Surviving the End

Surviving The End: Can a series retain it’s fandom after cancellation?

external image 320x240.jpgexternal image 6146749_orig.jpg
external image Edward_Elric.jpg

The Question
As a longtime fan of many series, I’ve seen shows, movies, and books break off into moneymaking franchises and then come to an end. I always felt it unfair that stories such as Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who would build so many vested interests in the literature but then all of it would be taken away through the crimson touch of a network producer or the story being finished itself. In regards to the fandom I chose, Fullmetal Alchemist, I ran into quandaries that made me think of this question: FMA: Brotherhood has been off the air for almost two years; the original series eight years. And while late-night reruns of both shows are still airing, there weren’t many active fansites or message boards for the series as there were for other shows that ended around the same time and had built up an equally sizeable fanbase. I had theorized in my ethnography that this could be due to FMA not being a merchandise juggernaut in the same way as other Japanese animations of the past such as Gundam (although a new show is produced every two or three years) or Neon Genesis Evangelion (which existed thanks to several games, model kits, and recent movie outings). Or, to use a comparison more closer to this side of the globe, Star Wars, a series that existed for sixteen years through video games, the Expanded Universe novels, comic books, and toys that whet fan appetite until the franchise returned for a second engagement in 1999.

With Fullmetal Alchemist, the question becomes slightly problematic. The series definitely had a large fanbase when originally on the air, but it hasn't become quite the franchise that shows before and after it have become. Naruto, which hit months stateside after FMA premiered, quickly became a popular media franchise with both children and adults. Taking a few steps back this could be one reason for FMA's lack of sustained exposure: the series is most definitely not for children. Naruto, unlike FMA, uses the Star Wars example, in that it is difficult to walk into a specialty entertainment shop without seeing various items connected to the series, such as the characteristic bandannas that the characters wear, keychains, and other ephemera. The most that I have seen for FMA were various action figures, hats, and t-shirts. FMA's post-media existence lay primarily in literary ventures; upon joining LiveJournal I quickly found several sub-forums dedicated to artwork and fanfiction that continued the series past it's cancellation; Naruto is, as of this writing, still on-going in both it's original literary source and Japanese animation.

Star Trek
Star Trek has the distinction of being mentioned first in this example because it was cancelled not once, but twice: both the Original Series (the one with Captain Kirk) and the more recent Enterprise ended due to low ratings, in 1969 and 2005 respectively. In an article about the franchise for the Los Angeles Times in 1991, writer Sheldon Teitlebaum comments that it was the fans who saved the show the first time from the axe when it was up for cancellation: “The Trekkers waged a letter-writing campaign of unprecedented proportions (some insist at Roddenberry's behest) against NBC, which relented by assuring a subsequent season... the added year of production afforded the first series enough episodes to permit its survival in syndication” (Teitlebaum, 5). The series wasn’t out in the wild for long, as the article demonstrates that it was a combined effort on the part of creator Gene Roddenberry and the fans, first through conventions, then the short-lived animated series, all of which led to the revival of the franchise with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1979, leading to a series of successful movie outings for the aging crew of the Enterprise. When it came to reviving the television series, parent studio Paramount did not leap right into things. From the article, Paramount executive John Pike revealed that, "There was great eagerness to do 'Star Trek' on television, but it was an anxious time, too. You don't want to be the one to screw up the franchise." A large part of Paramount’s misgivings was a fear of saturating the market and softening the demand for feature films, with the quote being “Too much Trek could prove as bad as no Trek”.
From this point in the saga, it must be noted that Paramount obviously did bring the series back, and created three additional television series (one of which was a prequel), but endured franchise burnout by the time the last series Enterprise came to an end in 2005, with one reason being that the series had become too exclusive for fans. This was a particular reason why J.J. Abrams chose a route for the 2009 reboot film that was more open for new fans. Coupled with top Hollywood talent portraying fan-favorite characters, Star Trek was given a whole new jumpstart, with the reboot being the most successful film in the franchise since The Voyage Home and did indeed bring in many new fans who may have thought that liking Star Trek to be “uncool”.

Doctor Who
Jon Pertwee was asked before the airing of the 1996 television movie Doctor Who if the series should be brought back. He disagreed, unless it was done in a way that brought the “wow” factor back. This comment is interesting, not only because it comes from the mouth of the third actor to portray the character, but also because he would ultimately be proven correct with the series revival in 2005.
Doctor Who originally aired from 1963 until it was placed on indefinite hiatus in 1989 by the British Broadcasting Company. That’s twenty-six years, seven lead actors, and nearly seven-hundred television episodes in the can. Much like Star Trek, the series was aplenty with cheap costumes and sets and low budgets, but survived on the strength of the program’s actors and strong storylines until the mid-1980s, when shakeups with the production office and a shifting time-slot threatened the series on more than one occasion until it finally went off the air. In the article Why Doctor Who Should Be Cancelled (which is more detailed about the needed cancellation of the revived series) the blogger recalls the need for the series to be laid to rest in the 1980s: “…Doctor Who had begun to look worn out and no longer seemed to have the fire that made it must-see television back in the 1960's and 70's. The BBC, like any other network, knew this and ended the show in 1989 despite however much the more extreme fans of the fandom wished it would stay on. It was a dead ship with nowhere to go and The BBC did the franchise a favor by letting it die.”
Since its revival, the series has maintained a spectacular worldwide following, but has still seen its fair share of problems in terms of production. 2009-2010 saw only four two-hour specials produced for the show, and most recently an announcement from BBC1 controller Danny Cohen confirmed a similarly reduced season, with the question being Is Doctor Who Headed For Cancellation?, with the main reason being to allow show-runner Stephen Moffat time for his other shows.
The show’s survival has relied on the acceptance that fandom has evolved since the days of John W. Campbell, and that is the internet. Back when the show was originally airing communication was made through the burgeoning USENET message board system, as well as the swapping of videotapes for episodes that were not yet available. With the internet and the ability to readily get in touch with other fans from around the world, Doctor Who’s fandom is secured. Should the show go off the air in the near future, it can be comparable to the hibernation period of Star Wars and Star Trek: it would be silent but the fans will always be there and come back to the series whenever something new stirs.