking in the top three highest-rated shows on the CW network, but it is also hitting its 300th-episode milestone amid revitalizing other areas of the television business, from international sales to merchandising.
“It has set the highest bar, and it really has to do with quality of consistent execution. This is a very, very dedicated and strong group of craftspeople,” says Peter Roth, president and CCO, Warner Bros. Television Group. “When you have that extraordinary alchemy of great writing and great acting, and you have leadership that is well-functioning and happy and thriving, then you realize great things — whether it’s conventions or international sales or domestic sales or SVOD deals or merchandising. But it all begins and ends with the show.”
Created by Eric Kripke and now co-showrun by Andrew Dabb and Bob Singer, “Supernatural” follows brothers Dean (Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Padalecki) “saving people and hunting things.” Starting as a “monster-of-the-week show,” the series quickly deepened its lore to include demons, angels, Heaven, Hell and God himself. Over the years it also expanded its cast to include pivotal players Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino, Jim Beaver and Samantha Smith.
“They have taken swings at things that no other show has ever done, and because they don’t live in a fear metric, it has made them better — all of them: the producers, the studio, the actors,” says CW president Mark Pedowitz.
The worldwide audience has taken notice. “The show dominates in multiple territories around the globe, including Canada, Brazil and New Zealand,” says a Warner Bros. spokesperson. And then there is the Netflix bump, boosting business even further.
In late 2011, Netflix acquired the show in a four-year deal. The first six seasons began streaming just as the seventh was getting under way on linear television. This broadened the reach of the show “bigger than I ever could have imagined,” says Ackles. Not only did it allow for a wider audience in geography, but it also proved a welcoming package to a slightly younger demographic as well.
“Every time some teenager comes up and says, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve watched Dean every episode’ and I say, ‘Well how old are you?’ And they say, ‘I’m 14.’ Oh, so you were a fetus when we started the show,” Ackles says, noting they were able to start it later and grow up with the show in their own timeline.
The first summer “Supernatural” streamed on Netflix, in 2012, proved to be a pivotal turning point for the series, and for its network. Not only did the show’s eighth season premiere to 1.85 total million live viewers, up 18.6% from the previous season’s finale, but its studio consumer products division also got to expand its efforts around the show, due to demand both from the show’s audience, as well as trusted vendors and retail partners who saw new value in this already long-running property.
“Early expectations were for the fashion and collector categories — which proved true. What is really significant is the creative direction, which uses iconic symbols and inspiration from the series to make our products compelling to the fans,” says Maryellen Zarakas, senior vice president of franchise management and marketing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. “’Supernatural’ is such a unique show given its success and longevity on air, as well as its incredible fan base.”
Warner Bros. Consumer Products has made exclusive deals with Hasbro to create “Supernatural” branded games, including Monopoly, Clue and Trivial Pursuit; as well as Funko, for lines of collectible Pop! Vinyl toys; and Hot Topic, for show-inspired clothing lines, among others.
Additionally, “Supernatural” has ushered in a new wave of the convention business. Founded in 1971, Creation Entertainment became best known for producing “Star Trek” and “Xena: Warrior Princess” events but revitalized its brand with “Supernatural” in 2006. In addition to the usual actor Q&A panels, signings and photo opportunities, Creation and “Supernatural” stars have partnered on addition events such as dinners, concerts and screenings at the weekend-long conventions. September 2018’s New Jersey event marked the 100th “Supernatural” convention thrown by Creation, and this year they have booked 10 more.
“We weren’t thinking about numbers [and] how many we could do. We just wanted to focus on putting on the best show we could,” says Stephanie Dizon, Creation’s vice president of talent and production “It’s the one place where you can be in a room and have something in common with every single person. So it breaks a barrier … and it’s a really beautiful celebration.”
The sheer volume of events, as well as the quality the company wants to maintain, has seen the company grow to match the demand, as well. Dizon notes that when she started working on the “Supernatural” conventions more than a decade ago, she was a department of one, but now she has a team around her.
“Supernatural” has inspired a philanthropic culture around it, as well, from helping the stars raise money for causes near and dear to their hearts, to literally building a Children’s Center in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, to working to erase the stigma around depression and anxiety.
“This particular fandom has a degree of passion and enthusiasm that allows for a channeling of that energy that I don’t think could happen for most shows,” says Collins, who spearheaded the efforts in Haiti, started the 501(c)3 Random Acts and created a world-record holding scavenger hunt GISHWHES.
“Supernatural” has proved to be value added in many areas for those involved, but the show itself is still the driving force behind all of the peripheral successes and shows no sign of slowing down. Pedowitz is proud to say it draws in “the most balanced show, demographically,” averaging approximately 1.5 total million live viewers. Pedowitz also continues to say he will take as many more episodes as the men who make the show feel they have in them.
Padalecki adds, “These are not our golden years. We’ve still got work to do. Like the final line of the pilot. And that attitude has permeated all of our psyches.”