Inside the Big Battle to Save a Little TV Show

When TV shows aren’t popular, they’re canceled — at least that’s the precedent set by years of broadcast and cable programming. But in the current age of streaming services, a glut of shows and an evaporating pile of money have created an overwhelming wave of cancellations completely at odds with viewership, popularity, or show quality. For the average viewer, that might just mean hitting play on something new. But online, small but tight-knit fandoms have taken it upon themselves to take on the streaming giants on their beloved shows. And how do you win an unfair match? You fight dirty.

Welcome to the shadow and bone fandom. The group is made up of enthusiasts of the Grishaverse novels, a series of books by Leigh Bardugo, all set in the same universe. In the world of Bardugo, some of the largest and most famous historical cities, such as Amsterdam during the time of the plague, Beijing ruled by the dynasty, Tsarist Moscow and Viking Stockholm, all coexist around each other. There are political machinations, wars and famines, as countries attempt to rule around (or despite) magic users called Grisha. Like books, shadow and bone series follows Alina Starkov, a rare Grisha with the ability to summon heat and sunlight. Viewers are also introduced to an unlikely but scrappy group of thieves called The Crows – a team of six outcasts and orphans who come together to take down an infamous mob boss.

shadow and bone premiered on Netflix in April 2021 and became the second most-watched show in the United States in its first weekend. But when its second season released last March to much less fanfare, writers and the show’s showrunners have told media that the show’s future (and a highly anticipated spin-off with the Crows) will only be possible if viewership increases. Sci-fi and fantasy series are notoriously expensive to make and are often canceled by streamers before their third season. And Netflix has a trail of canceled series with massive fandoms to back that up: First Kill, Half Bad: The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself, And Destiny: The Winx Saga. But faced with an uncertain future, the shadow and bone fandom is not going quietly. Instead, fan accounts have started a movement online to play the show’s stats in their favor. Those behind many of the biggest accounts tell rolling stone that they are willing to put in the manpower to make sure he survives.

‘We had to find something to keep the fandom and the energy alive’, the Turkish fan behind the popular account @flawlqes recount rolling stone. “Netflix is ​​such an unstable streaming service. You never know if your favorite show is going to be renewed or cancelled, and we’ve always had that doubt. So from day one, we did our best.

There is nothing new in a fan campaign. As streaming services have become havens for long-cancelled shows, renewal fights have become commonplace online. Some, like the campaign to renew the sci-fi telepathy thriller Meaning 8 and a space odyssey Firefly, received Pyrrhic victories in the form of final films to conclude the plots. Others, like mystery science fiction the OA or quirky comedy grow daisieshad big fan campaigns that ended in failure. shadow and bone fans don’t just want a renewal – they’re also desperate for a spin-off. But asking Netflix to spend more money means convincing the media conglomerate that fandom is good for them.

Playing with the system is all about numbers. After the show premiered, the most dedicated #Grishaverse fans watched it in its entirety, at least five times a week – trying to keep shadow and bone‘s place as the #2 series on Netflix. On the r/ShadowandBone subreddit, accounts promoted nightly virtual watch parties, where hundreds of people tuned in to rewatch together. Admins of popular accounts have also encouraged casual viewers to keep episodes, first as re-watches and then simply muted in the background to boost their views. Holly, an 18-year-old from the UK who runs several shadow and bone fan accounts, tells rolling stone she has seen the series at least 60 times. But while Netflix monitors a series’ engagement for around the first three weeks after its premiere, the streaming service doesn’t regularly share specific show data, which means fans have had to maintain engagement on the show as well. social networks.

Since season 2 of shadow and bone hashtags related to the series (#SOCspinoff, #SixOfCrowsSpinoff) trended globally on Twitter each week, with over 5,000 tweets per hashtag. And when weeks of constant revisions weren’t enough to keep the fantasy series in Netflix’s Top 5, @flawlqes also kicked off #grishaverseeditingweek – seven days of encouragement shadow and bone fans to post video montages of their favorite scenes and characters. On TikTok, the hashtag received 1 million views on its first day. As of Monday, the hashtag had 6.3 million views and thousands of submissions. Following the popularity of #grishaverseeditingweek, Holly launched #grishaverseAUweek, seven days of alternate universe fanfiction. And the support doesn’t just come from the fans. After pressure for a season 3 renewal, Holly recounts rolling stone This shadow and bone creators, actors and fandoms of other shows threatened with cancellation, such as Netflix’s Lockwood and Co.., began to boost solidarity hashtags and content.

“I’ve never been in any ongoing shows fandom before. I always joined things after they were over. But this time it’s new to me and it’s scary because Netflix in particular is keen to cancel things before they really have a chance to shine,” Holly says. “But the writers and the showrunners and everybody want it as much as we do. And it really makes you feel more connected to the show. Like they don’t give up, we shouldn’t give up.

On Twitter, the @reallifewylan the fan account has 13,500 subscribers and publications shadow and bone content every day. But the man behind the scenes is a 22-year-old German trans fan named Arthur. His favorites by far are the characters of “Six of Crows”, a group of ragged robbers who rule a fictional Amsterdam. The books inspired Arthur so much that he wrote his bachelor’s thesis at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany on shadow and bone and “the depiction of trauma and addiction in popular young adult literature”. He believes the power of the series’ source material and its reliance on acceptance and found family is one of the reasons the online community works so hard to keep the series alive.

“For me in particular, as a trans person, my Twitter account is a place where I could really explore my identity for the very first time and have people still like me for it,” he says. “I don’t know why my account has grown so much because I’m just screaming into the void. But I’ve found my own family here. And I think that’s a big part of why this community is so tight-knit, because that you can truly be yourself no matter who you are, and you are accepted for it.

Hope, a 21-year-old BookTok creator, adds that the popularity of shadow and bone and the desire for a “Six of Crows” spinoff comes from Bardugo’s positive portrayal of heroes who don’t have everything together. The Crows are outcasts, disabled and recovering from trauma, and finding love and healing through each other. They’re not chosen ones, but they still become main characters – a message that may stand out to many YA readers.

“Immediately the first time I read it, I felt like I could see myself reflected in all the different characters and some of what they went through,” Hope says. “It got me hooked. I fell in love with them immediately and it’s clearly still going strong.

Although a lack of data makes it unclear if fans will manage to win shadow and bone a third season, what’s obvious is that online fandoms aren’t just sitting around and watching the end of their shows anymore. Netflix has made no announcement regarding the renewal or cancellation of the series and has not responded to rolling stonerequest for comment. But each of the fans who spoke to rolling stone say that even if they fail in their mission, they will be comforted, literally, by the friends they have made along the way.


“I’ve met some of my best friends in this fandom,” Holly says. “They come from all over the world and we send each other gifts, we send each other messages every day. They are there for me and they will be my friends for life. It’s just amazing. It’s definitely a community. “

“I have been [in this fandom] during two years. And it’s been like a roller coaster,” says Arthur. “But if we don’t get that spinoff or the renewal, we’ll still be here.”

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