“Wynonna Earp,” based on a graphic novel by Beau Smith, premiered on Syfy in 2016. The show follows Wyatt Earp’s great-great-granddaughter Wynonna, the quick-witted, leather jacket-wearing rebel tasked with ending her family’s curse by hunting demons in a small rural town called Purgatory. During its first two years on air, the supernatural show developed a loyal fan base, especially among queer viewers.
“In my 37 years, this show makes me feel that I’m okay. That I’m okay to be me,” said “Wynonna Earp” fan Katie Cleek. “I spent a long time ashamed of my truth and this show has helped me heal.”
A fan campaign ultimately helped save the show when it reportedly had financial troubles and was not immediately renewed for another season in 2018. Show creator Emily Andras decided to express her gratitude by giving queer fans what they wanted: authentic representations of their community on screen.
“I always say that ‘Earpers’ could run the best country in the world because [of] the mobilization and the strategy behind it,” said actor Kat Barrell, who plays Nicole. “It was like the perfect example of a community because everyone’s coming with the thing they’re good at to bring to the fight.”
Nicole and her on-screen girlfriend, Waverly (played by Dominique Provost-Chalkley), are a central reason queer fans are deeply invested in the show. Their portrayal of the couple inspired the ship name “WayHaught” and legions of fans throwing their support behind the series. A compilation video of their relationship posted on Syfy’s YouTube page has over 10 million views. The actors also interact with fans on Twitter in real-time during the show, further deepening their connection with the audience.
Aside from the occasional demon possession and near-death experiences, the relationship between Waverly and Nicole still resonates with its audience — exploring themes like family acceptance, obnoxious exes and undying loyalty.
Laura Naselli, co-founder of fan convention Earp-a-palooza, says WayHaught is so special because the show goes all-in on the same-sex relationship. “When you look at Waverly and Nicole in the show, that’s one of the main love stories and it’s right there. There’s no hiding it.”
On its face, the show delivers on being an action-packed Western horror, but to its fans — the self-proclaimed Earpers — it is a story about found family.
“I think one of the biggest themes in ‘Wynonna Earp’ is that you can choose your family and you can patch together a family from a ragtag group of misfits,” Barrell said. “It can be beautiful and just as precious and real as a blood family.”
This idea of found family is not unique, but it is central in the queer community. There is an ever-present notion that when someone is not accepted by their own flesh and blood, they can create a family that loves one another and lifts each other up.
The fan family mobilized in full force to save the show. There were billboards in Times Square, petitions garnering hundreds of signatures and Twitter campaigns. The hashtag #FightForWynonna became a rallying cry directed at Syfy.
“Networks are definitely paying attention, and they’re definitely looking at what’s happening in the hashtag and who’s replying to them,” explained Megan Townsend, director of entertainment research and analysis at GLAAD.
Queer fans have a history of rallying around the shows that depict them. “Sense8,” a sci-fi thriller on Netflix helmed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, was not renewed for a third season in 2018 and fans were left reeling for some closure to the complex narrative. Netflix followed the fans’ charge and “Sense8” got a 151-minute wrap-up movie.
In other instances, shows have been completely revived by other networks. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was scooped up by NBC just a day after Fox announced it was canceling the show in 2018. Queer fans of color were quick to note that the decision from Fox came just as character Rosa Diaz, played by Stephanie Beatriz, came out as bisexual. And following its third season in 2019, Netflix dropped “One Day at a Time,” a sitcom following a Cuban American family based on Norman Lear’s 1975 sitcom of the same name. The reboot, which covers themes such as sexuality and gender identity, was then picked up by Sony’s Pop TV.
All of these shows birthed loyal fans who were quick to express their relief for more episodes. For some fans, like Naselli, giving back to “Wynonna Earp” was an act of gratitude.
“Show me a show anywhere where the writers are touted every week, where people know the directors, the script supervisor’s name,” Naselli said. “We interact with them, so it was a way for us to be a part of that and to bring people together that way.”
The midseason finale of “Wynonna Earp” airs Sunday, Aug. 30, at 10 p.m. Eastern on Syfy.