In the intense universe of fandom surrounding Supernatural — the CW series that follows the chisel-jawed Winchester brothers — there are ”Sam girls” and ”Dean girls.” Websites chronicle every scrap of minutiae (including the fellas’ sweet ride, a ’67 Chevy Impala), and bloggers dig around casting directors’ sites looking for snippets of scenes to post online (they’ve even managed to spoil entire scripts).
One creative fan actually showed up on set in an orange vest, pretending to be a production assistant. ”They gave her a walkie-talkie!” recalls Ackles. ”She worked the entire day there until somebody finally figured it out. Obviously now they’ve stepped up the protocol.”
Meaning, the stars have a bodyguard when they’re working. Says Padalecki, ”I guess the network or the studio said, ‘We [only] have two guys on this show. We’d better protect them.”’
Sure, the show may not crack the top 10, or even the top 80 — ”You go to a dinner party and someone asks you what show you work on and you say ‘Supernatural,’ and they’ve never heard of it,” says creator/exec producer Eric Kripke. ”Then they say, ‘What network is it on?’ and you say ‘The CW,’ and they’ve never heard of it” — but lately it’s been making almost otherworldly gains in viewership. Season 4, which has centered on the brothers battling angels as well as their usual demon enemies, is up an impressive 13 percent over last year, with new episodes averaging 3.3 million viewers a week — and that’s against Thursday-night stalwarts Grey’s Anatomy and CSI. All those new Supernatural acolytes, however, may find themselves wishing they’d showed up sooner.
The cast and crew’s ”godfather,” executive producer and director Kim Manners, passed away in January; Padalecki, 26, and Ackles, 31, are exhausted; and Kripke has long maintained that he wants the series to last only five seasons — that’s one more, then they’re done. As Kripke told his writers at the beginning of this season, ”Let’s be bold. Let’s delve into the stories headlong. Let’s not tap-dance around them because we’re scared, or because we have to save something for tomorrow. Because we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow.”
And that, insists Kripke, will be the final battle. For him, anyway. ”Despite what the network and studio may or may not want, I don’t have more than five seasons of story,” says the producer, whose contract — along with his stars’ — expires at the end of season 5. If the powers that be want the show to continue, he says, they’ll have to do it without him. ”I certainly would be willing to make sure there are enough villains and heroes around to continue a new story line, and I would be around to answer a few questions — that’s it. I’m outta here. There’s no way I’m doing season 6.”
With the weight of their workload and Manners’ death casting a pall on the set, Ackles and Padalecki are also eager to move on, even as they affirm their love for the show. ”We don’t live at home. We don’t sleep in our own beds. Our families aren’t here. Our friends aren’t here. Our girlfriends aren’t here,” says Ackles. ”To do it for another five years, or whatever, I don’t know if I could handle it.”
Padalecki concurs: ”I enjoy working, but what’s the point? Do I want to just keep on doing photo shoots and work so I can get more famous so I can do even more photo shoots and work and fly to more places to do more press?… I get sick of talking about myself.”
That doesn’t mean The CW will just let their growing cult hit go. ”If the show’s doing well, we would go on, I’m sure,” says CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff, who declines to elaborate on whether the network would try to woo Kripke to stay. ”It’s premature for us to even address that.” Either way, Ostroff should be prepared to open her checkbook at those season 6 negotiations: According to Ackles, ”They’d have to back up a Brinks truck.”
Kripke certainly acts with the abandon of someone whose show has only a year to live. In upcoming episodes, Castiel’s human vessel will tell the Winchesters he’s going to return to a normal life, and on April 23 the show will introduce a third Winchester brother, Adam (Jake Abel). ”The title of the episode is ‘Jump the Shark,’ because we know that’s what we’ll be accused of,” says Kripke, clearly delighting in the idea. Meanwhile, Sam girls and Dean girls might have to throw down when, in the season finale, the brothers battle each other: Kripke won’t reveal what sets off the family squabble, only that it presages next year’s metaphysical death match between heaven and hell. That certainly sounds like a good way to go out. ”I don’t want to be cheesy and here’s Sam and Dean at age 50 sitting in wheelchairs with grandchildren,” says Padalecki. ”I think I’d rather leave them wanting more than get to the point where they boo you off stage.”
Of course, with this show’s fiery fan base, it may be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.