How often does a canceled TV show really get saved? It may seem like a frequent phenomenon, thanks to the media attention and fan celebration showered on programs that do get picked up by another network or streaming service. It makes for an obvious next step when your favorite show gets the ax: Just take to Twitter to beg for its life.
But it's actually a pretty rare occurrence, and often takes a whole lot of work. And perhaps no show's rescue took more work than that of Young Justice, the DC animated series from creators and producers Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman.
Young Justice was canceled by Cartoon Network in 2013 due to poor toy sales after just two seasons, and in the early days of streaming success, the idea of reviving a show on Netflix or Hulu wasn't really viable. Vietti and Weisman say that, at the time, there wasn’t much fans could do to rectify the situation.
“It's not like Cartoon Network or Warner Bros. ever announced ‘There's no more coming.’ They just didn't announce that there was more coming, and so it took the fandom some time to sort of realize that they weren't getting any more,” Weisman tell SYFY WIRE. “And when it hit them… there's this internet thing, and it has a tendency to snowball. It started to dawn on the fandom that we weren't working on a third season, and that became a sort of outcry. A lot of people, they went through petitions and a lot of things that were very well-meaning, but didn't necessarily accomplish anything.”
Eventually, though, the rapid evolution of the entertainment business changed things. Thanks to the influx of new streaming outlets and the hunger for owned IP, Young Justice was officially revived in November 2016, and its return is a story about fan tenacity, love, and sheer stubbornness. Young Justice Season 3, subtitled Outsiders, premiered on DC Universe on Jan. 4 of this year. Vietti and Weisman say the series’ revival has everything to do with the years-long, fan-run campaigns to bring the series back.
The fan reaction in the aftermath of the show’s cancellation was swift. One petition on Change.org to bring back Young Justice (and Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which was canceled at the same time) garnered over 52,000 signatures. Fans dedicated videos to the series to share what the show had meant to them, kept fan art communities alive, and generally begged for Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. to do something to save the series.
“You name it, we did it,” a Young Justice fan and community organizer who goes by the internet handle Darksuperboy tells SYFY WIRE via email. “Letter campaigns, petitions to Warner Bros. and Netflix for the [series] to be picked up (numbering in the tens of thousands). Social media trending campaigns. A fundraiser... Binge watching both seasons on Netflix. Fan videos. Buying the comics, video game, Blu-rays. Keeping the sales demand high for the creators to see.”
Darksuperboy runs Young Justice fan art groups on DeviantArt, including Young-Justice-Art, as well as a YouTube channel dedicated to Young Justice and other DC properties. He garnered attention from others in the fan community when his Season 3 theories took off online and, understandably, when he climbed Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the British Isles, solely to film a video asking Netflix to pick Young Justice up for Season 3.
The series, he says, means “more than you can imagine” to him. “I am a life long sufferer of depression and anxiety caused by multiple mental issues such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism. I've had problems with socialization and interactions with other people. That makes life very hard for me every day. But Young Justice has helped me with it. I'm not talking about just the show doing this by itself. I’m talking about what it helped create, a community."
Finding fellow Young Justice fans has been a boon to his social life and feelings of self-worth.
"I felt confident to talk with people who responded to me with respect, kindness, and warmth," he continues. "I've had conversations with its artists, a chat with the director over my thoughts on its future, [showing] my voice does matter because I have fans now who want to hear it. Which helped build confidence within me to literally climb mountains, run marathons, and jump out of planes. My life is better for Young Justice.”
He plans to tell the voice actors, most of whom have returned for Season 3, and the creators these things when he attends San Diego Comic-Con in July.
Vietti and Weisman have experienced this outpouring of love firsthand. Before the series was originally canceled, the pair had befriended a group of Young Justice fans in Los Angeles, who gathered at a local restaurant every week for watch parties. As they sat amongst the fans for the Season 2 finale, they realized no one around them knew the cancellation was coming.
It was nice to be there with them, Vietti says, but it was a bittersweet moment; the fans, both those in the restaurant and around the world, wouldn’t realize for some time that there was no Season 3 on the horizon. So it’s fitting that when the Season 3 announcement came three years later, Vietti and Weisman found out only 10 days before the fans.
“It was fun to watch on the internet, to see that erupt,” Vietti says. “It was just unbelievable. How often does that happen, really, for any show? Live action, animated, for any show to come back is a rare occasion. And I think even more rare, honestly in animation. It just made the victory even sweeter for our fans.”
Weisman laughs when remembering how eager everyone was for things to get started again. “Immediately they're like, ‘So when can we have it? Can it start now?’ And we're like, ‘Well, no. We just found out. We gotta make it first.’”
Little did the fans know that they’d have to wait almost another three years after the Season 3 announcement to get any new episodes. “It's because animation takes so much longer to produce a lot of the time than live action,” Weisman says. “And it's also kind of unusual, I think, to announce a show at the beginning of a production. Oftentimes in animation, when a show is announced, it's already quite a ways down the pipe in terms of production… But we had just started; [we] were just having our first story meetings when the announcement came out.”
Luckily, they already knew what story they wanted to tell. Vietti says the pair write their ideas on index cards and hang them — A Beautiful Mind-style — in Weisman’s office. While writing Seasons 1 and 2, ideas were left behind, ones they wanted to explore in Season 3.
“But at the same time, Greg and I stepped away from the show for a number of years,” Vietti says. “We were coming back to it with fresh ideas and new experience just from our own adventures and our animation careers.”
What results is a jam-packed Season 3, one the pair says takes inspiration from their own ideas as well as DC comics canon old and new.
Despite the anticipation for a third season, the pressure, oddly enough, was less imposing the third time around than it was for the first two seasons, back when the show had to follow in the wake of other great animated series such as Teen Titans and Justice League: Unlimited. Season 3 has been different. Young Justice already has a fan base, and Vietti and Weisman know at least some of them will enjoy what they've created.
Any anxiety the two feel about Season 3 has nothing to do with critics or even viewership numbers, but fan reaction. After all, the show is back solely because fans demanded more. The last thing Vietti and Weisman want to do is let them down.
“I think, after all this time, we have some sense of what they like, but as artists, you can just never tell,” Vietti says. “You can never know 100 percent. So I’ve been watching the internet with anticipation and anxiety. Fortunately, the reactions have been quite good so far.”
The first six episodes of Young Justice Season 3 are now available to stream on DC Universe.