Fans of a cult-hit Canadian TV show whose future is in limbo because of financial problems are expanding a social-media campaign they started last month, buying billboards in New York’s Times Square to demonstrate their love.
The grassroots campaign #FightForWynonna kicked off two weeks ago after reports emerged that IDW Entertainment, the U.S. studio behind Wynonna Earp, was unable to proceed with production because of financial difficulties. Fans – they call themselves Earpers – went to Twitter to display their passion for the series, and to exhort IDW to change its decision.
The Calgary-shot show, a supernatural western about the great-great-granddaughter of famous gunslinger Wyatt Earp who battles the undead outlaws that her ancestor killed, finished its third season on the Space channel in Canada and on SYFY in the United States last fall. The first two seasons are also available on Netflix. It is up for eight Canadian Screen Awards this month.
The fourth season was originally due to start shooting in January and begin airing in July. Set in a town called Purgatory, the show is now in its own purgatory.
Last week, fans ramped up the pressure, buying 30-second spots on a collection of electronic billboards in Times Square: The spots cost about US$45 and are booked through the website of the company Big Sign Message. Small but hearty groups of fans turn out with their phones to take pictures of what they called Earp Square, which they then share on social media.
“The effect is being able to share with all the fans across the world: Look at us, we’re in Times Square,” said Jill Macklem, a New Yorker who helped organize an outing of Earpers this week. “We already feel like this fandom is a big family. It reinforces that feeling: ‘We’re all in this together. Look what we’ve done, as a community.’ ”
In turn, the show’s star, Melanie Scrofano, and creator, Emily Andras, bought a billboard this week to thank the fans for their support.
On Friday, a billboard donated by an anonymous Earper in Texas was due to go up on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, a stone’s throw from Paramount Studios.
“We just want to make it clear to IDW, to SyFy, to the Space channel, how much we love the show,” said Bridget Liszewski, an Ohio-based fan and blogger who runs The TV Junkies website. When the news about the troubles emerged, Liszewski created FightForWynonna.com, a clearinghouse for information on the campaign, with a couple of other fans.
The Wynonna Earp fan base is known for its passion, regularly gathering at conventions dedicated to the show. “I think SyFy has really seen the value in having this fandom behind it that’s huge on social media, that’s always willing to talk it up and spread the word,” said Liszewski. “Syfy even changed their motto two years ago to be ‘It’s a Fan Thing,’ and we sort of took that as they were speaking directly to Earpers,” because the fans had just wrapped up a campaign to urge the network to greenlight the show’s second season.
“It’s more than a television show,” said Macklem. "We love the show, we love the messages in the show, we love the cast, we love the writers.”
The messages she is referring to include the show’s inclusiveness and positive representation of the LGBTQ community: A number of key characters are gay or lesbian. Macklem notes that one of the themes in the show is that “family doesn’t have to be defined by DNA.”
Still, passion can’t always be monetized. Wynonna Earp rarely exceeds 500,000 viewers when it airs on SyFy, an underwhelming rating for a cable channel that is available in more than 90-million U.S. homes. (In Canada, Space said Season 3 drew an average of about 156,000 viewers in its regular Friday-night premiere slot, according to the ratings agency Numeris.)
But the show’s troubles offer a fascinating glimpse at the challenges of producing television, even with broadcasters and distributors throwing around exorbitant sums of money to land hot talent and compete with services such as Netflix.
In a public disclosure last December that outlined its financial strains, IDW Entertainment said it had been “self-financing production costs for seasons four and five (each 12 episodes)” of Wynonna Earp. “SyFy Network’s license fees for domestic rights only cover approximately half of IDWE’s costs.” The company needs to make up the rest of its costs from international territories. The show is currently sold into about 50 countries, but even that may not be enough to turn a profit.
“Every show is financed differently,” said Jordy Randall, an executive producer of Wynonna Earp and a partner in the Calgary-based production company SEVEN24, which also produces the CBC-TV show Heartland.
“For Heartland, the combination of [CBC] and the CMF [Canada Media Fund], and the international distributor – all the pieces of the financing add up to make the show. At the moment, the pieces of the financing for Wynonna don’t add up to make the show.”
Randall said he was hopeful the Wynonna Earp situation would get resolved. “This one has incredible power in the media,” he said. “I’m a positive guy and I believe it’ll get solved. But when it does get solved, I think we’ll look back, because the fans started something that led to other momentum that didn’t exist before.”
He added that the show employs 150-200 people in both Calgary, where it shoots, and Toronto, where postproduction is completed. The 12 episodes in each season represent about six months of work. “If you look at the shows in Alberta, this is a significant piece of the industry here,” he said. “A lot of people rely on Wynonna as part of their living.”