It’s a striking level of commitment for a program that only debuted two years ago and has aired a total of 25 episodes.
“It was awesome and overwhelming,” Rozon said. “I was thinking, this is about way more than my character running from a tentacle.”
The relationships among the cast and showrunner and “Wynonna Earp” fans — known as “Earpers” — are so intense, the next year will bring conventions devoted solely to the show in Toronto, Minneapolis, New Orleans and London (again).
It’s a striking level of commitment for a program that only debuted two years ago and has aired a total of 25 episodes. But it’s a bond that has helped the Syfy series, which returns July 20 for its third season, not just survive but thrive within the ever-changing pressure cooker of peak TV.
With its modest Nielsen ratings, which average less than 900,000 viewers a week, “Wynonna Earp” may not have made it past its first season. But as social media and a growing array of viewing platforms give networks more ways to gauge the value of niche audiences — and executives become more creative about monetizing them — “Wynonna Earp” demonstrates how a distinctive premise, a passionate fan base and a creative team that respects and nurtures that enthusiasm can help an under-the-radar program flourish in a TV landscape that is tough even on acclaimed shows.
Case in point: The space opera “The Expanse” was canceled by Syfy after three seasons, though it debuted with stronger ratings and more media coverage than “Wynonna Earp.” But the network had only one notable revenue stream for “The Expanse”: The money from advertisements within linear airings of the drama, which wasn’t enough to offset its cost. So the network grounded the series (which was then picked up by Amazon).
By contrast, Syfy’s deal with IDW Entertainment, the studio behind “Wynonna” — struck a couple of years after it signed contracts for “The Expanse” — gives the network more ways to make money. Commercials in on-air broadcasts, ads within online and app views and a Netflix streaming deal all bring Syfy revenue. It also helps that “Wynonna Earp” costs less than “The Expanse.”
But “Wynonna Earp,” the tale of a woman and her allies battling monsters, has a value for Syfy beyond balance sheets, according to Chris McCumber, president of Syfy. Viewership among women aged 18-34 was up 44 percent in the show’s second year, and more than half the audience is women — the highest ratio within the otherwise male-skewing Syfy viewership.
“That sense of perseverance and fighting against all odds is relevant right now,” he said.
According to the lore of the show, Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) is a descendant of Wyatt Earp, who got the clan put under a curse. As the Earp heir, Wynonna is fated to protect the hamlet of Purgatory — and the world — from the demons that bedevil the town. She has the special ability to wield Peacemaker, Wyatt’s gun, which she uses to send Purgatory’s “Revenants” back to hell, usually with a quip — and whiskey — at the ready.
It’s not for every taste — nor was it meant to be.
“It’s such a relief to not have to make TV for everyone,” said Emily Andras, the executive producer and showrunner, who described the comedy-infused, character-driven drama as a combination of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Justified” and “Frozen.” (Wynonna and her younger sister, Waverly, have a tight bond.) “In a world of 500 [scripted] shows, if nothing else, you have to say, ‘Well, I haven’t seen that before.'”
The show has “exceeded expectations” on the social-media front, McCumber said. In 2017, "Wynonna Earp” had an average 224,000 day-of-air Twitter engagements — seven times the next highest Syfy series. Overall, Twitter activity was up 874 percent in Season 2, according to the firm ListenFirst. “I’m a real believer in social media and people using word-of-mouth — that matters more than ever,” McCumber said.
A year ago, Syfy made the slogan “It’s a Fan Thing” key to its marketing campaigns, thus “Wynonna Earp” and its energetic supporters “fit in perfectly with where we were going with the rebrand,” McCumber said.
The core elements of the premise — rogue tentacles, prickly villains, a found family and swoon-worthy romances — are familiar to aficionados of genre entertainment. But the twist it put on those basics helped “Wynonna Earp” stand out and win fans.
Andras’ feminist outlook is much in evidence. This past season, Wynonna was pregnant (as was Scrofano), but she didn’t let that slow her down. Both Doc and the former federal agent Xavier Dolls (Shamier Anderson) are attracted to Wynonna, but the romantic possibilities are just a part of the story, not the main point.
“She’s a female protagonist who is likable, but I think she’s likable because of the freedom we had — she didn’t have to live up to this weird archetype of the ‘strong female character,’ whatever that means,” Scrofano said.
From the start, Andras and the cast have had unusually tight bonds with the show’s enthusiastic, inclusive fan community. The well-known genre entertainment site Den of Geek noted recently, “[In] an era in which internet discourse can bring to light some of the most hateful and divisive values in the world, ‘Wynonna Earp’ fandom is a pretty wonderful, safe place to be.”
“It’s like you’re moving into a new neighborhood and everyone’s there with cookies. It’s an openhearted fandom,” said David Ozer, the president of IDW Entertainment.
Among the most influential fans are Kevin Bachelder and Bonnie Ferrar, who co-host Tales of the Black Badge, a podcast devoted to the show, and weekly video hangouts that sometimes include Andras and cast members. (Ferrar also runs the Twitter account @WynonnaFans.)
They and other fandom leaders, like Bridget Liszewski, the editor of the site The TV Junkies, actively promote and encourage a friendly, tolerant Earper culture that emphasizes consideration and community-building over factional flame wars or personal attacks. Respectful differences are accommodated; toxic meltdowns, like the ones glimpsed in certain sectors of the “Star Wars” fandom, are not. They don’t even record the video hangouts, a decision that aims to make guests, famous and not, “feel comfortable popping in to have fun,” Bachelder said. “It’s not going to live forever on the internet — everybody can just be themselves.”
Awareness, at least in geeky circles, was relatively high from the start, in part thanks to a vocal cadre of fans of a prior show Andras worked on, Syfy’s “Lost Girl.” Within six weeks of the show’s debut in April 2016, #WynonnaEarp began trending on Twitter for the first time. But soon there was a potential snag. In the first half of that year, a large number of LGBT women — who aren’t easy to find on TV in the first place — were killed off on an array of shows. The resulting furor left many gay TV fans angry and wary.
At that point, the most high-profile “Wynonna Earp” couple was Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and Purgatory cop Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell) — a pairing known as “WayHaught.”
“I remember someone tweeting to me ‘I’m scared to fall in love with WayHaught,’ and it broke my heart,” Ferrar said.
Aware of the worry, Andras made a bold and unusual move, in this era of spoiler-phobic showrunners. She told Liszewski and others in the media that Waverly and Nicole would survive the first season, and those TV writers spread the news weeks before the season finale.
“The feeling was, ‘We can enjoy the rest of this ride,'” Liszewski said.
“Wynonna Earp’s” profile only grew once LGBT fans came on board in a big way. Twitter trending happened regularly during Season 2 and WayHaught fan art, fan fiction and T-shirts proliferated.
“Fans love the exploration of LGBT romance on television. Contrary to the media’s obsession with toxic male fandom, female fandom right now is pushing hard for more diverse and inclusive representation,” said Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California and a leading scholar of fan communities. “These changes can’t happen fast enough, and this show is out front on those issues.”
Being out front on the business side, in creative arenas and in the realms of inclusion and representation has led to a “bright future,” according to McCumber. And to a packed travel schedule for Andras and the cast, many of whom will be trekking to multiple conventions during the next year.
“I wouldn’t trade the cult success of this show for billions of dollars,” Andras said, and then paused. “Maybe one more dollar.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.