Perhaps it is fitting that the first TV program to be revived through Kickstarter would be a detective show. Certainly, the implications of crowdfunding the continuation of a cult series, like Veronica Mars, are somewhat mysterious. Veronica Mars devotees are understandably enthused that, thanks to their communal effort, Veronica has not cracked her last case. Yet, I think it is important for fans to act as private investigators themselves and think critically about the potential consequences of this fundraising model.
Presumably, the precedent set by Veronica Mars will encourage crowdfunded sequels to other fan-favourite series. Indeed, this week, Friday Night Lights actress Adrianne Palicki hinted at a forthcoming Kickstarter campaign, while Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller has contacted Veronica Mars showrunner Rob Thomas about the process.
It seems possible, however, that this omnipresent hope of a crowdfunded revival may deprive many brilliant-but-cancelled shows of a sense of completeness. Worse, Kickstarter may discourage the writers of currently airing shows from giving their work a definitive conclusion in the event of a cancellation.
Moreover, for those few series that do regain life through Kickstarter, a worthy new installment is not guaranteed. Certainly, many lackluster revivals and sequels that have diminished, rather than honoured, their forerunner. Most TV fans surely have their own pet disappointments; I am still in disbelief at the letdown that was The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
Unfortunately, crowdfunding may increase the likelihood of such unsatisfactory sequels. Although Rob Thomas was involved in his brainchild’s Kickstarter campaign and had an idea for a feature film version, this may not be the scenario for other series. Suppose that fans of a certain show launch a crowdfunding initiative without the creator’s participation. That creator may feel pressured to resurrect the series in the absence of a worthwhile storyline.
On the subject of storytelling, Veronica Mars was critically acclaimed for its originality when first broadcast. The continuation of cancelled series through Kickstarter, however, seems more consistent with the backward-looking “sequel-itis” for which contemporary Hollywood cinema is frequently faulted. Furthermore, it could potentially deter creators from experimentation and the pursuit of new projects. Imagine if Joss Whedon never went on to develop Firefly because fans kept throwing money at new installments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Admittedly, some of these misgivings pertain to reviving cancelled series in general, rather than the use of crowdfunding for this purpose. Certainly, the Kickstarter formula presents certain unique concerns.
Firstly, this model seems to annul the implicit contract in the film industry, wherein studios bankroll the creation of entertainment and filmgoers pay for its consumption. With crowdfunding, this responsibility for financing content is also transferred to the public. Fans are thereby compelled to invest twice. They must pay to have a project greenlit, and then again to experience the completed product. And you thought popcorn prices were exploitative.
It should also be recognized that not all of these fan-made donations end up onscreen. Indeed, Kickstarter is a for-profit enterprise and taxes the funds its campaigns generate. It is possible that, rather than circumventing the studio system, fans are simply substituting one corporate authority for another.
Given these reservations, I think it is only appropriate to approach Kickstarter campaigns with a skepticism and independent-mindedness befitting Veronica herself. Evidently, the impact of crowdfunding on cult TV is not an open and shut case.
By: Cooper Long