Seven years ago, at 9pm on a Tuesday night, the Supernatural pilot aired on The WB. I’m pretty sure back then not even Kripke at his most optimistic would’ve thought that in 2012 the show would be about to start its eighth season.
Publicity for the show had billed it as “Route 66” meets “The X Files,” and “Star Wars in truck stop America”. The series was going to follow two brothers, we were told, who would encounter ghosts and creatures from American folk lore and urban legends during a road trip across America, with an ongoing mystery surrounding their mother’s murder 20 years earlier and their father’s disappearance.
On a deeper level, Kripke said the show reflected the uncertainty of life post-9/11, in which an enemy “is not only out to get us. He could be living among us.”
The Pilot was filmed in LA, rather than Vancouver, during March of 2005, with the acclaimed David Nutter as director. The leads were two young WB stars – Jared Padlacki from “Gilmore Girls”, and Jensen Ackles who was then appearing in” Smallville”.
The Pilot was shown at Comic Con in 2005, and in the lead-up to the premiere the WB placed a special insert in the September issues of the Rolling Stone and Us Weekly. When readers opened the magazine to the ad, the insert played a 20-second song clip of “Out of My Hands,” by the Dave Matthews Band, a snippet of Sam and Dean dialogue and 2 flashing headlights.
Showing an understanding of online broadcasting ahead of its time, The WB paired with Yahoo and made the Pilot free via streaming from September 6th to the 12th.
When the Pilot aired on September 13th, following the “Gilmore Girls”, it attracted 5.69 million viewers bringing in the time periods highest adult 18-49 rating for the WB in two years, improving over the “One Tree Hill” premiere in 2004 by 19%.
Critics reaction to the premiere were pretty lukewarm. Bob Sassone of AOL TV called the scene of Mary’s death “one of the (most) stunning openings to a show I’ve seen in years, and described the ending as an but “oh my God I didn’t see that coming at all” moment.
Sassone also complemented the mood and atmosphere of the show, something picked up in the NY Times review which said “the camera angles, spooky music and jumpy sequences… are as frightening as those found in any horror movie.”
Interestingly it was the aspect of the Show that would become the heart of its success, the relationship between Sam and Dean, that failed to excite. Jensen and Jared were described as “what you’d come to expect from a WB teen star” and the family aspect of the story as standard family drama. The NY Times even mockingly compared it to its WB stablemate calling it “Ghostbusters’ Creek.”
However then, as it has been since, it was the fans who immediately loved the show, and impressive ratings over the first few episodes meant the show got a full season pickup within a month. When the episode aired there was already Supernatural websites and message boards. Due to the online airing of the Pilot, fanfic was being written before the Show aired on TV, with the first fic community (Supernaturalfic) starting on 11 September. For the record, the first Wincest fic appeared the day after the Pilot aired.
Now it’s seven years and 149 episodes later, and the first episode of the eighth season will air on October 3rd. Over that time, the Little Show that Could, a show that often seemed to have a precarious future, became The Show that Did.
Supernatural is supported by a global fanbase, and has spawned a series of novels, comics, a webseries, an anime series and over a dozen conventions around the world each year, not to mention inspiring tens of thousands of pieces of fanfic, art and videos. It has grown up with social media, staking claims on Facebook, twitter and Tumblr, and even its own Wiki. where fans and cast and crew have grown into what we call the Supernatural family.
Happy birthday Supernatural! Thank you for entertaining us, scaring us, breaking our hearts, and inspiring us. No chick flick moments – but hey can we give you a hug?
Read more about the history of Supernatural in our Supernatural Scrapbook.