1:15pm PT by Lesley Goldberg, Daniel Fienberg
How 'Wynonna Earp' Is Fighting for Its Future
Emily Andras is not giving up hope.
The creator of Syfy's ratings challenged but cult favorite drama Wynonna Earp has been through the ringer and hopes to deliver the impossible: a fifth season on a new U.S. distributor.
Wynonna Earp producers IDW ran out of funding for the series, stalling the promised fourth season for nearly a year. NBCUniversal-backed Syfy stepped up to become the lead financer on the Canadian favorite for season four, with a deal in place for a fifth season as part of a pre-existing deal with IDW.
Then the world changed. After production began on the first half of season four, the pandemic forced filming to shut down and NBCUniversal's leadership — including the two chief executives who oversaw Syfy and originals —moved on as part of a company-wide reorganization designed to prioritize streaming.
Now, the drama about the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt Earp finds itself facing an unexpected endgame after Syfy announced the series would wrap with season four.
Andras, who serves as showrunner of Earp, recently joined The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg and Lesley Goldberg on the TV's Top 5 podcast for an in-depth interview about efforts to find the series a new U.S. home, how the complicated international and streaming rights deals may prove to be an obstacle and what's next. Below are snippets from the 45-minute interview.
Let's start with the announcement in February that Wynonna Earp was ending with season four. As The news came as a surprise considering there was a contract with producers IDW and Syfy for a fifth season. What happened?
It was a surprise, but not a shock. We had been greenlit for a season four and a season five and for those who do not know, Earp went through some financial troubles. We basically shut down right after we had started the writers room on season four. We waited a year — our fans rallied, they bought billboards, sent letters, sang songs and it actually worked — we were back up and running for season four. We filmed about half of our season and then on March 1, this pandemic showed up. So, we shut down again until August. We managed to film the back half of season four. But by that point we had basically spent two and a half years on season four, which was hard. We weren't sure what was going to happen with season five. There's been a pretty big change of guard at NBC, Syfy and at NBC in general. So, I guess they made the decision that they had had enough demon-hunting cowgirl show. I still have lots of Earp story to tell. What will be, will be. I hope that the fans are satisfied with the end of season four. I think it's wonderful. But hopefully we will find a way to tell more stories.
What conversations have you had with Susan Rovner and her scripted team at NBCUniversal about their decision to end Earp? Did you hear from IDW?
The reality of Wynonna Earp, for better, for worse, speaks to where we are in the general landscape of television. It is a cult show with a passionate audience from all over the world. It speaks to people in particular who maybe don't see themselves represented on television and certainly not in genre very often. Which is to say women and the LGBTQ community. That all being said, it has never been a ratings hit. It's hard to measure the success of a cult show if you are just looking at Nielsen ratings. But when there's a change of guard and there's new people coming in and maybe they're not familiar with what made something special or beloved, sometimes that's the easiest way, that's the easiest metric of yes or no.
Did you know in your heart and when you were writing season four that this was going to be it considering the funding issues?
I didn't know. But I was going to be damned if I was going to leave the fans empty handed. They bolstered us through all these insane times. But it's hard to explain to people not in the business how nuts it is. I think the end of season four is satisfying. [Former Syfy head of originals] Bill McGoldrick was a huge fan of the show and we were always very honest with each other. He may or may not have said to me, "Emily Andras, you are famous for 26 cliffhangers at the end of every season. Just in case, do you think that you could maybe do slightly less cliffhangers and give us a pretty good ending? And I promise if we can, we'll still do season five." I said yes. That being said, there are certainly things from the season that you will not have an answer on. But I do not think emotionally you will feel dissatisfied. I did have a great cliffhanger, but my network exec loved the other emotional ending.
Where do things stand when it comes to finding a new home for the show? According to fans on social media, there's a push for it to go to Paramount+.
We are in meetings all the time and I am constantly getting an updated list from the producers ranking our targets of opportunity. I can't say who has said yes and who has said no. I can say that possibly someone you just mentioned is definitely in the mix. I would also say that in a weird way, while it may look more dire to the public, I think that season five is almost easier than season four because [Canadian distributor] Space stepped up in season four financially. We have an international distributor, Cineflix, that has sold out all over the world again. Netflix is still in as far as second window. All we need is a U.S. broadcaster, which is not as much moving around the chess pieces as it even was in season four. All the big people are in play, from IMDbTV to Paramount+, Hulu. Name a streamer, they have gotten a call from us.
It's often challenging for shows to find new homes outside of their current corporate ecosystem because they often want to control international and streaming rights, both of which are locked up already with Wynonna Earp. How much are those things an obstacle for you right now? Or are execs willing to take the show on without the library rights?
I mean, it's locked up at Netflix, but Netflix are players. If someone else wants the entire library, I'm sure people could work hard to make that happen. The show is a hard sale for people who don't get it and what we are banking on is showing all these fans and people that are maybe hard to reach — like young women and LGBTQ [viewers]. People are interested, but it's the same problem all the time: people want their own stuff. They want their own library, their own IP. They want to build their own brand. My feeling is, if you are the savior of Wynonna Earp, it's such a great story and you will have this built-in audience that you're bringing to your service. We're working to convince people of that.
If season four is truly the end of the show, do you feel like you were able to say a proper goodbye? And does it tell the story you really wanted to tell?
I hesitate to say it's the end, but I'm extremely proud of the season and I'm extremely proud of the last episode of season four. There are worst feelings to be known for, when someone reads a book and gets to the end and says, "Oh my gosh, that was so wonderful but I wish there was more." If that's the feeling people have at the end of season four, that's pretty rare on television. I'm really hoping that Paramount+ picks us up. I'd really love the privilege of coming back in a few years, if nothing else, Deadwood-style, and doing a movie and picking up the characters years later. I know what that would look like and it'd be interesting to tell a story about legacy and aging. But yes, I'm happy with the end of season four and I hope the fans will be too.
Considering your experience with IDW and first-hand knowledge of what happens when the business doesn't work the way it should, has this experience changed the way you approach who you want to work with going forward?
For a long time and previously to Wynonna, I've had a no jerks policy. The work is so hard, the business is so grueling, that when you have a choice to work with people who at the very least are going to be kind and try hard, it's worth it. Both on and off screen. When you start out in business with people, you don't know necessarily how it's going to go and what's going to happen and things change and people leave networks and people leave comic book companies and people leave businesses and people leave shows and things change. You have to be honest with yourself about when it's worth fighting to keep doing it or when it's time to say, "Thanks so much. But we're going to write a space show or whatever."
Do you have different thoughts about who you go into business with, having had the strange budgetary experience you've had? Do you have to train yourself not to dream on a smaller scale? Or is it easy for you to just say, "OK, I'm not going to pay any attention to what happened with the money man before, I'm going to still dream big."
I always dream big. You have to dream big or you are dead, especially even in the writers room. You can pull it back later, but you have to have fun. Working within budget constraints made me a much better storyteller. It taught me the importance of character and maximizing where you could. But you know what? Fine, if Marvel calls, I'm sure I can figure out how to do a space battle. I relish the challenge.
Looking at what's next for you, you sold an adventure drama called Axeholes a few years ago to Syfy. What's the status of that?
Axeholes is still chugging along. I have a bunch of other stuff in development. The four seasons [of Earp] took seven years of my life and I have lots of interesting stuff in development, working with some people I'm excited about. But the thing I always want to do is promote female stories and LGBTQ stories and stick those characters in universes and worlds that maybe they don't normally get to be the heroes in.
For more from Andras, including the moment she knew Earp struck a chord with a passionate fanbase, how support from the LGBTQ community helped the show get to four seasons and what she kept from the set, listen to the full TV's Top 5 interview, below.