The just-aired "ScoobyNatural" episode of Supernatural is the long-running show's latest foray into risk. Maybe it can't be called a risk 13 years in, but with over 285 episodes, Supernatural continues to defy expectation and push boundaries all without "jumping the shark."
At the PaleyFest premiere of the Scooby-Doo crossover episode, SYFY FANGRRLS spoke to some of the cast and crew about how Supernatural's big risks and episodes like the aforementioned crossover keep the show fresh after so many seasons.
For executive producer Andrew Dabb, the ability to take risks and its contribution to the longevity of the show go "hand in hand."
"Supernatural didn't really take a big risk with an episode probably until the groundhog day episode, 'Mystery Spot,'" said Dabb. "It took two and a half years to earn it. Earn the trust of the network, earn the trust of the studio. And so now we've earned it, now we take advantage of it but you have to take advantage of it in smart ways."
Episodes like the Scooby-Doo crossover really show the breadth of a show like Supernatural. In an industry which tries to put everything in a box, can defy labels at any turn, Misha Collins (who plays Castiel), believes "pushing the envelope" has helped keep the show fresh for not only viewers but the creatives behind-the-scenes as well.
"We did an episode, 'The French Mistake,' where we totally broke the fourth wall. We were characters in an alternate universe where we were shooting an episode of Supernatural. I mean, we've done these things that no other show's ever tried to do. There's never been a live action drama that has done a crossover with a comedy animated show. This hasn't happened before, and I think the fact that we are not only willing but excited to break conventions and do weird things makes us as actors, and the writers of the show as well, excited to keep coming back to work."
Because of its long history (so long that some of the people working on the show now grew up watching it), Supernatural is also able to make references to and even bring back characters from past seasons, renewing that energy and nostalgia that only comes with a show that's been on the air for basically enough time to influence an entire generation. Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester, likes that aspect of the show.
"One of the things that I really want to share is that it doesn't just blow through a season and then move on to something totally new," Ackles said. "Still, the world continues to swirl around them. Characters and certain aspects of seasons past never really go away, and I really do love that about the show."This long-time connection to the characters likely gives the audience some comfort in these non-traditional episodes. At the panel, Ackles, Collins and Jared Padalecki each essentially described a version of how they focus on staying true to their character no matter the situation—like an animated one with Scooby and the gang, for instance. Knowing the characters will remain grounded gives writers the freedom to really test boundaries.
Collins said that level of uncertainty also contributes to the show's longevity: "It also makes the audience sort of curious. Like, 'what the hell are they going to do next?' It doesn't get routine. There's a rule they have in the writer's room on Supernatural, which is if they've done anything iterative of this idea before they're not going to do it again. So they're always looking for something new and when you get to Season 13, that means that you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel. And that's how we find ourselves."
Executive producer Eugenie Ross-Leming noted that while the ability for the show to stay fresh narratively is a factor, a large part of Supernatural's success for the past 13 years is due to the fans.
"I think the continued longevity shows that people are always looking to move beyond where they were last season—but also these characters for some reason, I think because they're really wonderful characters, have endeared themselves to such a strong fan base. The fan base has really kept us going and they seem so inspired and so enthusiastic that we sort of feel we have to rise to that responsibility and that enthusiasm. We have to share that enthusiasm. It's very symbiotic."
Quite a few fans would probably be happy with another 13 seasons of Supernatural, but others wonder exactly when the day will come when it's actually time for the show to end. Collins isn't immune to those thoughts either.
"The show has been like a big part of the fabric of a lot of people's maturation and growing up," Collins said. "So I think people wonder, how does this end? And we wonder that too. We talk about it. We had a moment this summer where we were all sitting together talking about it. And Jensen bought up a dream he had — he dreamed the last scene of the show. Both Jared and I teared up, which is so, so lovely. And it was also... this show now represents such a big part of our lives that the ending's gonna be a big deal."
Season 13 of Supernatural airs Thursdays on The CW.