Tourists in Times Square during the past couple of weeks may have seen a few billboards with the #FightForWynonna slogan plastered on them, but unlike others of their ilk, they're not paid for by studios and networks gleefully promoting their latest project. Instead, they're a last-ditch effort to save a show that means so much to so many: Syfy's Canadian acquisition Wynonna Earp.
The Syfy drama is produced by IDW Entertainment, an offshoot of IDW Publishing, and was scheduled to begin filming its fourth season earlier this year. In February, die-hard fans of the series suspected there could be trouble brewing when some sleuthing revealed the series, which shoots in Canada, had not already begun production. Some of the show's stars, including lead Melanie Scrofano, confirmed that they had not been filming for season four and that they were unaware of the reasons for the delay, as previous seasons were already in production by that time of year.
What was even more confusing about the stall in filming was that Wynonna Earp, which has received numerous awards and praise from critics for its depiction of queer relationships and strong female characters, scored an early season four renewal and, per a public filing from IDW, plans for a fifth season were already in the works. IDW had made the two-season agreement to air the series domestically, and still expects the company to deliver the series to the network. (Syfy licenses the series but is not involved in its production. Acquiring series like Wynonna Earp has become standard in the TV industry, with other Syfy series like its Van Helsing reboot also falling into that category. Acquired series represent a lower cost to networks, which typically only pay a small fraction of what it would cost to produce the series themselves.)
So, why would a seemingly successful show with a legion of loyal fans suddenly be in the cancellation crosshairs? It's quite simple: money.
IDW Publishing, the company that owns the rights to Wynonna Earp (both the comic and the TV series) is struggling to find the capital to justify filming a promised fourth and fifth season. While the company has negotiated a deal with Syfy to air the series in the U.S., that agreement leaves IDW still footing major production costs. What's worse, while IDW has managed to house the first two seasons on Netflix, taking care of its international licensing needs and generating enough capital to cover the costs of previous seasons, there are no deals as of yet for a third, fourth or fifth season to be licensed to the streaming platform.
So, what does all of this mean? In a nutshell: That IDW isn't in a place financially to continue supporting Wynonna Earp.
According to Adam Wyden, the founder of the New York-based hedge fund ADW, which owns 9 percent of IDW Media Holdings, the risk of not bridging the financial gap is too great to ignore.
"There's certainly value, but I think the way you have to think about it is, is it worth making Wynonna Earp and taking the risk that you don't sell out the international, right?" Wyden tells The Hollywood Reporter. "How do we justify making season four and five if we know we're going to lose money? IDW is working very, very hard to try and sell up the international windows so they can limit the amount of risk. The company wants to make Wynonna Earp."
Unfortunately for fans, Wyden says the company committed to additional seasons too early, without the capital to back up production, which means the show and its deals are left in limbo.
"I really don't know why they went down this route," Wyden admits.
For loyal viewers, the news that Wynonna Earp may be in jeopardy because of poor money management is both frustrating and disheartening. The community of so-called "Earpers" who support the series and its stars have launched hashtags, websites — like FightForWynonna.com — and even shelled out money for billboards in New York and Los Angeles to make their grievance with the company known.
"This family fights for each other," says Bonnie Ferrar, president of Ferrar Copywriters and manager of the 25,000-strong @wynonnafans Twitter account. "It has always felt like we were all in it together, building this incredible community with the cast, the showrunner, the writers, the crew and everyone involved in this show. It is lightning in a bottle and we all know it and none of us are ready for the ride to end."
Instead of giving up, Ferrar and the rest of the Earper community have rallied behind the show, buying 49 billboards over the past two weeks, inspiring the creators and cast of the series to do the same. Their fan site posts regular updates on the situation at IDW for viewers around the world to stay informed.
"Sometimes it can feel like tweeting and emailing isn't enough. So, one Earper decided to take our infamous 'polite no chill' to the next level," Ferrar says of the genesis of the billboard campaign. "NYC Earpers have come out in packs to hold signs, film the billboards and fight for the show we love. Their coverage has enabled other fans to stay involved and included in this fight — no matter where they are in the world."
But while IDW has control over the show and is largely responsible for its continued run, Wyden thinks fans should direct their fervor to companies like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon — deep-pocketed streaming platforms with enough cash flow to cover the costs of production should IDW make a convincing licensing offer.
"Someone's got to pick up the tab," Wyden says. "I suspect people at IDW are working hard on it, but the question is, if Amazon, Netflix or whoever don't want to buy the international window, how can you expect IDW to say, 'OK, we didn't sell season three international, but, by the way, we'll make season four and five.' It doesn't work like that. It needs to get sold."
"I think if all these Wynonna Earp people really want it to come back, they should be emailing Netflix and saying, 'Pick up the international rights,'" Wyden continues. "That's what I would do."
Reps for IDW stood by their initial comments assuring their dedication to the show and thanking fans for their support. A rep for Netflix told THR that they "wouldn't comment on speculative deals."
Wyden believes selling season three and four to a streaming platform would be a quick fix. "You could turn the production on tomorrow," he says. If that doesn't happen, and IDW remains committed to pursuing more seasons of the show, fans might be in for a longer wait.
"I mean look, you could delay production for six months until they sell the international rights. I think they're committed to making it, but you can't make it unless you pre-sell international."
For fans waiting anxiously for news of the show's fate, it doesn't matter who foots the bill or owns the rights, just that the series makes it back on the air.
"We know that financial issues are a big part of what makes or breaks the shows we love, but it can't be the only thing," Ferrar says. "Networks and media companies should care about building their brand and about the loyalty of their viewers. We want networks to know that this fandom is loud and mighty and passionate. We will support all of the networks and companies that continue to produce Wynonna Earp. From attending conventions around the world and buying merchandise to buying comics, we are all in as a fandom and we are loyal."