I had never been involved in a fandom before I fell in love with NCIS: Los Angeles. Over the seasons, I’ve made friends here. Some are still as passionate as I am about the show, while others have moved on to new obsessions. It made me wonder about the current level of enthusiasm in the fandom as a whole. Are we as strong as we once were? Why or why not? As we come to the start of Season 8, I set out to answer these questions. I compiled a few statistics and then asked some wikiDeeks contributors and other NCIS:LA fan fiction writers about their experiences. Today we’ll look at the numbers, and in Part 2 we’ll talk to the fan fic writers. Don’t be too afraid- there are just a few graphs!
She told me size doesn’t matter.
Let’s start with a look at the overall size of the fandom. We know NCIS:LA draws millions of viewers every week from all over the world, but I was more interested in the small but vocal group that goes beyond casual viewing. It’s tough to find long-term statistics from Tumblr or Twitter, which would be great ways to gauge enthusiasm. Instead I used data from what must be among the most passionate group of fans – the fan fiction writers – by looking at stories posted to FanFiction.net. First I looked at the total number of stories posted by NCIS:LA fanfic writers compared to other fandoms (click each graph to enlarge for a clearer view):
Despite its lengthy run, far longer than most television shows achieve, NCIS:LA has not been as successful at inspiring fan fiction as some other procedurals with much smaller ratings or shorter runs. The mothership, NCIS, dwarfs NCIS:LA’s total, with seven times the stories. And for further reference, while NCIS:LA has generated 5600 stories and NCIS 39,500, Harry Potter, the largest fan fiction topic from any category, stands at a whopping 748,000 stories. So I’d say the NCIS:LA fandom is relatively small.
But small size doesn’t mean those of us here aren’t an enthusiastic bunch. Hannah (AKA Divergent338) says, “It certainly isn’t the largest fandom I’ve been in, but it’s a very fun one, with a real lack of animosity. People in this fandom tend to be incredibly accepting and welcome to new ideas and additions and that’s wonderful.”
Tonight? Tomorrow. And the day after.
To gauge how this passion has changed over time, I looked at the number of new fan fiction stories published on ff.net each month since the start of the show:
Keep in mind that multi-chapter works only appear in the graph once, in the month when Chapter 1 is published. So after Season 4, for example, “Descent” triggered many stories that continued to update throughout the summer, but we are just seeing the initial spike in May when most of them started. Plus, these numbers are limited to work posted to FanFiction.net. The changes over time could be related to that site’s own popularity changing. I looked to see if more NCIS:LA writers have been migrating to Archive of Our Own (AO3.org):
So although there’s been a small uptick in works posted to AO3 over the course of the series, the total number there only represents a fraction of those on ff.net. Plus some writers post the same stories to both sites, making the AO3 numbers even less meaningful. In other words, migration to a new platform doesn’t seem to be an explanation for the overall decline in story volume.
It’s a love story.
While I was counting up stories on ff.net, I figured I’d take a closer look at their content. I was curious about which characters were inspiring them. I made a new version of the above graph with a couple of extra lines: one for stories that included Deeks, and another for stories that included Callen:
Before we compare Deeks and Callen, let me first point out that the character with the most fan fics is actually Kensi, with 3300, which relates to the most popular genre of story on ff.net. As much as I love the hurt/comfort and the angst, it’s no surprise that romance is the most common category of NCIS:LA fan fiction writing:
Given fan fic writers’ love of romance, Deeks would have a natural advantage over Callen simply because of his Thing with Kensi. Callen, in contrast, has only had a string of random women in his life such as Tracy and Joelle. If Callen writers want to write a romantic story, they either need to use one of these random women, ship him with Kensi or Nell, or pull in an original character. This has to be a big reason why Deeks has 3200 stories, 2800 of which also feature Kensi, while Callen has only 1800 (600 of which feature Kensi). [Also keep in mind that just because a story features Deeks, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the star. There are many team fics that include him as well as Callen.]
Still, Callen fics over time have remained relatively unchanged, even through the peak of Season 5. Deeks and Kensi have really driven the overall level of fiction writing.
Deeks and Kensi dominate the list of most favorited stories on ff.net. The list also reinforces the notion that everyone loves at least a little romance. Of the top 25, all but one involve a romantic pairing. The one that doesn’t tells the story of Deeks and Callen discovering they are brothers.
So where does that leave us exactly?
What all these graphs show is a slow build-up in the number of fan fics throughout Seasons 1 and 2, culminating in a peak at the end of Season 3 (“Neighborhood Watch” and “Sans Voir”). Season 4 maintained the Season 3 levels, again spiking with the finale (“Descent”). Volume peaked in November of 2014, during the first half of Season 5. Since then, it has steadily dropped to its current level, which roughly mirrors that of the first two seasons. I’ve reposted that first graph here for reference:
Apryl’s (AKA aprylynn) experience as an NCIS:LA fan mirrors some of those highs. “I’m not as enthusiastic as I’ve been before,” she relates, “but I still love the show. The height of it was after the Season 4 finale. ‘Descent’ had such an intense cliffhanger and all of us couldn’t help ourselves from spending the whole hiatus speculating and impatiently waiting for the show to start again. There hasn’t been anything that intense happening on the show in awhile so that has affected my enthusiasm. But I would still say it’s my favorite show and there’s still a lot about it that I enjoy.”
Tess observes that the lack of “Descent”-level cliffhangers in subsequent seasons is reflected in the much smaller (or non-existent) bumps from Season 5’s “Deep Trouble,” Season 6’s “Chernoff, K,” and Season 7’s “Talion” finales. She says the lack of a good cliffhanger, which doesn’t include the “are the guys on the cover of the DVD boxes going to be killed in a narco sub?” story makes a difference in terms of “a starting point for a big hiatus summer story or debate on Tumblr, Twitter, etc.” After “Talion” neatly finished up the season, Tess says, “All summer writing was from scratch.”
It would appear that Season 5 was a big turning point in terms of fan fic writers’ enthusiasm. It could be due to the quality of the content. That the drop continued after Season 5 might be related to the Season 6 move to Monday nights, which resulted in lower audience numbers. Perhaps, given the importance of romance, Deeks and Kensi getting together made those will-they-won’t-they stories feel irrelevant. Or it could just be a natural trend for every show as it gets older.
As we look forward to Season 8, what exactly is the state of the NCIS:LA fandom? That’s a pretty subjective question, but there did seem to be consensus among our panelists. Most commented that the fandom is still active, but smaller or quieter than in years past. Colette (AKA homegrownoregano) and Gayle (AKA Densiland) both noted a lack of hiatus activity such as collective re-watching or challenges. The reduced size has in itself affected Apryl’s enjoyment of the show. “The fandom being smaller has diminished my enthusiasm a bit. There are not as many discussions going on or fanart and fanfic being made,” she says.
Some long-time fans have definitely moved on to other things. Courtney (AKA hermionesmydawg) says, “I’ve found other fandoms to fuel my obsessions.” Lindy (AKA Sweet Lu) observes, “Perhaps it’s a common thing to lose interest after so many years or be seduced by some other character that touches deep emotions. Even the [fan fiction] writers have changed over the years. They seem younger and like the lighter aspects of the show. But I appreciate all of those who write about what they are passionate about.”
In Part 2 we’ll talk in more depth with our fan fic writers to find out what, if anything, has affected their enthusiasm for the show. We’ll hear from a couple people who’ve left the fandom altogether, and from some who are as enthusiastic as ever. Did Deeks and Kensi getting together dampen excitement? What about the whole Internal Affairs investigation and Deeks’ lies to Kensi? And what about our interactions with one another? Have we been playing nicely when debating the merits of the show?
In the meantime, do you have any theories about why fan fiction writing volume has dropped so dramatically? And how do you rate your current level of enthusiasm for the show?
Want to Read More?
If you’re interested in seeing more examples of fandom-related statistics (not NCIS:LA-specific), check out toastystats.tumblr.com.
Many thanks to wikiDeeks Founding Editor Diane and Contributor Tess for reviewing a draft of this article.