Come Sunday afternoon, Iâ€™ll be one of the many indistinguishable faces in the crowd at the Saban Theatre eagerly awaiting the screening of an episode of Supernatural (and I’m expecting it to be one we’ve already seen [maybe The French Mistake?], not a new one this audience would promptly spoil for everyone else), followed by a panel discussion expected to feature Eric Kripke, Sera Gamble, Ben Edlund, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jim Beaver, and Misha Collins. I know Iâ€™ll have a great time! I also know I wonâ€™t have any real chance to ask any questions â€“ most of the panel questions typically come from the moderator (in this case, the delightful TV critic and ardent Supernatural fan Maureen Ryan), with just a random lucky few coming usually from the front section of the theatre. That doesnâ€™t stop me from thinking of questions Iâ€™d really like to hear answered by all the folk who’ll be sitting on that stage, though, so I thought Iâ€™d just put my thoughts into the wind. Maybe the wind will whisper them in other ears on the press line or the podium …
If I Could Ask Supernatural Questions At Paley …
Come Sunday afternoon, Iâ€™ll be one of the many indistinguishable faces in the crowd at the Saban Theatre eagerly awaiting the screening of an episode of Supernatural (and I’m expecting it to be one we’ve already seen [maybe “The French Mistake?”], not a new one this audience would promptly spoil for everyone else), followed by a panel discussion expected to feature Eric Kripke, Sera Gamble, Ben Edlund, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jim Beaver, and Misha Collins. I know Iâ€™ll have a great time! I also know I wonâ€™t have any real chance to ask any questions â€“ most of the panel questions typically come from the moderator (in this case, the delightful TV critic and ardent Supernatural fan Maureen Ryan), with just a random lucky few coming usually from the front section of the theatre. That doesnâ€™t stop me from thinking of questions Iâ€™d really like to hear answered by all the folk who’ll be sitting on that stage, though, so I thought Iâ€™d just put my thoughts into the wind. Maybe the wind will whisper them in other ears on the press line or the podium …
None of my questions seek spoilers. The show folk are canny people whoâ€™ll let slip what they want to use to tease us, and Iâ€™m perfectly happy with that. But it would be really nice if the folks at the CW chose to take advantage of the Paley media spotlight to make an announcement about the future of the show. Just sayinâ€™.
Okay: on to the main event!
Plan Versus Execution
I think a lot of fans donâ€™t realize that whenever youâ€™re writing a story, the process of thinking and writing almost inevitably alters the outline you may have started with, and the final tale you tell may have layers and twists you never contemplated at the start. That creative process is even more convoluted in the intensely collaborative medium of television, where the writing along with all other aspects of production is and has to be a team effort, tapping and feeding off of the ideas and abilities of many minds. I think Supernatural is a brilliant example of that iterative process, and Iâ€™d love to watch and hear the creative team share a bit about how the story weâ€™ve come to know actually came about.
Accordingly, my first big question would be for Eric, Sera, and Ben. I would love to hear an open, collaborative discussion among the writers concerning just how much of the story weâ€™ve seen was actually planned out in advance and happened as intended, along with when, how, and especially why other aspects changed, and what effect those changes had on giving us a different outcome than the creators initially envisioned.
Let me explain. In the very first Paley panel in 2006, Eric jokingly told the story of how he came up with his off-the-cuff pitch for Supernatural as a horror anthology brother road show through American urban legends: Route 66 meets The X-Files. Ericâ€™s self-admitted interest from the beginning was in telling the horror stories, using the brothers as the vehicle to get from tale to tale. The brothersâ€™ own personal horror story arc developed from that, because he needed a way to place them into the hunter culture. From very early on in the showâ€™s run, Eric said he knew what the last shot in his story would be. At the first Supernatural Creation convention in L.A. in March 2008, Eric said he had about a 15-page bible describing the overall story arc of the show, and that he always knew as part of it weâ€™d never see Lucifer. In a lovely interview at the 2010 Comic Con, Eric for the first time publicly admitted his original idea for the overall mytharc story outline had been simply for Sam eventually to be possessed by Lucifer and for Dean to hunt him down and kill him.
The story we actually got was and continues to be much, much richer than that, a conceptual conflict between destiny and free will, good and evil, conscience and expedience, Heaven and Hell, the human and the supernatural, played out among psychologically complex characters. At the first Paley panel in 2006, Eric freely admitted that the psychological depth of the Winchester brothers was none of his doing, but came from Bob Singerâ€™s understanding that the real story wasnâ€™t the horror one, but the relationship between Sam and Dean. That was enabled by the discovery that Jensen and Jared had the acting chops and innate chemistry to bring that relationship believably to life, and was furthered by stories like Faith venturing away from simple horror into high philosophical concept. Those things led to stories being built around the brothers’ personal issues, with monsters chosen to fit those circumstances rather than the monsters being the focus of the stories. Developments between the brothers also appeared to be influenced by the writers, as they became increasingly familiar with their actors’ abilities, writing intentionally to the actors’ strengths. In interviews during later seasons â€“ including the various Comic Con ones â€“ Eric credited Ben with having come up with the idea that all demons were once human souls, and discussions among the writing team with having found a way to bring angels grittily into the show without Touched By An Angel sappiness.
All of those were profound steps away from Ericâ€™s initial simple vision. I want to learn about more of those moments, and how they shifted the storyâ€™s world on its Winchester axis and will shape the story into the future.
Season Six â€¦ And Beyond?
Another thing I would love to explore in free-wheeling discussion among the creators and actors is the whole idea and experience of going to season six and (hopefully!) beyond. I’m certain no one guessed Supernatural would actually run to five full seasons, completing Eric’s initial story arc, much less need to do something more and go somewhere different; I’d love to hear how the thinking went on going ahead and wrapping up the initial story rather than simply extending it, and deciding what would follow the apocalypse and where the brothers’ story could go from where that initial tale ended. The choices to jump a year into the future, to explore a domesticated Dean, and particularly to bring Sam back for the first half of the season as a soulless sociopath were particularly risky ones, given the fans’ investment in the close relationship between the brothers as the heart of the show; how did they decide to do that, and determine for how much of the season the brothers would be so different? What challenges did playing these new versions of Sam and Dean present for Jared and Jensen, and how much of what was actually going on with the brothers in the first half of the season did they learn at the beginning of the season, rather than just as each new script arrived? Similarly, Bobby and Castiel were put in somewhat different roles, given their relationship with the brothers; how much did the actors know from discussions about where the show would go when the new season began?
And what clues is the team willing to give about what might be in store for season seven and beyond, if that future materializes?
I Claim Do-Over
For everyone on the Paley dais, I have another favorite question: if they each had the chance to do-over one specific thing they did on or brought to the show, what would they choose to change, and why? (Eric, I’m particularly looking at you: an angel’s grace as a tangible, physical thing, and a fallen angel [and her grace] literally falling to Earth like meteorites? Really?)
Another favorite fun question in my thoughts for everyone on the panel would be this: given their past six years of experience with the show (all right, a bit less for Ben, and even less for Misha!) and all they’ve learned and done along the way, if they each had the chance to reach back through time to when they started on the show to give themselves one piece of advice, what would it be?
A New View
I thought Jensen brought wonderful vision to his chance to direct Weekend At Bobby’s. I know Jensen, Jared, and Jim have all been asked about that experience, and I’ve enjoyed every story, reaction, and snippet I’ve heard, but I’d still like to hear more, including how the offer for him to direct came about and what things came up and needed to be resolved between the writing and production headquarters in Hollywood and the production team in Vancouver. What was it like for Sera, dealing with Jensen as a director, rather than an actor? What was Jensen’s biggest challenge in taking over behind the camera? Did anything about the experience take him by surprise, despite all his preparation? How involved was he able to be in editing and post-production, given that he was working as an actor shooting the demanding (and very Dean-intensive) Exile On Main Street while post was going on?
Hmm, I think I’m going to stop here; I could go on forever, but that would be selfish. And the Paley discussion is likely to be limited to just one hour anyway.
What would YOU want to ask?