With season fourteen upon us, the CW’s Supernatural has distinguished itself as one of the network’s most successful shows, and one of the longest running fantasy series in TV history.
Since 2005, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively) have toured the country in their signature Impala. They’ve battled monsters-- from vampires and witches to cursed mannequins, wendigos, and everything in between. They’ve traveled to alternate dimensions, visited Hell and Heaven, and journeyed through time. They’ve saved countless lives, averted an apocalypse or two, and have even gone toe-to-toe with the Devil himself on several occasions.
The production process for any TV series is often filled with ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, improvements and damages; Supernatural is no different.
Over its long and storied history, Supernatural has undergone several dramatic changes, many of which were sprung upon the production team in the eleventh hour. Some of these changes greatly benefited the show (some in the “bullet-dodging” category), while others were to its considerable detriment. Here are eight last-minute changes that hurt Supernatural, and twelve that saved it.
It should go without saying, of course, that this article contains plenty of spoilers from all over the show’s run. If you’re not caught up, this list may ruin certain twists and surprises for you. You’ve been warned.
Here are 8 Last-Minute Changes That Hurt Supernatural (And 12 That Saved It).
20 Saved: Winchester Casting Swap
Originally, Jensen Ackles read for Sam, not Dean. For a while, it looked like he would get the part, too, at least until Jared Padalecki showed up and nailed the audition. Fortunately, the producers still adored Ackles’ screen presence, and offered him the role of Dean instead.
After thirteen seasons, it’s difficult to imagine the casting any other way for these two.
What would Ackles’ Sam have been like? Would it have been the same as his now iconic Dean?
The late decision to swap Padalecki into the Sam role likely saved the show. Both actors got their roles of a lifetime.
19 Saved: Keeping Castiel Around
Other than the Winchester boys themselves, no character on Supernatural has captured hearts quite like Misha Collins’ fallen angel Castiel. Since his debut in season four, Castiel has appeared in over a hundred episodes, and has been promoted to “main cast” status.
However, this was not always the intention. He was always going to be important (pulling Dean out of Hell, confirming the existence of angels, bringing the apocalypse narrative to light), but creator Eric Kripke only intended Castiel for a six-episode arc.
Due to an overwhelmingly positive response from fans and critics alike, however, the writers had no choice but to keep Cas around for good.
18 Hurt: Ash’s Untimely Demise
Supernatural has a healthy history of fan-service, often expanding upon characters in response to how well fans like them. That’s what happened with Bobby, Castiel, and Crowley. Unfortunately, it did not happen with Ash.
When Ash showed up at the Roadhouse in the second season, he became an instant favorite.
Despite his popularity, he only lasted four episodes before meeting his end when demons torched the Roadhouse.
According to Eric Kripke, Ash’s fate “had more to do with how much [he] hated the actual Roadhouse itself, rather than anyone in it.”
At least the Winchesters got to meet him again briefly in the fifth season when they went to Heaven.
17 Saved: Exchanging Reporters for Hunters
Imagine Supernatural without the Winchester brothers. Difficult, right? The first time Eric Kripke pitched the show to the executive producers at Warner Bros., instead of having two monster-fighting brothers, the show centered on investigative reporters.
The reporters would travel around the country, researching various urban legends, encountering real ghosts, and writing about them in a newspaper column. Oh, and no one would ever believe the,
Sounds bland and derivative, doesn’t it?
Fortunately, the execs thought so, too. Kripke came right back with the pitch about the brothers, and now, over a decade later, Supernatural is the second-longest consecutively-running sci-fi/fantasy show ever (after Doctor Who).
16 Hurt: Making Chuck God
When Castiel showed up in the fourth season, he brought the entire Judeo-Christian tradition with him. It’s always a bit dodgy to appropriate popular religions into fantasy, but Supernatural handled this deftly and inoffensively for most viewers. One of the keys to this success, however, was avoiding any direct depictions of God.
The exact nature of Rob Benedict’s character Chuck was deliberately ambiguous from the beginning. At first, he appeared as Prophet, but there were always signs that he may be a higher power.
In season eleven, after years of fan speculation, the writers revealed that Chuck is, in fact, God.
According to Benedict, it was a big surprise to everyone, suggesting it was more of a response to fans than a premeditated twist. The problematic nature of this reveal is obvious, but moreover, it compromises one of Supernatural’s greatest mysteries.
15 Saved: Expanding John Winchester’s Role
In the first draft of the pilot, John met his end along with Mary, and the Winchester boys grew up orphans. Obviously, this led to several considerable plot holes, chief among them being the question of how children could teach themselves the demon-hunting trade.
Kripke’s decision to let John live (for a little while, anyway), not only filled in those continuity gaps, but also promoted healthy characterization.
Since family was going to be the emotional heart of narrative, giving Sam and Dean a familial reason to hit the road in season one worked perfectly.
14 Hurt: DJ Qualls’ Limited Availability
The phrase “fan favorite” pops up a lot in this article, but only because the writers of Supernatural are almost a little too good at creating supporting characters.
When DJ Qualls showed up in the seventh season as Garth, a hunter-turned-werewolf, he instantly clicked with fans.
The Supernatural writers’ room is unmatched at listening to its fans, but in this case, they were unable to deliver. Although they have wanted to bring Garth back more often, Qualls has been only been able to commit to four episodes.
Evidently, his other TV obligations (The Man in the High Castle and Z Nation) have caused too many scheduling conflicts, forcing Garth into a permanently minor role.
13 Saved: Rejecting "Bloodlines"
Supernatural has one of the most immersive and convincing fictional worlds on television, and given its continued popularity, a spin-off would make a lot of sense. It would also make a lot of sense if that hypothetical show did something new and different with the Supernatural universe. You don’t want to retread old ground, after all.
You maybe also don’t want to make a Chicago cop show. That's what Bloodlines was going to be, more or less, albeit with a werewolf mafia. While “werewolf mafia” is probably the best phrase you’ll read online today, it did not fit with the world of the Winchesters.
After the backdoor pilot tanked, the CW execs thankfully pulled the plug on this doomed spin-off.
12 Hurt: Making Bela A Regular
Lauren Cohen’s Bela showed up early on in the third season as a thief/mercenary making a living from black market dealings on magical artifacts.
She held her own, even against Sam and Dean, and was an all-around great character-- in small doses.
Her subsequent appearances did not succeed in quite the same fashion. If they felt inorganic at the time, that’s only because they were.
A studio executive at the CW forced the writers to bring her character back in an effort to bolster female representation on the show. While an admirable objective, they went about it all wrong. In the end, few viewers were sad to see her go at the end of the season.
11 Saved: Keeping Bobby Around
Sam and Dean spend most of the first season of Supernatural looking for their absentee father. Shortly after they find him (spoiler), they lose him again, permanently. Since then, family friend and fan favorite Bobby Singer (played by Jim Beaver), filled in as a kind of surrogate father figure for the brothers.
Bobby was only intended for a one-episode appearance.
According to Singer, when he signed on for the episode “Devil’s Trap,” that was it for Bobby. Fans and critics alike responded so well to him—and the writers enjoyed writing him so much—that they brought him back again and again until he became a series regular.
To date, Bobby’s appeared in 66 episodes.
10 Hurt: Charlie’s Fate
Not everyone survives Supernatural. In fact, most people don’t. Despite that truth, however, fans were rightly up in arms when Felicia Day’s character Charlie was unduly and unceremoniously dispatched off screen in season ten.
The decision to write Charlie off the show in this way was apparently so spur-of-the-moment, Robbie Thompson, the writer who created her and had worked on every other episode she appeared in, didn’t hear about it until after it had happened.
He had plans for her future, too. Despite offering several alternatives to the producers and sending countless angry emails, his efforts failed. The deed was done, and fans were furious.
9 Saved: The Trickster Is Gabriel
In a show full of twists, few are more memorable and inventive than the big reveal of the Trickster’s true nature. Actor Richard Speight Jr. first showed up in season two, playing an instantly engaging monster-- clearly a step above the rest. Although he appears to survive his encounter with the Winchesters, his return in the third season was a surprise nonetheless.
According to Speight, he never expected to be a recurring character at all.
When the big reveal came in season five that he was actually the Archangel Gabriel, no one was more surprised than Speight.
Apparently, the writers told him less than a week before filming. That doesn’t leave much time for an actor to prepare.
8 Saved: Cancelling The Smallville Crossover
Long before the CW had the Arrowverse, there was Smallville on the WB, and it was a big deal. It ran for ten seasons, won three Primetime Emmys, and made Superman cool again.
Well, years ago, there was a proposed Supernatural/Smallville crossover on the table. Sort of. Rather than a direct mythos-to-mythos crossover, the episode was going to feature Clark Kent actor Tom Welling as himself.
Regarding the urban legend that the Superman role is cursed, Sam and Dean were going to have to investigate this myth and save Welling from his impending doom.
Considering that Jensen Ackles appeared on twenty-two episodes of Smallville (more than 10% of its total run), this may have caused a few minor continuity errors. It’s a fun idea, but ultimately would have fallen flat. Far better to go for the Scooby-Doo crossover-- that was gold.
7 Hurt: Writing Bobby Off The Show
Everybody meets their ending sooner or later on Supernatural, even Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver). When his time came, though, it felt kind of cheap. Despite surviving encounters with demons, hellhounds, countless ghosts, and even Lucifer himself, Bobby’s finally done in by a random bullet from a lesser villain.
It’s the kind of inauspicious occurrence that implies an external factor, like a contract dispute or scheduling conflicts, but according to Jim Beaver, this was not the case, and he was both surprised and disappointed when he read the script and learned that his time on the show was up.
Bobby’s returned in a few convoluted ways since then, but never resumed his old cast member status.
6 Saved: The Non-Epic Season 5 finale
Season 5 was supposed to be the show’s last, so the finale had to function as a proper ending. This is the apocalypse. Demons have risen. Lucifer walks the earth. In short: bad stuff is going down.
At the center of the whole conflict are the Winchester brothers. Their loving, often turbulent relationship winds up playing a pivotal role in the fate of the world, and the finale manages to zero in on this.
Initially, creator Eric Kripke had a huge, epic, Lord of the Rings-style apocalyptic battle in mind, but budget constraints made this impossible.
Instead, we wound up with four guys standing around in a graveyard.
Nothing could have been better than this, though. The writers trade spectacle for characterization. Let’s hope that they keep this in mind for the show’s true finale, whenever that may come.
5 Hurt: Recasting Ruby
Season three introduced one of the most captivating villains of the series: a demon named Ruby. She was initially brought to life by Katie Cassidy (whom fans of Arrow will recognize as Laurel Lance), but the character was recast between the third and fourth seasons.
Despite Cassidy’s awesome performance, the network had to let her go, reportedly due to money. Supernatural was going over budget with makeup and VFX, and since they were shooting in Canada, the exchange rate was doing them no favors.
Ultimately, Cassidy was replaced by a cheaper actress, Genevieve Cortese.
Although she lacked much of the power of Cassidy’s performance, the switch did have one happy ending: Cortese fell in love with and later married star Jared Padalecki. The couple now have three children.
4 Saved: The Car’s Make & Model
Dean’s car—nicknamed the “Metallicar” by fans and "Baby" by Dean— has become one of the show’s most beloved recurring characters, despite being inanimate. It’s an iconic ride, perfectly suited to its driver. What you may not know, though, is that Eric Kripke had not always intended the car to appear that way.
According to Kripke, he originally scripted a 1965 Ford Mustang, but changed it after meeting with the disapproval of a neighbor who happened to be a mechanic and cool-car-enthusiast. He told Kripke, “You want a ’67 Chevy Impala because you can put a body in that trunk.”
Just like that, Dean drove an Impala, and the rest is TV history.
3 Hurt: Cancelling Wayward Sisters
Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when the CW higher-ups pulled the plug on Bloodlines, but the same can’t be said of Wayward Sisters.
This spin-off was to center on Supernatural recurring character and fan favorite, Jody Mills, a small-town sheriff brought into the world of ghosts and ghouls after a run-in with the Winchesters.
Wayward Sisters would have been an especially welcome treat, and not just because the characters tested so well in their Supernatural appearances.
The Winchesters’ adventures tend to generate casualties, and women have a particularly bad track record of surviving association with them.
Unfortunately, the CW opted to pursue Legacies (a spin-off from The Originals, which itself is a spin-off from Vampire Diaries) instead. Yes, creativity is alive and well.
2 Saved: Kripke’s Not An Actor
Over the years, Supernatural has made several self-aware references to TV and horror movies, with nods towards the lead actors’ roles on Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls, episodes like “Changing Channels” and “ScoobyNatural”, where the Winchesters travel through TV shows, and celebrity cameos.
None have been more self-referential than “The French Mistake”, in which Sam and Dean get sucked into a parallel universe where they’re actors on a TV show entitled Supernatural. Misha Collins and Genevieve Padalecki play themselves, and the script even called for an appearance by the show’s creator Eric Kripke.
Although he considered playing himself, Kripke ultimately turned down the role because he’s “such a [bad] actor”. The episode nearly breaks the fourth wall irreparably, but Kripke would have put it over the edge, particularly if he gave a terrible performance.
1 Saved: Continuing Past Season 5
It’s no secret that creator Eric Kripke intended for Supernatural to end after its fifth season. Even if you didn’t know that, the signs are all there. The season five finale wraps up every loose story arc, it does away with the ultimate baddy, and concludes all of the major character arcs in really satisfying ways.
The decision to renew for a sixth season wasn’t exactly “last-minute” (it came part way through season 5, so Kripke knew before shooting the finale), but in the grand scheme of things, and taking into account the ten years he spent meticulously planning every major plot point, it came as a surprise.
Regardless of how you feel about the later seasons, there’s no denying that the decision to renew was to the benefit of everyone involved.
Even nine years later, Supernatural remains one of the CW’s most-watched programs.
Do you know of any last-minute changes to Supernatural that didn't make the list? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section.