The Fight for Tower Prep

Everyone has or had their own guilty pleasure television show series at one point in their lives. I’m talking pre-Netflix, this only airs once a week on this specific network kind of series. I’m talking, if I miss an episode life will not be the same, I can’t enjoy the dinner my mom made for me until they rerun that episode next week kind of series. For me, that series was a serial, live action drama called Tower Prep. I’d watch the hour-long episodes with my younger brother every Tuesday night in the dark and turn the television off at 10 pm, expectant for what was to come and unable to catch my breath – until Cartoon Network decided to pull the plug on the show -and on a cliff hanger!

Tower Prep, a Canadian television series, aired on the cable network in October of 2010 and lasted only for one season – thirteen episodes total. It was about a group of high school students attending a preparatory school called, you guessed it, Tower Prep. But here’s the catch. This isn’t just any preparatory school, like Zoey 101’s PCA. This school is for the specially gifted. I would even go as far as saying the extraordinarily gifted or the supernaturally gifted. Oh, and here’s the other catch: none of the students attending Tower Prep know how they got there and they certainly aren’t told where the place is even located. “Are we even in the United States?” says Ian Archer, the show’s main character/protagonist, after seeing that the stars in the sky “aren’t in the right place” in episode 2 of the series.

In fact, not only do the students not know how they ended up at Tower Prep, but they have little to no memory of their lives prior to being at Tower Prep. They’re simply told at orientation that their parents are aware of them being at the school and that they were selected and brought to the school (cough, kidnapped) after years of being scouted (cough, watched) for their unique abilities. Once you arrive, you’re there to stay until graduation. If a person is even caught trying to escape, they face the threat of being transferred over to the West Campus – a place where not even the unrighteous deserve to go.

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Ian Archer was “brought” over to TPrep because of his preflex capability. He’s able to sense things (usually movements) just a few seconds before they happen and react accordingly. He’s also got killer fighting moves, so I’d urge against pickpocketing, blindfolding, or tickling this guy, lest you end up (hurt). His squadmates also have some pretty boss capabilities. Gabe Lexington Forrest, the show’s geek and intended underdog (though, after watching it now as an adult, I think is absolutely hilarious and a total cutie) has the ability to talk his way into or out of anything. It’s called hypersuasion and it’s genius. Suki Sato is able to create an exact replica of anything. Her speciality: mimicking anyone’s voice to the t. CJ Ward is an expert at analyzing facial ticks and expressions from the slightest twitch in the corner of a person’s mouth to a change in pupil size to piece together a person’s mood or motive. She puts the lie detector test to shame. Together, these four are dedicated to using their skills to uncover the mysteries of TPrep and getting the heck out of the place.

Sounds like a fantastic plot for a television show, right? The answer is an exuberant “YES!” So what in the name of awesome Canadian drama series would cause Cartoon Network to kill it off so prematurely? Prepare your buckets and brown paper bags, because the first reason may make you want to puke.

1.Because Girls

The news that Tower Prep was canceled because of its larger female viewership was popular among both the faithful fan and the outsider alike in 2013. According to Dini, in a podcast with Kevin Smith called “Fatman on Batman,” the network was put off by both the amount of girls watching the series as well as the development of its female characters. Pause. Why is a having a female audience for a television show, or really anything, problematic? And why can’t a female character have a strong lead? The answer is found in the love child of misogyny and commercialism. Strong, independent, character-developed women don’t sell…

“That’s the thing, you know I hate being Mr. Sour Grapes here, but I’ll just lay it on the line: that’s the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, it’s like, “We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys”—this is the network talking—”one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.”

and, apparently, girls don’t purchase merchandise (according to Cartoon Network, at least):

“It’s like, ‘We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys . . . Boys buy the little spinny tops, they but the action figures, girls buy princesses, we’re not selling princesses.’”

Something tells me CN would have been overjoyed with their female viewership if it were for a live-action show featuring vampires and or werewolves. Ahh, 2010.

Not only is it silly that having a large female audience was seen as a disadvantage and dominant female characters a hindrance, but who’s to say that the show could not have eventually caught up with boys or that boys would have been turned off by strong female characters?

Here’s a quick audio clip of my younger brother, John, who was a dedicated viewer of Tower Prep expressing his feels, just because.

2. Because “Cartoon” Network

If your pre-teen and teen years were found in the television trifecta, Disney, Nick, and Cartoon Network (in that order), then I’m sure you’re no stranger to each network’s unique tastes. Disney primarily featured comedy sitcoms, Nick showed cartoons during the day and comedy sitcoms and dramas in the evening and night, and Cartoon Network was the primary cartoon hub. With that being said, I can’t fully hate CN’s executives for what is said to be another reason for Tower Prep’s cancellation. Apparently, the network execs were planning to get rid of all live-action series well before Tower Prep even aired. If that last part is true, why give us a good thing knowing it would be heartlessly put to death? That’s like entering a relationship with someone, and having them fall in love with you, knowing you only intended for it to be a spring-fling, summer romance, or fall fiesta kind thing.

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Waging War

Fans did not let Cartoon Network steal their joy without first putting up a fight. When the show went down, the fists went up – two of which belonged to my brother and myself, of course.

Dec 28, 2010
On the first date of the on-going battle, fans watched the 2-hour season finale of the show and were left sitting on the edge of their seats because of the frustrating ending. At this time there was no confirmation of the show being canceled but there was much worry that it wouldn’t be renewed for a second season.

Dec 2011
After a year of silence regarding the show across all of his known social networking accounts, creator Paul Dini posts on his Twitter account that, prepare to grieve, the show will not be renewed for a second season.

March 23, 2011
Cartoon Network releases their Upfront Programming Announcements, complete with a list of new series and movies to expect as well as a list of returning shows. Tower Prep was not on the list of returning shows. But, catch this: Dude, What Would Happen?, Destroy, Build, Destroy, and Hole in the Wall, all stupid, waste of money live-action reality shows, were. What? But why would CN keep those live-action shows and not Tower Prep? The answer, again, is misogynistic. These shows, which featured boys doing useless things (like putting energy into building something and then blowing it up) were likely Cartoon network’s method of racking up the male viewers and the dollar bills. What a disgrace.

I would just like to add that my brother did not watch those brain cell growth-inhibiting shows. Go John!

Feb 12, 2012
At precisely 6:00 pm, Dini makes a post on his Live Journal, thanking his fans for their continual support and letting us in on some high-key important information that really gets the revolution going. That is: Cartoon Network might respond to having physical letters sent into them, expressing the desire to have the show renewed for another season. Apparently, this is how Family Guy picked up again after it’s initial cancellation with Fox.

January 18, 2013
In a podcast with Kevin Smith called Fatman on Batman, Paul Dini reveals the reason he believes the show was canceled, which I’ve explained earlier was due to an increase in female viewership and gives further details of some of his verbal exchanges with the network.

Until recently, I did not know of the TPrep Revolution that took place during my mid-teens. If I had known, I would have chosen my weaponry and waged war with my fellow soldiers. In researching, I not only uncovered artifacts of a fandom past, but I discovered, in articles like the WordPress research piece which was published six years after the show had already ended, that there are still people existing in this world who not only think about Tower Prep, but harness very deep emotions about the series. This is profound.
The WordPress piece led me to a YouTube video called Project Tower which urged fans to mail in as many letters as they could to CN execs in the name of a second season. The video had links to Paul Dini’s Twitter account, a Facebook page that was started for the movement, as well as a Project Tower Twitter account. I went and did a Twitter search for the account, @TowerPrepRiot, only to find that it has been dead for years. Still, I managed to find some old tweets that mentioned the account. Here are a few:

Some were hopeful:

And the more hard of heart had simply accepted their reality:

Fans would desperately tweet @TowerPrepRiot months, and even years, after the show had been cancelled, in the hopes that this account would bring their long gone show back to life. @TowerPrepRiot had become the long awaited net-savior for many.

And in searching for the now dead Twitter account, I was able to find a bunch of other accounts dedicated to praising and saving the show. To my surprise, the Tower Prep fandom went deeper than I had known. For a television show that only had 13 episodes in existence, it sure had a lot of social media buzz.

In the past, I’ve always viewed people involved in fandoms as weirdos. I mean, why on Earth would you put so much time and energy into promoting a television show? And what could a person possibly gain from creating a fan page for an actor from that television show (okay, that one is still weird to me)? I just didn’t get it. But then in rewatching my beloved television series, seven years later, I found myself becoming the die-hard fan I never thought I’d be. I may not understand how or why a person could be so in love with things like Twilight and Harry Potter and write fan-fiction for these things, but I definitely understood the love itself.

As a human being, I love analyzing. Growing up I had always been told I was rather observant – that I had a gift for analyzing and interpreting things. In my junior year of high school, I won an English award for analytical writing. When I was first introduced to Bible manuscripting my first year of college, I fell in love. I was amazed how the OIA method (observation, interpretation, application) provided for me a means to discover deep truths as well as an eye for recognizing details that I would have otherwise missed with a simple read through, to develop a wholesome understanding of Scripture. In reading the New Testament, I’m always in awe when I see prophecies in the Old fulfilled, or when I see that the coming King that the oppressed Jews had anticipated in books like Isaiah was, all along, Jesus of the New Testament. There’s just something so satisfying, so rewarding about piecing together parts of a whole.

This rewarding feeling is exactly what I get out of watching Tower Prep. With each episode, I’m left trying to figure out the same mysteries that plagued the minds of the main characters. I’m drawn into TSquad’s desperate search for answers. I become their fifth squad mate. Naturally, this is any viewer’s reaction to having watched an episode. Yet in rewatching the series now as an adult, my search for answers has taken on a new level. And now that the show has been dead for so long, I’ve found I’m not simply trying to piece together small clues from episode to episode, but I’ve created a fan-fiction of my own.

Then it made me wonder: Do fans become die hard only when a good thing is gone? I mean, what was it about Tower Prep that got so many fans hooked to the point where they waited for years for Paul Dini’s confirmation about the fate of the show (not to mention the living off of every single tweet or Live Journal entry he ever made)? Was the show so fantastic that it required more than just passive viewership, or is it the serial nature of the television show that prompted fans to get involved?

I can’t say that I have all of the answers as to why the fans of Tower Prep behaved like they did, or why fans, in general, behave the way that they do. I do know, however, that there is something very exhilarating, very enchanting about engaging with any beloved text, whether it be a TV show, movie, song, or book series, as a fan. Rediscovering my identity, even for a moment, as a Tower Prep fan has definitely done something to me (it’s even gotten my friend, a new viewer, under its spell). I can’t put my finger on exactly what that thing is, but I think that is the beauty of it. Tower Prep has been dead and buried for seven years, yet its mysteries still live on in anyone who’s ever been a fan. In the same way that fans were left with so many questions after episode thirteen, the question of why Tower Prep, and other shows, are able to transform the ordinary viewer into a wholly enthralled fan is a mystery that is up to us to solve.

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