Kickstarter Fallout: What It’s Going to Take to Revive Your Favorite Cancelled Sci Fi Show and What to Expect

By | March 22, 2013

The success of the Kickstarter campaign to fund a Veronica Mars reunion movie has made some major waves in the entertainment industry and has fans of many cancelled (or ended) shows chomping at the bit to see a similar effort to bring back their own favorite shows.  But several creators of beloved TV shows like Joss Whedon (addressing Firefly) and Josh Friedman (addressing The Sarah Connor Chronicles) have already warned fans that this sort of effort won’t work for every series (more on them in a later post), and the fact is that the best we can hope from a similar campaign targeted at a genre series is a one-off movie that may not be able to pull all of the cast together.  And there’s plenty of other hurdles to get over as well such as the amount money needed and the issue of who holds the rights to a particular property as well as prior commitments that the original cast and creative talent currently have on their schedules.  But all that aside, now that Veronica Mars has shown the way, I’m certain that at some point one or more genre shows will find new life (however briefly) from a similar effort.  So here’s my thoughts on what I think it’s going to take to make something happen and what you can expect if a Kickstarter project does get funded.

What It’s Going to Take:

We’re ready for a movie

1.) Money.  And a lot of it.  Probably no less than $4 million and possibly considerably more.  Rob Thomas’ initial goal for Veronica Mars was $2 million, though as of this writing the campaign is approaching $4 million.  That latter number would most likely be the starting target for any genre series as they usually cost more to produce.  Consider that a typical television episode runs somewhere between two and four million dollars, so a movie—which would run longer—would cost even more to produce.  Also factor in that they may have to start it from the ground up as the sets from the original series have likely long since been disposed of (which typically happens after a show is cancelled or ends).  Of course there’s the possibility that the campaign may try to raise part of the money to convince the network or studio that owns the series that there is a commitment to the project.  So let’s say for example that Jericho producers determine that a movie would cost $6 million (just a for instance, I haven’t heard of anything actually in the works) and they work out a deal with CBS that if the raise half of that then the network would foot the rest of the bill.  I haven’t heard that scenario mentioned, but it seems like a possible way to go.  And Rob Thomas worked out a deal with Warner Bros that if he raised the money to pay for the production costs, they would pay to promote the movie.  So there’s different ways to slice it and make it happen, but still it all comes back to money–and a big pile of it–to get a project like this off the ground.

2.) A Driving Force.  Series creator Rob Thomas provided that for the Veronica Mars movie.  Zach Levi could take that role for a Chuck movie (he’s already hinted at it), and it looks like Bryan Fuller may put out the effort for a Pushing Daisies/Wonderfalls movie.  And this driving force has to have some strong connection to the series, it won’t succeed with just an effort by the fans.  I don’t think Kickstarter would even let fans put up a campaign like the one Rob Thomas did without someone closely involved with the series onboard (I could be wrong about that, though, not certain how Kickstarter handles these things).  Though it is possible that fans could do something separate from Kickstarter and maybe raise commitments to donate and then go to the studio or the creator of the series with that as an indication of what the fans are willing to do to see more of their favorite show.  That may sway some people and lead to an actual Kickstarter campaign to raise the money.

Please bring us back!

3.) Cooperation from the Network/Studio.  The fact is that a television series is owned by a network and/or a studio and they are the ones that ultimately decide what happens with the property.  Rob Thomas could have raised all the money he wanted, but without the involvement of the Warner Bros studio he could not legally produce a Veronica Mars movie.  Why would the network or studio not cooperate if the fans are the ones footing the bill to produce the film?  Because they are networks and studios and who knows what drives their decision making.  They could have other plans for the property that conflict with any sort of fan-funded film.  For example, there could be plans for a new Stargate series (I haven’t actually heard of any, so SG fans don’t get excited) or they could be planning a reboot (again, just a for instance).  Thus revisiting the old series might be seen as a sign of undermining their future plans.  I do know that Netflix was in talks with CBS about reviving Jericho last year, and something like that could throw in a wrench to a Kickstarter campaign as well.  CBS won’t greenlight a fan-funded Jericho movie, no matter who is behind it, if they have bigger things in the works (though, from what I understand, the Netflix talks have since stalled).  Plus, the network and/or studio is probably going to have to dig into their own pockets at some point.  As I mentioned, Warner Bros is paying for the promotion of the Veronica Mars movie and that will probably likely be part of any deal like this.  They still stand a good chance of making their money back, but they may be reluctant to throw more money at a property they previously abandoned.

What to Expect:

A One-Off Movie. (With maybe one or two more to follow).  As I said above, it’s going to take a lot of money to get anything like this off the ground and that only goes so far.  For some genre properties, a fan-funded movie looks like a real possibility (Chuck, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls).  But hoping for more is surely a stretch (though if the first one takes off, maybe the network or studio will foot the bill for more).  Those thinking that an entire season could be funded this way should think again.  Let’s say that a season costs $2 million per episode (a low estimate) and they shoot for thirteen eps (the typical order for a cable series).  That’s no less than $26 million you are asking fans to come up with and that’s likely not a feasible goal.  Now it’s not impossible that a recently cancelled series could be saved if fans kicked in enough money to fund part of the season, say one third which is more in the realm of possibility.  But then that would need the cooperation of the network/studio to fly, and I don’t know how amenable they would be to the idea.  So for now, I’d say the best fans could hope for is a one-off movie that could give them some sort of resolution or at least one more visit with their favorite characters.

Where This Could Lead:

Official Shop of Warner BrosI expect to see several more campaigns like the Veronica Mars one crop up over the coming months and years, but I don’t know how long this sort of effort will continue to prove viable (fans are going to start to run out of money at some point).  But I do see where this could help set a precedent that could potentially change the way some shows are funded.  What if instead of fans donating money for the promise of a T-shirt or a future DVD release they bought shares of the property?  This may start at $100 per share and the number of shares they have guarantees them some percentage of the profits.  One share wouldn’t get them much, but the more they buy the larger percent they get.  Of course the network and/or studio still gets the lionshare, but those who funded it get a piece as well.  This is the case where you have the potential to fund an entire season of a series.  The show could potentially raise more money if those kicking in the dollars see the potential for a return on their investment.  This could also work for existing properties like Chuck or Pushing Daisies or Farscape as well as new projects from up and coming creators trying to fund web series or independent movies.  The networks/studios may resist this sort of funding because it erodes their stake in the property, but then it also reduces their initial cash outlay.   Of course the dust has not completely settled from the Veronica Mars campaign yet, so we don’t have a clear view of the future direction, but I see this as a very real possibility that could change the way at least some shows are funded and produced going forward.

Next, I look at some of the shows that have at least a decent chance of getting a revival through a Kickstarter campaign.

Cancelled Sci Fi/Fantasy Shows on DVD from Amazon.com:

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