TV (Relation)shippers: Just Do It!

Most TV shows are flattered by the intense attention paid by their shipper fans. The producers of ABC's rookie hit Once Upon a Time were thrilled to see the quick emergence of shippers devoted to the budding relationship between Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), as it meant their fairy-tale fantasy was accomplishing its mission. ''Romance, the journey to find love, that's all ingrained in the very DNA of what we're trying to do,'' says exec producer Edward Kitsis. ''It's great to go online and see that choices paid off for you.'' (Not long after fans fell for Emma and Graham, the producers broke their hearts by killing Graham off. Teases co-creator Adam Horowitz: ''All great relationships start off with hope, and the hope that it can overcome all obstacles. What greater obstacle is there than death?'') The CW's Supernatural — which owes its seven seasons to a fiercely loyal and dynamic fan base — has periodically winked at its ''Wincesters,'' shippers who write sexually charged fan fiction about bogeyman-hunting brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester. ''We have no judgment about that,'' says exec producer Sera Gamble. ''We're glad we spark people's creativity.''

Yet other shows can have a more tortured relationship with shippers. Case in point: Bones. From the get-go, Hanson envisioned a franchise that offered weekly murder mysteries and ongoing romantic tension between its opposites-attract leads. He routinely goes online to look for useful feedback, which means slogging through posts by more virulent shippers — Hanson calls them ''the dim nasties'' — who resent him for doing his job: sustaining the very chemistry that hooks shippers by producing obstacles (romantic rivals!) and complications (emotional baggage!) designed to keep would-be lovers apart for as long as possible. ''It was like I was messing with their own romances!'' says Hanson. ''You do everything you can to get people to care that much. But if I had listened to the shippers, Bones and Booth would have gotten together at the end of season 1.'' Somewhere, shippers are asking, And that would be a problem why?

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