While television shows being resurrected by online streaming services is no groundbreaking event, something exciting took place yesterday with the announcement that Ripper Street is to return for a third season on Amazon Prime Instant Video (let’s agree to ignore that mouthful of a name, shall we?)
But to begin with, what’s not new? Well, the idea of an online streaming service bringing back a cult favourite for a start. Netflix are already streets ahead on that score, after resurrecting The Killing USA as well as premiering their brand new episodes of Arrested Development last year to a hive of fan excitement (albeit a fairly lukewarm response from critics). With ever-deepening pockets thanks to a surge in on-demand viewing, they provide an exciting new route to getting a show funded, circumventing traditional TV channel commissioners who need to pull in bigger audiences than more niche shows could hope to deliver.
Twitter and e-petitions, while tools of the internet age, are also fairly well-trodden territory when it comes to fan campaigning with the age of social media uniting like-minded opinion across the globe.
But with Ripper Street you have an example of what fans and streaming services can achieve together. Take an unrelenting campaign with some 40,000 signatures and add to the mix a retail giant with buckets of cash to spend and voilà, you have yourself a third series of Ripper Street.
And the really groundbreaking bit is that the subject of said revival is British. True, Ripper Street is syndicated around the world but, according to creator Richard Warlow, it’s the UK market that has convinced Amazon that bringing it back can be a success – a first for this type of commissioning and a credit to the fans who swarmed in their masses to demonstrate the full extent of their support.
And there’s no limit to where this could go. Ripper Street is just one of several high profile axings in recent years. What’s to stop fans of Whitechapel, The Paradise, Doctor Who Confidential from mobilising their forces? “Many television producers I know are now looking at each other, saying, ‘This is brilliant,'” says Warlow. “It totally opens up so many different possibilities about how you can make television shows, who you’re making it for rather than just the traditional three terrestrial broadcasters. You have so many more places to go now.”
But while this is, indeed, an exciting time for TV creatives and execs, what I think is the most important lesson to take from Ripper Street is the power harnessed by fans. The viewing public are so much more than just viewers nowadays – they’re a persuasive force and a constant reminder of the demand that exists. When I spoke to a delighted MyAnna Buring (who plays Ripper Street’s Long Susan, below) after yesterday’s news broke, she singled out the fandom as the driving force behind the deals with both Amazon and the Beeb.
“Without that audience support I don’t think the BBC would be willing to look into a deal like this, I don’t think Amazon would have come on board and I don’t think it would have been possible without them,” says Buring. “[The fans] created this energy and drive for everyone who was pushing to get this show back so they’ve played a massive part and it’s quite lovely in this day and age to know that as an audience member you do have a say in what you get to see and distributors and financiers will listen to you.”
“Whenever people’s shoulders slumped slightly about whether it was going to be possible, you just had to look at all the love there was out there for [Ripper Street],” adds Warlow.
So, the message for fans is: keep going. Ripper Street is a fine example of what those supporters can make happen and as long as we’ve got social media, newspapers, magazines and websites offering an outlet for fans, viewers can continue to wield their own influence on what’s available to watch. Power to the people may be a tired phrase, but it’s rarely seemed more apt.