“The characters and the fans, and the actors and the crew, it feels like we all know each other and all care about each other and I think that’s probably a little harder to do on a show like Law & Order, even if it did run longer than us,” he added.
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It is not easy to just jump into watching Supernatural and pick up on everything that’s going on. Sure, there’s some broad appeal to its episodic format: Sam and Dean tackling a vampire nest one week, and a vengeful ghost the next, but tap out for too long and a good chunk of the show’s episodes aren’t going to make sense thanks to its layered mythology. Wait, Bobby’s dead, but back as an increasingly angry ghost? Dean is not Dean, but a demon? The angel Gadreel took over Sam to heal him, but now he won’t leave?
Beaver credits viewer loyalty to those storylines, the emergence of streaming, and the show’s uniqueness.
“[Supernatural] very quickly morphed away from monster-of-the-week into something much more akin to a novel – a very long, rich story that had lots of permutations, but never strayed from a main progressing thread. And in some ways, I think that may have made it more difficult for us in that you really do have to know a good deal about the show for any particular episode to make sense to you. And someone who drops into Season 5 or Season 9 of the show, for their first episode, may be rather confused, but we also came along at a time when DVDs and streaming gave people a chance to see the show not just on the night it aired,” he said. “I think our long, novel-like storyline benefitted from the fact that people could start from the beginning any time they wanted to, and I think that helped balance us against the familiarity and formula of the other kinds of shows and allowed people to engage and re-engage with the show, because it’s no surprise to you, I’m sure, that there are people out there that have watched all 14-and-a-half seasons two and three and four times.”Beaver has his own sort-of mythology for how he was brought onto the series – one he said has a different tale depending on who is telling it.
“I got a call to come in and audition for it. They said that they were putting the actors on tape and would be sending the tape – this was back when they actually used tape – to the producers in Vancouver. I went in, I auditioned, I did a scene or two on tape and then I left and figured, wait and see. I got a call soon thereafter that I had the part and then-casting director, Robert Ulrich – who had at one time been partnered with my late wife, [actress and casting director] Cecily Adams – happened to mention just in passing that after they had sent the tape to Bob Singer in Vancouver, [he] he had asked who was on the tape – who the various actors were – and that when Robert Ulrich mentioned me, he said, ‘Oh, just give Jim the part,'” Beaver recalled.
“Bob Singer and I had done a series together a decade earlier called Reasonable Doubts, so I thought, ‘OK, he knows who I am, he knows what I do. That’s nice.’ And as far as I knew, nobody ever even saw my audition tape. Now Bob Singer has said publicly a number of times when the role came up, he simply said, ‘Oh, I know the guy for that,’ and they gave it to me. I think the truth is a mixture of the two.”
With Sam and Dean’s father, John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), out of the picture a lot of the time (through hunting or later, death), the boys developed a close relationship with Bobby, who became a father-figure and mentor. That bond was instant on screen, but the richness of Sam and Dean’s relationship with Bobby unfurled as the seasons went on and Beaver was brought back again and again. He just didn’t know it was going to turn out that way.
“They just kept calling me again and they never said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be around for a long time.’ At the end of my first episode, I remember some of the crew guys saying, ‘Well, you may be back. We didn’t kill you.’ But, you know, they always say that when you’re a guest star on a show and you don’t get killed,” he admitted.
But it wasn’t too long before Beaver had an indication that there would be true longevity to his role.
“I think it was really the beginning of Season 3, our late director, Kim Manners, started talking about plans they had for the character later in the season and that was the first time I thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to just keep being a one-at-a-time thing and they’re actually thinking ahead for the character.’ … I began to realize I’m really a part of the show rather than just somebody who has dropped in a few times,” he said.
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Bobby became an important part of the Supernatural family on-screen and off. Like his fellow actors who IGN spoke with for this series, SPN brought fans to Beaver’s other projects, and him to numerous hotel ballrooms for conventions.
“I’ve done hundreds of television episodes and have never had an experience like this one,” he said. “I suppose every show has their fan base and often very, very large fan bases, but there’s something kind of indefinably active and engaged about this fanbase and I simply haven’t had an experience like this before where there seem to be not only people who love the show, but who were vibrantly and intensely interested in the people who were on the show and in their relationship to us.
“I walk down a street and once in a blue moon I’ll get recognized for Deadwood or Justified or something like that and people are usually pleased because they like the show, but people don’t get together in the thousands at a hotel ballroom to sit and talk about those shows and to engage with each other, and to – I don’t know, maybe there’s fan fiction on some of those shows, but there sure is for Supernatural,” he continued.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between Supernatural and the people who watch it that transcends anything I’ve ever seen with another show. And it goes both ways. The fans will tell you that they have recognized episodes that we have done that have alluded to this relationship. You don’t see Grey’s Anatomy episodes where a high school puts on a Grey’s Anatomy musical. You don’t see CSI episodes about people dressing up as CSI characters. It’s a two-way street with this relationship and it’s really rich. It seems like there’s an endless number of corners to turn with the show and with the way it interacts with its fans. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW. The series finale airs on Nov. 19.