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Youthful Dreams Made Real: How ‘Net Fans Revived an Animation Franchise February 4, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in analysis, animation.
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Some television shows become “resurrected” by the efforts of avid fans. It’s something to keep in mind that your next series could easily be a “revival,” whether by executives or fans. To me, it’s the fan efforts that are more interesting because they are passionate. I’ve been a part of one, so I know.

VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE first hit the airwaves in 1984, an adapted and combined serial of two Japanese hits, GO-LION and DAIRUGGER XV. One robot formed from five robot lions; the other from fifteen exploration vehicles. Of the two VOLTRON storylines, the Lion Voltron captured fans’ imagination and a second season of twenty episodes was released.

I could be counted among that fandom at thirteen years of age. I became so engrossed in the storylines I wrote my own and sent them via the television station to the producing company. When all I received back was a stock fan package, instead of the feedback I had desired, I resubmitted the ideas directly to the Executive Producer at the address on the package. Many months later, thinking I had been all but forgotten, I received a wonderful letter from the Head Writer of VOLTRON who had read my materials, although the show had ended. His praise and words of encouragement — that I had potential if I stuck to writing — led me on the road I’ve been on for fifteen years that has brought me to this point.

Years passed. VOLTRON fans remained, isolated but unable to communicate as they grew older, never completely letting go of the show that captured their imaginations in childhood.

Enter the Internet.

I don’t remember what got me started on the search. Maybe the discovery of a fan site for a different show. But one day in 1996, as I prepared to move to Los Angeles, I typed voltron into the Alta Vista search engine — http://www.altavista.com — and found more information than I imagined. I came to realize fans of the show, now adults like me, were networking over the web and sharing their knowledge and passion! My interest in VOLTRON put me on the road I’m traveling now, a story that deserves a column of it’s own. I felt I had to get on the bandwagon. It seemed a perfect way to leave my “fannish” past behind me and share all the information I’d collected years before, not to mention my Voltron fiction.

So, I created Shannon Muir’s Voltron Pages at http://members.aol.com/shanemuir/voltron.htm, then I headed off to Los Angeles thinking it was behind me. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This site was taken down by AOL when they discontinued hosting any pages October 2009 and these pages are now at http://www.duelingmodems.com/~shan/Voltron.htm.%5D

Some people credit me for starting the boulder rolling down the hill. A lot of people say they put up their sites because they saw mine first. I really can’t say. What I do know is that things started to happen.

All the web sites fans dared to put out there (myself included) spoke loud and clear to the folks at World Events Productions, who had done the dub work on the original VOLTRON series. They had a hint of the show’s continuing popularity through some letters and late-night airings on St. Louis’ KPLR-TV — which had a long standing relationship with World Events through broadcasting executive Ted Koplar’s interest in both businesses. The sites gave them something solid and substantial, not to mention free promotion.

Unlike the efforts of some companies to shut down fan sites, World Events embraced the fans’ Internet presence. With that they attracted toy giant Trendmasters at http://www.trendmasters.com, Mike Young Productions and the now-defunct Netter Digital Entertainment to sign on board and create VOLTRON: THE THIRD DIMENSION, a 3D CGI series picking up five years in the future. Ultimately, they produced twenty-six episodes spanning two seasons (a season lasts from Fall of a calendar year to the Fall of the next calendar year, for those not familiar with industry-speak).

Some people liked the CGI version; others hated it. I have mixed feelings but recognize its necessity as a marketing tool to get an old franchise a little added attention. After all, it was one of the first motion capture CGI TV shows and the first CGI series to be totally produced in the United States.

World Events also created an official site for VOLTRON — http://www.voltronforce.com [EDITOR’S NOTE: now discontinued]–and encouraged fans to be involved. And, in what’s hard to be a humble opinion, they paid respect to the fans by embracing the work of one fan as “official” with proper credit and compensation. The material in question, a starmap of the galaxy in which the show is set, came from myself. This knowledge as gathered partially from episodes and partially from my own theories, clearly served as a resource for the writers who didn’t work on the prior series. I wish others had been given similar opportunity.

Maybe I was the most powerful voice, but I don’t want to imply I did it alone. The combined work of all the fans was required to become the powerful chorus that reached the ears of World Events Productions and beyond. Below are some of the better-known VOLTRON fan sites:

– THE UNOFFICAL VOLTRON FORCE HOMEPAGE at http://www.arus.org/voltron/index.html

– CASTLE CONTROL: VOLTRON HEADQUARTERS, at http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/Set/1988/

As a working professional, I’ll never have this experience again, at least from the fan side. I think, though, if I ever find myself in the producer’s chair on a show and hear the fans cry out, I will listen. After all, I’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

(Originally published on Suite101.com, 2001)

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