The Problem with Catering to Fans

When was the last time you saw someone on the internet ranting about The Last Jedi? Nitpicking Infinity War? Making an argument about some other movie or show that was a huge disappointment and shouldn’t have been made? Probably not that long ago.

Since the rise of the internet, there has been an increasing trend where the fans of a particular movie, TV show, book, or franchise balk at something that happens within the canon storyline of said fandom. And thus begins the protests. The boycotts. The angry rants in the comment sections. The “I could have written this better than them” boasts. The tweets and Facebook posts calling down fire from heaven to burn whoever wrote that particular story arc.

In and of itself, this isn’t a problem. Everybody is entitled to their opinions, and no one is forcing someone else to take part in a particular form of entertainment. The problem, however, lies in when the creators of said works start listening to the fans and even make changes to their original ideas to appease the fans. Suddenly, the integrity of the work—and the creator—has been compromised by people who think they can write a better story line or character arc, even if they don’t know how to string together an intelligent sentence in the comments of a post.

For instance, right now, there are fans that are refusing to continue watching Star Wars if the writers don’t bring back Luke Skywalker “in the flesh” for Episode IX. In the flesh. A character who died in a universe where people don’t easily come back to life. (Sorry, Darth Maul is an outlier that comes back to life too many times out of pure rage and doesn’t count.)

Another group has started a petition to have The Last Jedi removed from canon and actually remade because they disagree with Rian Johnson’s decisions for the franchise.

It’s ridiculous.

Realistically, a creator cannot please everyone. There are people in the world who do not like Harry Potter or don’t care about the next installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Attempting to please every fan would be impossible. But when creators start listening to specific groups of fans, the quality of the work degrades and the stories start to lose both their focus and the meticulous craft that brought us to the fandoms in the first place.

Take Sherlock, for instance. After two successful seasons, the show caught the attention of more people, especially in the United States, and the fandom blew up. There were theories everywhere about how Sherlock survived, what would happen in season three when Sherlock and John were united, and whether or not Moriarty was truly dead. And what happened? The writers used theories from across the internet in the episode “The Empty Hearse” to explain how Sherlock might have survived the fall, even turning Anderson’s character into a obsessed theorist with a wall of “theories” (including surviving via the TARDIS). Not only was that out of character for Anderson, but the wall of theories was put in there simply to let fans know the writers are listening. Which only fueled the fans on further.

By season four, the writers were trying to appease fans so much that it ended up as a train wreck. They tried to do too many things in one season and all the cleverness and subtle references to the original work were all but erased. Suddenly, the show had turned into “Let’s add whatever will shock and make fans scream the most.” Mrs. Hudson driving a fancy car super fast? Check. Mary dying because everybody wants Sherlock and John to be together? Check. Another Holmes—a female—because wouldn’t that just tickle their fancy? Check. But none of it was interesting. None of it made any sense.

Or what about Doctor Who? In the last episode to feature Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, “The Time of the Doctor,” the writers conveniently wrote in a loophole to give the Doctor more regenerations, sufficiently keeping the show going for many more seasons because fans wanted more. (And of course, keeping themselves employed.) But the rest of the episode made little sense, even to a seasoned Whovian like myself who had watched every episode of the New Who up to that point, as it tried to shove as many “interesting” and shocking elements into the episode as possible.

Adding shock value can only get writers so far. They still need to come up with their own inspiring ideas, which is what got them fans in the first place and made their show or book a hit. Putting elements in a story for the sake of getting fans to buzz about it on social media is a temporary gratification. It has no substance later. The more I think about Sherlock season four or The Last Jedi, the more I realize that neither did anything to expound upon the already established universe and characters.

Rey is still a Mary Sue and we learned nothing about her backstory or why she can easily manipulate the Force and wield a lightsaber on the first try. All the “character development” Sherlock went through between season two and three was defaulted back to his original demeanor because fans “expected” him to act like a “highly functioning sociopath,” which apparently translates to being a jerk to everybody in the vicinity. The biggest thing at stake for the season arc was whether or not John actually cheated on Mary, which was so out of character I almost quit mid-episode.

Then there’s the push to bring back TV shows for reunions, usually at the demands of fans who can’t get over that their show ended years ago. Unsurprisingly, most of these reunions fall flat because they don’t bring anything new or substantial. They attempt to make reference to what made you love the show in the first place, but the writing doesn’t hold up in any meaningful way.

Serenity was created to appease fans of Firefly, who popped up after Fox canceled the single season show. But the storyline attempted to do too much in one movie, trying to solve the Ravager problem all the while giving us shocking twists that only furthered the promise that the show could never come back in the future. (Looking at you, leaf on the wind.)

USA Network aired Psych: The Movie, bringing back everybody’s favorite fake psychic detective and his pineapple-loving friends. But not a whole lot actually happened in the TV movie. The mystery was dull and overdone. The Yin and Yang episodes were much more suspenseful in regard to Juliet’s fate. The bad guy, while played by Zachary Levi, was too much of a caricature to make him clever or compelling. And the well-loved jokes and pop culture references were lackluster, thrown in there for nostalgic purposes. It wasn’t a total flop because parts of it were still fun, but it didn’t have any depth or pull like the original show, at times, would delve into.

Both of these shows came back for a reunion movie because of the fan devotion, but they lacked the writing that made both shows great.

As fans demand more and more stories about fan-favorite characters or particular worlds, the entertainment market becomes saturated. Many YA book series out there have in-between “novellas” published (books 1.5, 2.5, etc.) or a movie “in the works” even though many book-to-movie adaptations flop. Marvel continues to pump out blockbuster films without stopping to think if we really needed a second Ant-Man movie. The same can be said of any side character in the Marvel, DC, or Star Wars universes.

Currently, in an attempt to catch up with Marvel and please disappointed fans, DC is planning several shows for their streaming service that will feature characters like Swamp Thing and Stargirl. While it’s obvious why fans would be excited for the live-action Titans show, it’s hard to see how Swamp Thing could appeal to anybody who didn’t read piles of comic books during the 1990s. And Stargirl wouldn’t be my first choice for a female-led TV series. She seems more like a team player, being highly associated with the Justice Society of America instead of her own lead role. Why not pick a female superhero like Batgirl or Zatanna who already holds her own as a title character and would have a bigger draw from even casual fans?

Creating shows that spotlight other heroes or bring a new perspective to an established universe isn’t always a bad thing. But when companies greenlight TV show after TV show, book series after book series, it drowns the market and makes it harder for quality content to be enjoyed. There are only a certain amount of hours in a day to watch TV or read books, and giving fans everything they want will only be able to run its course so long. The industry cannot support itself, even if fans demand new content all the time. Eventually, companies will realize that a multi-million dollar movie is not going to make enough money. We’ve already seen it with the box office disappointment of Solo and the cancellation of any other Star Wars anthology films in the works, despite fans wanting films about Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and possibly more characters.

Not all fan influences are bad, though. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was essentially created as a way for Agent Phil Coulson to live after fans protested he didn’t actually die by Loki’s scepter in The Avengers. NBC’s Chuck was saved for three more seasons because the fans took part in a promotion through Subway to “Save Chuck.” And many more shows have been saved by fans, including Star Trek: The Original Series, which has become a cult phenomenon and one of the longest running science-fiction franchises.

But saving Chuck and Coulson didn’t change the original content of the fandom. Marvel movies continued on while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave insight on what was happening behind the scenes during major Marvel moments. The world of Chuck expanded, allowing for more depth and backstory for the Intersect program and characters. The writers continued what had already been started and didn’t force unnecessary plots or unbelievable relationships. They allowed the shows to develop organically and stay true to the original vision. Coulson may have ended up in future outer space during season five, but he was still Agent Coulson through and through, risking everything to save his team and upholding the integrity of what S.H.I.E.L.D. once stood for.

In other cases, sometimes outraged fans can give perspective to the creators, as was the case for The 100 when they killed off an LGBTQ+ character. But there is a fine line between listening to fans in order to understand specific groups and simply giving them everything they want. Disney can listen to the fans’ disappointments with The Last Jedi and hopefully come up with a better end to the trilogy with Episode IX, but it would be unreasonable for them to remove The Last Jedi from canon and remake it, especially with the way the internet spreads content like wildfire. (If they were going to do that, they would have already eliminated Episodes I-III from canon to please fans.)

Instead, there needs to be a balance between the creator and the fandom. Creators should listen to the fans to a point, to gauge whether their story is working or if they’re creating characters compelling enough to keep people hooked. But the fandom needs to respect the creator as well. Yes, there may be disappointments. Characters you love may die, and your ship may not sail. But in the end, it’s just a movie or book. If you fell in love with a character or a movie made you daydream about other worlds, it’s because the writers did their job. Instead of complaining and nitpicking, maybe we need to trust the writers and directors with their own creations. Or start making and distributing our own stories that will give us free reign to do whatever we want. But if you don’t want to do that, there’s always fanfiction.