In an article about The CW bankruptcy, a pentagram with angel wings attached as a horrified viewer looks on
After years of being taken for granted by the network, some "Supernatural" fans are feeling glad about The CW going under. (Illustration by Leigh Desorcy, Montserrat College of Art)

Disappointed ‘Supernatural’ Fans Seek Closure in The CW’s ‘Bankruptcy’

The network that had a rocky relationship with the show’s fan base has apparently been unprofitable since its inception, and some find its upcoming sale to be both bittersweet and symbolic.

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In an article about The CW bankruptcy, a pentagram with angel wings attached as a horrified viewer looks on
After years of being taken for granted by the network, some "Supernatural" fans are feeling glad about The CW going under. (Illustration by Leigh Desorcy, Montserrat College of Art)

The network that had a rocky relationship with the show’s fan base has apparently been unprofitable since its inception, and some find its upcoming sale to be both bittersweet and symbolic.

Over the course of its 15-season lifespan, the sci-fi/fantasy/horror drama “Supernatural” has elicited plenty of drama and discourse. The show garnered a dedicated cult following, but its notoriously loyal and vocal fan base always shared an adversarial relationship with the network that hosted their favorite show. Many did not trust their favorite characters in the hands of the network after controversial character deaths, and accusations of intentional queerbaiting spanning over a decade have accumulated to create an atmosphere of distrust between the showrunners and their fan base.

Now, the show’s parent network, The CW, is reportedly up for sale. While a majority stake will likely be bought by Nexstar Media Group, the network’s ultimate fate is unclear, and burned “Supernatural” fans online are feeling petty over the network’s “bankruptcy.” Fans latched onto headlines highlighting the fact that The CW has “not been profitable since 2006.” While the network was never really made to be traditionally profitable, fans are realizing, bittersweetly, about a year after the controversial series finale, just how much their fandom’s viewership helped pad the network’s ratings and keep the show afloat, for better or worse.

Over a Decade of Drama (and Queerbaiting) 

“Supernatural” first aired on the WB in 2005, but it quickly moved to The CW’s lineup. The show follows two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, as they travel across the U.S. in their iconic, black 1967 Chevy Impala to tackle inner demons and real poltergeists alike, often following a “monster of the week” formula like “The X-Files.” Despite carrying lots of baggage, “Supernatural” managed to make history as the longest-running American live-action fantasy TV series during its 11th season. However, the show’s longevity took place in the context of drama kicked up by frustrated fans, and fandom has always been the backbone of the series’s success.

From thousands of fan fiction stories to countless fan conventions, the “Supernatural” fandom has always been incredibly generative and dedicated. The cast’s frequent convention appearances helped craft a real sense of “SPN family,” and fans were able to grow deeply attached to the real people behind their favorite characters. While this attachment was arguably unhealthy sometimes, there’s no doubt “Supernatural” super fans were doing the work of a massive marketing team and helping everyone involved in its production.

For the most part, the fandom’s convention culture was symbiotic. Primary cast members, who have all been embroiled in their own individual controversies, acknowledged the fan base in their final San Diego Comic-Con panel. Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean, told the fans, “Thanks for showing up. Without you we wouldn’t be here and it’s an amazing thing to see.”

However, knowing that they kept the show alive so long was little consolation to fans who made it to the finish line only to be disappointed by a lackluster finale. In November 2020, the final episode aired, but it failed to squelch fans’ frustrations and anger. When asked about the show’s ending, co-showrunner Andrew Dabb said, “Well, I would say it wouldn’t be Supernatural if it was all happy.”

Unfortunately, nobody, from actors to longtime fans, seemed happy about the show’s final boring fizzle. Ackles was reportedly “uneasy” about the show’s ending, saying, “I don’t know if it was just the fact that I just heard the ending of a show that had been going for 15 years and I’m just too close to it to really accept a finality to it. It certainly wasn’t settling in as easy as I kind of hoped. I struggled with it.” While Ackles said a conversation with show creator Eric Kripke “put things in a perspective” and “from then on, I was kind of all in,” fans felt no such need to censor their discontent.

“Destiel Is Canon” and Finale Backlash

The final episodes of “Supernatural” sparked countless memes when fans watched Castiel’s long-anticipated, but ambiguous love confession to Dean. Misha Collins’ angel finally told his gruff, hunter companion “I love you” before immediately dying and going to the fittingly absurd “super mega hell” in the most painfully quintessential display of the “Bury Your Gays Trope” ever seen on TV.

The memes were so plentiful in part because the episode aired on the same date as the ongoing U.S. presidential election when people waited with bated breath to see if Georgia would turn blue and throw the presidency to Joe Biden. As if that wasn’t enough, headlines about Vladimir Putin stepping down spread, causing an additional flurry of social media frenzy. These major headlines amalgamated to create a massive storm of content on sites like Tumblr, where the “Supernatural” fandom has always had a heavy foothold. After the initial “destielputinelection,” Nov. 5 has become synonymous with the kind of chaotic input the fan base would sometimes receive all at once.

 

Overall, fans felt the network had “queerbaited” them until the very end, hyping up the potential for a love confession between the most popular ship of Dean and Castiel, or “Destiel,” to get ratings, only to kill Cas and write him out of the last two episodes to “appease the homophobes.” Whether or not the showrunners really did intend to pull one last “bait and switch” with LGBTQ+ fans’ emotions, the reaction was the same. Fans were dissatisfied with the final treatment of a relationship that started 11 seasons prior and speculated the actors weren’t happy either, though for many different reasons.

Screencaps of “the confession scene” became their own meme format, playing off Dean’s repressed and painfully stoic reaction to Cas’ teary, heartfelt “I love you.” While the romantic implications of the sentiment were left unconfirmed, fans couldn’t help but be disheartened by the lack of reciprocity on Dean’s end. As they saw it, the now somewhat-confirmed queer character died without hearing how their beloved felt about them in return because they were too scared to have Dean say “I love you,” even platonically. Fans thought Dean’s response seemed more like a “no homo” moment than anything. The memes only escalated when the Spanish version’s subtitles had Dean respond more affirmatively to Cas’s “Te amo” with “Y yo a ti, Cas.” Then the joke was “Destiel became canon, but only in Spanish.”

The “y yo a ti” remains in the Netflix version as a small win, but fans felt betrayed by an ending that could’ve brought real closure and redemption. The ending’s failure stings even more when episodes like Season 5’s “Swan Song” could’ve acted as the well-planned, well-executed and originally intended ending for the series. Instead, the show kept getting renewed, and showrunners began “jumping the shark” and alienating its largely female and LGBTQ+ fanbase for 10 more years.

The CW Announcement Exposes Residual Fan Frustration

About two years later, The CW announcement is acting as a kind of twisted anniversary celebration for the series’s ending. In breaking the news, the network has kept up the show’s heralded tradition of causing social media uproar like clockwork. One SPN Tumblr expresses the common fan sentiment, “what i mean when i say no one has and ever will have a fan experience quite as euphoric and f*cked up as spn fans i tell you no one.”

Another acknowledges the potential for catharsis, writing, “the CW going bankrupt is free therapy.” Fans had fun uniting once again to clown on the perceived decline in quality they saw during the final seasons. One blog wrote, “Yall have been making fun of the crusty finale wig in Supernatural and the cheesy graphics in The Flash without realizing that the CW is just f*cking broke” and user clownstiel jokes, “everyone should be thanking me for the castiel shirt i bought in 2015. i probably was singlehandedly financially responsible for 2 seasons of that godforsaken show.”

The CW’s portfolio does exist outside of its longest-airing show. The network was created in-house by WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS and is home to the DC Arrowverse as well as other infamous titles like “Riverdale,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Jane the Virgin” and “The 100.” While The CW has never been profitable as a network — something fans have always poked fun at — its owners have always found other ways to keep revenue coming in.

For a decade, it acted as a content farm for WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS, which produce original content like “Supernatural” to profit from the distribution rights. CW’s ratings were never incredibly high, but they were swelled by the “Supernatural” fanbase, and ultimately, not necessary for the network’s bottom line; deals like the one made with Netflix 10 years ago expanded streaming rights, exposed the shows to a larger audience and made the network a total of $1 billion. The model is only failing now as traditional network models fade everywhere. Simply put, The CW has become one of many legacy entities in the media world, despite catering to younger, online demographics, and will likely be bought out.

This makes the “Supernatural” fanbase’s immediate reaction a bit abrupt and misguided, but their sense of vindication remains potent. Many fans believe strongly in the efficacy of their boycott of the network and shows like “Walker,” which features “Supernatural” star Jared Padalecki and attempts to cash in on the remaining fanbase. While the “bankruptcy” or sale is mostly a reflection on the lifecycle of certain business models, the potential “death” of the “Supernatural” home network does feel awfully symbolic to fans who saw countless characters killed off and brought back in increasingly lazy ways. Tumblr user snackles-maniacals wrote, “In every spn final someone dies this time in season 17 it was CW.” Ironically, it seems the demise of The CW would finally bring fans closure.

Writer Profile

Virginia Laurie

Washington and Lee University
English

Virginia Laurie is an English major at Washington and Lee who enjoys reading, watching movies and making art. A pescatarian and cat person, she hopes to continue a career in writing.

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