Why the Veronica Mars Kickstarter May Be a Sign of Bad Things to Come

Are crowdfunding campaigns that bring back canceled TV shows really a good thing?

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Following Veronica Mars’ demonstration of the potential for fan-funding to bring critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful projects back from the dead, the Internet came alive with rumors of which shows could be next to Kickstarter their way back to screens. (Terriers, Pushing Daisies and Chuck are possibilities, according to reports.) Seemingly missed in this rush of wish-list making is one simple question: Is this really a good idea?

This is not to be confused with “Is crowdfunding a studio project a bad thing?” — I’ll let John Rogers handle that. The question I ask is rooted in story, audience expectations and the inevitable backlash when everything doesn’t work out exactly as the fan-base funders had spent years dreaming about and hoping for.

One obvious problem with many of the shows proposed for resurrection is that several of them had story lines that brought the series to a close. Admittedly, those endings may have been the result of some last-minute rewrites (Pushing Daisies) or longer-term planning (Chuck), but character arcs were completed and plot threads tied up (as much as such things are ever tied up). Bringing back such shows for one more adventure feels, in some way, unnecessary and selfish.

(My favorite example is a Kickstarter-funded Firefly revival. People! Not only is the series over, but there has already been a movie follow-up with the explicit purpose of wrapping up the mythology. The series could only be more finished if all the characters had ended up dead, and you know Whedon would do it. Don’t tempt him.)

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the immediate, emotional appeal of being able to relive the experience of watching a new episode of a favorite show. I even get the whole excitement around the idea that, maybe, just maybe, the new stuff will be as good as — or even better than — the original, and will somehow represent a moment of pop-culture nirvana that will retroactively make up for the emotional roller coaster that fans had been on since the show was canceled the first time around. As an idea, it’s a pretty tempting one, something that validates the fans’ relationship with the show past cancellation: See? It’s back, better than ever, to reward me for never giving up. There’s only one problem with this idea: history suggests it’s not going to happen.

If there’s one thing that everyone should accept as a pop-culture rule by now, it’s that attempting to relive former glories will only break your heart even more. True, there are occasional exceptions (hi, Blur. You too, Futurama). But, for the most part, when creative people of any stripe attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle, the result is inevitably disappointing at best and embarrassing for all involved at worst (Example A, Example B, Example Need I Go On).

Part of this is the fault of the people responsible for the work, sure, but equal (if not more) blame goes to the audience. Intentionally or otherwise, we tend to get too emotionally invested in the subject; in addition to whatever value the work actually has, we feel a nostalgia for everything that accompanied the original incarnation that is so overwhelming that reality has almost no chance of measuring up.

The most frustrating part of the whole thing is that the Veronica Mars Kickstarter may end up unintentionally destroying projects with genuine potential. Ignore the nostalgia component of the Veronica Mars campaign, and you’re left with Kickstarter’s highest-ever fully funded goal, and the entire (if, admittedly, low) production budget for a studio movie being funded by fans in just 12 hours.

This could be — likely is — the start of something revolutionary in terms of movie production, for both independent and studio releases. Unfortunately, the thing that made the movie so attractive to fund (the audience’s emotional connection to the characters and world) also makes the potential for audience disappointment all the greater.

If Veronica Mars flops, will studios go for a similar funding model in the future or write it off as an Internet fad doomed to failure (à la Snakes on a Plane)? We might have witnessed the, or at least a, future of moviemaking only to find ourselves wasting it on a movie that audiences will almost certainly find disappointing.