Just as Family Guy and Arrested Development have risen from cancellation, this weekend so will Veronica Mars, another cult classic that is getting a second life because of insane fan support ... and the Internet.
Audiences are understandably jumpy when it comes to getting involved with new TV shows these days because the odds are good many may not last past a handful of episodes. So when one catches on only to be axed a season or two later, viewers tend to get a little ticked. With the rise of social media, however, fans now have a direct conduit for their feedback to reach executives, and it's one only the foolish underestimate.
Starring Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars focused on a high school student who started investigating crime in her well-to-do hometown following the murder of her best friend. When the series was cancelled by The CW (a subsidiary of CBS (NYSE:CBS)) in May 2007, fans weren't happy and immediately began clamoring for a film version. Over the years a few attempts were made, but none succeeded until now.
Last year a Kickstarter campaign was started with a goal of raising $2 million. The idea was that if the show's loyal fans (nicknamed Marshmallows) could raise that total it would be enough for series creator Rob Thomas to finance and shoot the much-anticipated big-screen version, with Warner Brothers (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)) then agreeing to handle distribution.
It took less than 12 hours to meet the goal.
In the end more than 91,000 fans donated to the project and organizers nearly tripled their initial ask, raising $5.7 million. To date, the film has received more contributors than any other project on Kickstarter and holds several other site records.
Mars opened this weekend in just over 250 theaters and is also available for digital download. While the digital download/video on-demand numbers are going to be closely watched, the in-theater performance numbers are going to even more valuable to the industry. Warner Brothers passed on this project for so long because it didn't feel audiences would support it. If the film does well it could substantially alter Hollywood decision-making going forward.
It's off to a good start. The film's midnight showings on Thursday netted $260,000 in ticket sales, which is remarkable given that it only played in 95 of those locations. Many estimate the film could end up breaking the top 10 with a take of around $2 million, essentially making it instantly profitable.
The dark side
As mentioned, if this works the typical film development model changes ... again. For one you can expect more grassroots campaigns -- filmmakers Spike Lee and Zach Braff have since utilized the service as well, although Braff saw the dark side of the trend.
People went off on the Scrubs star for using crowd donations to fund the film despite having starred on a lucrative (now syndicated) TV series for eight years. Those boos grew when he sold the film to Focus Features for $2.75 million, just a little under the $3.1 million raised by fans.
If you look at it logically, Braff and his team did make a few good points -- namely this wasn't an investment, it was a donation, and the actor relied on out-of-pocket spending and a bank loan to secure the rest of the $5 million in funding. Buzzfeed did a nice article further explaining the process, pointing out there are legal issues preventing Kickstarter fans from receiving financial benefits. Still bad PR is bad PR.
Back to Mars though, the most important takeaway is that this is a huge win for the show's loyal fans that wasn't an option a few years ago. Whether you were a casual fan or diehard Marshmallow, the character appealed to a certain generation ... and that generation has grown up and, at least in this one instance, is taking charge over Hollywood.
Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.