'Veronica Mars': Will other TV shows become movies through fan support?

'Veronica Mars' made the industry sit up and pay attention when it earned the money it needed to become a movie in 11 hours. What will this mean for fans of beloved canceled TV shows?

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars

Many TV fans know the feeling: the emptiness after a gripping story line vanishes and familylike characters disappear, without so much as a “goodbye.”

It’s what happens to canceled shows when they don’t receive high enough ratings, no matter how devoted their followers. But that may soon be changing, as savvy filmmakers tap into the pocketbooks of loyal fans. Rob Thomas, creator of “Veronica Mars,” is one recent example.

The noir high school detective series, starring Kristen Bell, ran for three seasons on the CW television network before it was canceled in 2007. Mr. Thomas persuaded Warner Bros., which owns the rights to the show, to distribute and market a film if he could raise the money to make it.

For this he turned to Kickstarter, the online “crowdfunding” website that allows people to donate to specific creative projects of all kinds. Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter has seen more than 3.7 million people, or “backers,” pledge $548 million to 38,000-plus projects.

When “Veronica Mars” opened its project March 13, it beat a Kickstarter record: It raised its $2 million goal in just 11 hours. (The movie ended up raising more than $5 million from more than 91,000 backers.)

This isn’t the first time fan power has revived a show. In 2003, the sci-fi TV series “Firefly” – canceled after 11 episodes – returned as a big-screen movie, “Serenity,” because it had strong DVD sales and had won an Emmy for special effects.

These displays of fan passion are appealing to Hollywood producers, says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. “TV shows get made into movies because they have a potential audience built in,” he says.

But just because “Veronica Mars” succeeded, that doesn’t mean that every niche audience will be able to bring shows back to life via Kickstarter, he adds. What “Veronica Mars” has going for it, is that it’s “Veronica Mars.”

Even so, Mr. Thompson says, options for digital fundraising, as well as releasing movies and TV shows online  – in May, fans of “Arrested Development” will be able to watch a resurrected fourth season exclusively on Netflix – could force Hollywood to embrace alternative business models.

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