In what had to be one of the most exciting television events in the history of the San Diego Comic-Con fan extravaganza, and in yet another significant development that proves television is increasingly the medium to beat at this annual celebration of all facets of genre culture, three series that are enormously important to science-fiction and fantasy fans were presented back-to-back-to-back in the largest arena at the San Diego Convention Center. That would be the famous Hall H, which seats more than 6000 people and is considered the Holy Grail for panel placement at the Con.
It's not unusual for panels for popular television series to be presented in Hall H, the home of now legendary events for presentations by such genre standouts as "Heroes" and "Lost." But this was the first time that three shows that belong in the company of those two were presented in succession, and because rooms are not cleared between panels at the Con – meaning anyone who entered Hall H for the first panel could remain in there all day if desired -- the result was a crowd assembled outside of Hall H that far exceeded the 6000 person limit.
In general, enough panel goers exit a room after any given session that hundreds (if not thousands) of others are able to secure seats for the following presentation. But it was obvious that few if any of the people who filled the 6000 seats for the first panel – a farewell session for the Fox sci-fi drama "Fringe," which will conclude its five-year run this fall – weren't going to stay for the second – a panel for The CW's long-running horror-adventure "Supernatural." And under no circumstances were they going to exit before the final panel, featuring the cast of BBC America's "Doctor Who." The lure of this destined-to-be-historic trifecta had fans lining up outside late on Saturday night, as if waiting to buy tickets to a big-name rock concert. (This often happens at the Con with panels for huge movies, such as those of the "Twilight" franchise, but rarely for a television show.)
Anyone with any doubts as to the power and influence of a television series – even one steeped in science-fiction and/or horror – need only have watched any one of these three panels to appreciate the emotional connections these shows have with their viewers. Collectively, it was unlike anything I have experienced in six years of Con-going. It was a profound moment, to say the least, when cast members from "Fringe," who were appearing together at the Con for what will likely be the last time, took a bow at the end of their panel as the 6000 people in the audience shot to their feet. It reminded me of the emotional farewell session last year for "Chuck," another favorite of Con-goers, but that session took place in a much smaller room, so the emotional sweep of the "Fringe" farewell was even stronger.
Similarly, the "Doctor Who" panel marked the farewell appearances by two popular cast members, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, who will leave the series during its upcoming season. I think the cheering, the applause and the emotions on display throughout the "Who" panel were even more pronounced than those for "Fringe." Further, and as predicted in this space two years ago, current "Doctor Who" star Matt Smith has become one of the undisputed Lords of Comic-Con. I saw more young attendees dressed as his character than any other throughout the convention.
Some people might argue that the cast of any popular television series could fill a 6000-person room at a massively attended convention that is an annual pop-culture phenomenon. But the panel that followed these three – for the animated Fox comedy "The Cleveland Show" – wasn't nearly as well attended, even with "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator Seth Macfarlane on hand. The session after that, for FX's gritty biker drama "Sons of Anarchy," fared better, though it did not fill the great hall, either.
No matter the size of the room, the connection and interaction between the stars of certain television shows and their fans in a positive environment remains an uplifting experience, though I could do without much of the foul language that some panelists insist on using, even though they are cautioned that some members of the audience may be under the age of 18. Among other things, the Con is supposed to be a family friendly event, so I can't understand why so many actors see fit to use inappropriate language and turn the air blue when talking about their shows or answering fans' questions.
Another television series earlier in the weekend made history with its first panel in Hall H – CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," currently one of the most popular comedies on television. In a nod to a big plot turn in last spring's season finale, Warner Bros. Television – the studio that produces "Theory" – gave away a prize during the show's panel that is likely the largest in the history of any Con event: A free trip into space in 2013 courtesy of XCOR Aerospace. The prize is reportedly valued at $95,000.00. (Imagine paying taxes on that!) Warner Bros., which often finds clever ways to enhance fans' experiences at Cons, may have gone over the edge (if not out of this world) with that one, but it came up with a truly inspired gift for fans of "Fringe": Every attendee at its farewell panel received a fedora much like the one worn by the mysterious Watchers on the series.