Teen Wolf is home to one of most popular gay couples on TV. One problem: The characters aren't a couple.
Entertainment Weekly found themselves at the center of a fandom controversy when they removed write-in nominations for Teen Wolf's Stiles (Dylan O'Brien) and Derek (Tyler Hoechlin) from a poll asking for readers' favorite Summer ship (short for 'relationship,' get it?). The "Sterek" fans? Less than pleased.
"Take it from me," the show's creator Jeff Davis wrote to the magazine on Twitter. "Hell hath no fury like a shipper scorned."
In an update, EW wrote, "The reason Sterek didn't make the category is because it's not an acknowledged will-they-or-won't-they storyline on the show itself. The pairings we included in that category all share a scripted, long-established dynamic on their show."
In an effort to understand why fans are so passionate about Stiles and Derek, we chatted with Jeff about the evolution of the characters' friendship, his views on shipping and why viewers respond to same-sex pairings.
"I know certain reasons are the humor and the actors' chemistry together. And I know the actors themselves enjoy the scenes together," Jeff explains of Stiles and Derek's popularity. "There's always a lot of fun to be had with characters who seemingly despise each other and then have to work together to survive. In a funny way, that's how a lot of romantic comedies begin. The two leads always start out absolutely hating each other until they find their common ground."
Sarah-Louise, a Teen Wolf viewers who is a "Sterek" fan, tells us why she's a fan of the pairing: "It's awesome? Seriously though it has so much potential and they have ridiculous chemistry that needs to be explored." Aspa, another "Sterek" fan adds, "The actors' chemistry is one thing. Also Derek being broody, badass werewolf having to deal with awkward, human sidekick Stiles is fun."
Jeff admits that his original plans for the show did not include Stiles and Derek's tentative friendship, but he started to write more scenes, largely comedic in nature, for the pairing after seeing the onscreen chemistry between the actors.
"Seeing chemistry happen on screen absolutely drives storytelling in television. You're capturing lightning in a bottle. Once you see that first spark you race to catch it. And you never knew who will have the right chemistry. I saw Derek and Stiles mostly as comic foils for each other," he explains. "To be honest, the romance side is something I never thought about until I learned of 'Sterek.' When I first heard the word, I understood it in terms of what little I knew about slash fiction, going back to pairings such as Kirk and Spock [Star Trek], Frodo and Sam [Lord of the Rings].
"I initially thought that these pairings were just in the realm of fan fiction. I understood it as a way for fans to do their own interpretation of a story. Write the characters in the way they envisioned them. Kind of like a 'what if' universe," he continues. "I had no idea that my Twitter account would be pummeled by pleas and requests to actually make Stiles and Derek a pair in the show itself, to become 'canon.'"
Teen Wolf isn't the first show to have viewers want to see two characters of the same-sex together, even if neither is homosexual. Glee's Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Rachel (Lea Michele) won our Top TV Couple Tournament, with Supernatural's Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins) coming in a close second.
"I don't understand it, it's so insane!" Lea told us of Quinn and Rachel's win. "I tweeted that Dianna and I were doing a scene in the girl's bathroom and people like lost their minds! It's so funny and I just think that hey great, girl power! I mean, why not?!"
But why do viewers, mostly young females, want to see these seemingly straight same-sex characters together?
"I'll admit this is a bit out of reach of my understanding, even as a gay man. I'm also not sure they may see the characters as perfectly 'straight,'" he explains. "We've certainly made some hints to the possibility of Stiles being bisexual. As to the psychology of why 'girls like boys who like boys,' I haven't asked enough questions or heard enough to really understand the psychology behind it. I know of certain relationships such Holmes and Watson that might have a kernel of truth to them within the actual writing, but then others I'm less sure about. Like what's called 'Wincest,' a romantic relationship between the Winchester brothers on Supernatural."
Jeff, who created the hit CBS drama Criminal Minds, had "heard the term 'shipping' before, but wasn't quite sure what it meant" when he first started working on Teen Wolf, which premiered in 2011.
"I think my first reaction was that it was a favorite relationship on a show. I didn't know that it could mean a relationship that wasn't 'canon,' also a new word for me."
Jeff tells us he understands why fans want Stiles and Derek together, saying, "I realized I'm a shipper myself. All the way back to Maddy and David on Moonlighting. One of my favorites was Mulder and Scully on X-Files. The sexual tension between the two actors was one of the best things about the show. I loved all of the cases on The X-Files and the mystery, but I believe I loved the characters more."
With sites such as Twitter and Tumblr, it's easy for fans to bring their opinions and requests directly to showrunners, including Jeff, who interacts with the show's viewers on Twitter. With Teen Wolf's fanbase being so vocal and active online, we had to know if it's hard to not let their opinions impact his creative process.
"I always believe my first job is to entertain. If I've entertained people I know that I'm doing something right. And you can only give a fan so much of what they actually want. There is a great quotation about writing from Wilkie Collins: "Make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em wait—exactly in that order.'" he says. "You have to give an audience a certain level of anxiety. One of the oddest network notes I've ever gotten was, ‘Can she be happy?' I thought to myself ‘If the character is happy, then the story is over. There's no conflict!' Do fans actually want their wishes fulfilled? Or is the anticipation actually more interesting and even more fun? Here's one thing I will always keep in mind as both a fan and writer of TV: When Maddie and David finally did get together in Moonlighting... the show was over."