Um, let us guess – that the show – like every show that isn’t on Netflix – wasn’t made to be watched that way and can’t stand up to scrutiny?
Well, let’s find out:
by Alisha Grauso
Last fall, I set out to do something I should have done ten years ago: watchSupernatural. People had told me for years that it was “right up my alley” and hugely entertaining (if not wholly cerebral), but still, I resisted. It was, well, the CW, and there were just so many seasons. It was hard enough for me to keep up with shows that had just started, let alone get through the backlog of a series that had been running for the better part of a decade. How would I ever catch up?
But it came to pass one night that I found myself curled up on the couch under a blanket, doing my best to fend off a sinus infection and in need of something that would entertain but wouldn’t be too long or complex for my cold-medicined brain to handle.
So I started my first episode of Supernatural, and I haven’t looked back since. Last week, I finally clicked play on the most recent episode, and when it was finished, I realized…I was done. Caught up. There were no more episodes until the next week. Ten full-length seasons of a series in half a year.
I am nothing if not a completionist.
Yet obsessive binge-watching has given me a unique perspective, a bird’s eye view of the show in its entirety instead of it being revealed in bits and pieces. It’s standing on a ladder and looking down at a mostly-completed puzzle rather than sitting cross-legged on the ground and assembling a puzzle a piece at a time to reveal the full picture. Neither way is better, but watching that many seasons of a television series all in one go has taught me a few things about what it takes to create a cult hit — that doesn’t get canceled too soon.
The first thing Supernatural got right was that it aimed small, and in a good way. The decision to pitch it to The WB network (later became The CW) is probably the one reason that Supernatural has been able to ride out the choppy waters of waxing and waning ratings. Dipping to an all-time low to an average of only 2.03 million viewers per episode in 2007 would have seen the plug pulled quickly had the show been on a larger broadcast network. But it’s all relative. With The CW pulling in a smaller audience, 2.03 million isn’t as low by comparison.
Niche and genre shows, until very recently, have tended to not fare as well with the larger, more general audiences of broadcast networks. One need look no further than to shows like Joss Whedon’sFirefly and Dollhouse or Dan Harmon’s Community for evidence of that. Now, genre rules the airwaves, from Game of Thrones on HBO and The Walking Deadon AMC to Once Upon a Time on ABC. But back in 2005, when Supernatural first aired, genres too fantastic weren’t yet de rigueur; airing the show on a cable network devoted to a younger demographic was the smartest move.
Being on a smaller network also helped shield the series from the damaging writer’s strike in 2007-2008 that saw many other shows unable to recover: Those who watched each will remember the brilliant Scrubs coming to an undeserved, limping finish in its ninth season, and the promising Heroes being derailed in its second season due to the strike.