The WB’s Supernatural premiered Sept. 13, 2005 at 9 p.m., competing for viewers alongside a crop of freshman series. Some would quickly fall by the wayside—like ABC’s Invasion or the WB's own Pepper Dennis, which would take Supernatural’s time slot when it premiered in the spring— and others that would go the distance, like the still-running Criminal Minds on CBS or Fox’s Bones.
The drama, influenced by The X-Files, Route 666 and classic horror movies, did not immediately seem like it would join the later group. But Tuesday, Nov. 11 it will hit the 200 episode mark with "Fan Fiction." And its staying power is noteworthy against a backdrop of recent CW successes. Acclaimed and highly sampled newcomers Jane the Virgin and The Flash, who had the the most watched premiere on CW in history, point to a future not as reliant on the Winchester brothers. But a look back at Supernatural's journey shows its steady appeal helped ground the fledgling CW as it absorbed the assets of the CW and UPN and began its rebranded life in 2006.
Supernatural premiered to a 2.0 Nielsen rating with adults 18-49 and 5.7 million total viewers, while Bones, which opened the same day at 8 p.m., drew a 3.8 in the demo and 10.8 million viewers. Other shows had entire ensembles to rely on—all Supernatural had were two 20-something-year-old leads in Jared Padalecki, an alum of lead-in Gimore Girls, and Jensen Ackles who was fresh off of a 22-episode stint on Smallville, the only other show to have its 200th episode premiere on the CW, as the monster hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester.
During the show’s retrospective episode preceding the 10th season premiere, creator Eric Kripke acknowledged that two of the least successful episodes in the show’s lengthy history were in the first batch. “Wendigo,” which was the direct followup to the pilot and eighth episode “Bugs” were among those he was most apologetic for.
But after four episodes, the WB picked up a full season order of the paranormal drama. Fellow WB freshman Just Legal from Jerry Bruckheimer was cancelled the same day.
The main pull for Supernatural then was that it was delivering young men, improving 75% with males 18-34 compared to the year prior when One Tree Hill was in the time slot. The CW’s The Flash has similar power this season.
The premiere episodes also started the series’ trend of doing just well enough to stay on air, improving 4% in total viewers from the 2004.
At the end of its first season, Supernatural was the only freshman on the Warner Bros. side to survive the WB-UPN merger that created The CW.
Its first season on the fledging netlet wasn’t strong, with the series appearing to be a clear bubble show. When the 2006-2007 season Nielsen rankings were tallied, out of 241 primetime programs, Supernatural clocked in at 216. It averaged a 1.1 rating in the demo and 3.1 million viewers, ending up right between fellow CW shows 7th Heaven, in its 11th and final season, and reality show The Pussycat Dolls Present.
That may explain why the season 2 finale, “All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2” neatly tied up multiple loose strings and answered core mysteries from the show’s first 44 episodes. Still, it was renewed for season three, which ended up ranking 187 out of 220 primetime shows pulling a 1.0 rating.
But even after three seasons, the show’s creative team felt like they were on the edge of cancellation, going up against ratings powerhouses like Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and CSI.
“We always feel like we're a bubble show. We always feel that the sword of Damocles is kind of dangling over our heads,” said Kripke during a 2008 interview with Kristin Dos Santos. “We kind of have a Murphy's Law time slot.”
Yet over six years later, the show has become the CW’s reliable veteran workhorse. It’s moved around the schedule helping build Tuesday night but also airing on Wednesdays, Thursdays and even the dreaded Friday spot at some point. Season nine ranked 141 out of 181 for the 2013-2014 season in total viewers according to Nielsen, holding an average audience of 2.8 million—not far from its season two numbers.
Kripke left his showrunner position after his planned 5-season arc—and the show’s apocalypse storyline—came to an end and has stayed on as an executive consultant. Sera Gamble, who had been with the show since season 1, took the mantle during season 6. Jeremy Carver, who started working with the Winchester Co. in 2007, replaced Gamble at the beginning of season 7 and still leads Supernatural, which is currently spanning double the number of seasons it was built to take on.
Although the series’ creative team and leads Ackles and Padalecki still seem bullish to carry on, they may be able to put their weary heads to rest before another apocalypse.
President Mark Pedowitz has said many times he would like to expand past the women 18-34 range—Supernatural’s current bread and butter. The very meta 200th episode tips its hat to that fact by using an all-girls school musical as its main setting.
Pedowitz explained his goals for the network to Daniel Holloway saying, “It is a broader 18-34-year-old network. That’s how we looked at it. We wanted to have a more balanced appeal. By doing that, we’ve attracted more viewers.”
Successful newbies TheFlash and Jane The Virgin are doing just that. While Flash is bringing in young men, Jane is reaching out to Hispanic audiences, with 21% of viewers falling under the demo.
Then the future of Supernatural may be with a spin-off,but not backdoor pilot Bloodlines, which failed to get a full season order.
“[Bloodlines] just didn’t quite get there, though we do know that people would come to it based on what we saw that night," Pedowitz said in May. "I've already spoken to the creator and the studio. They know that we want to develop once more next season, a Supernatural spinoff. What it is and what it isn't is still in the air."