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Why fan engagement is the future of TV

The way a fan engages with TV shows has radically changed since the days when a live scheduled episode was the only way for an audience to see them.

Why fan engagement is the future of TV

Following the announcement last year that Freeform cancelled Shadowhunters – meaning the second half of S3 that aired this year featured the last ever episodes of the beloved supernatural teen show – fans have been understandably campaigning to save the show online ever since.

Freeform’s head of programming Karey Burke revealed the decision was made after the network’s co-production partner lost its output deal with Netflix, putting a bigger financial burden on them to make the original show. “We want back and forth with them but ultimately we just couldn’t make the economics work. We were very happy creatively with it.”

We track everything at play in 'Shadowhunters''s cancellation to understand how to get it on screen again. What can we learn from this year's Upfronts?

On the one hand, such a statement is frustrating for fans hearing the show wasn’t cancelled based on content or ratings but instead on economics. On the other, it provides hope that there could still be a possibility of another network or streaming platform stepping in and saving the show.

It’s also worth noting that Shadowhunters fans are some of the most passionate you’ll find online. To many, it’s more than just a TV show – it’s a lifeline offering diverse and powerful LGBTQI representation, progressive depictions of gender, and thoughtful reflections on current social issues.

On Twitter, one user described Shadowhunters as being “the reason why so many of us learned to embrace who we really are. Shadowhunters is acceptance, tolerance, empowerment, and love, and those things deserve to be saved.”


Meanwhile, another took aim at what they perceive to be an industry-wide issue. “Further proof that networks don’t realize what they have when they’ve got it. These stories are more than just numbers & contracts, they mean things to people. Media is art & it changes LIVES. You can’t put a price on that.”

However, perhaps the most astute was someone on Tumblr who sniped, “So Freeform cancelled Shadowhunters because they can’t afford production, as if season one wasn’t filmed in McG’s backyard with two flashlights and an iPhone.”

The fans currently campaigning to save the show have also combined their efforts to fundraise for The Trevor Project, a charity that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQI youth. At this stage, the Shadowhunters fandom are much more than just a collective of people who love the show; it’s become a movement rooted within popular culture.

With such impassioned efforts by fans to save Shadowhunters and to support LGBTQI young people who may draw strength and acceptance from the show, it’s ludicrous to imagine that not one single network or SVOD would step up to save it. Luckily for those fans, fan engagement looks to be the future of television.

Let’s not forget how much of a ruckus One Day at a Time fans kicked up when it looked likely the show wouldn’t be getting a third season. A hashtag campaign reigned supreme across Twitter, official letters were sent out, and influential fans wrote heartfelt pieces about the importance of the show and why it should be renewed, which it finally was in March 2018.


More recently, NBC’s sci-fi drama Timeless was cancelled and renewed within just three days after a monumental outcry from fans. Actor Malcolm Barrett (Dear White People) explained to Vulture, “I saw there was a heavy fan base, which I had never really seen until this moment. When we got canceled, there were tons of folks on Twitter, and fan art, and hashtags, and all this is stuff that I’ve never experienced in my entire career.”

And let’s not forget the ballad of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A show ruthlessly – and stupidly – cancelled by Fox, only to be picked up by NBC a day later after fans near enough shut down the internet to protest the cancellation. On Twitter, Melissa Fumero credited the show’s fans for saving the Nine-Nine by stating, “You did this!! You got loud and you were heard and you saved our show!!”

The rise in fan engagement saving a show calls into question the validity of renewing or cancelling shows based solely on live metrics. Even the most hardcore fans of any show likely miss the occasional live episode or may have even discovered it during a critical bingewatching experience on an SVOD service. The way audiences engage with TV shows has radically changed since the days when a live scheduled episode was the only way for an audience to show their love for it.

Just last week the world very nearly came to a certain end when Fox announced it had cancelled 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'. With the network planning a 'Prison Break' revival and a '24' reboot, we're compelled to ask the question: what the hell is Fox doing?

Networks like Fox are staying firmly in the past and others like NBC sound like they’re slowly catching up to the value of fandoms over metrics. Why an SVOD service like Netflix would allow for the cancellation of a show with a colossal fan base like Shadowhunters is quite frankly bewildering in that respect.

Streaming should be the savior of television when it comes to fringe shows with huge fan followings and it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of such fandoms. We’ll have to wait and see whether Shadowhunters fans will be able to positively influence change and save their show from certain doom.

All we do know is that fans currently hold more value and power than actual shows, creators, or networks do and it’d be foolish for the industry to continue ignoring that.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.