The explosive outbreak in shipping is surely an outgrowth of the radical shift toward target-market TV since The X-Files. Today's prized demo? Adult females. Hart Hanson says he was spurred to create Bones after reading a study of TV viewing that concluded that women, not men, choose what to watch in the household. While Hanson says he never heard the term ''shippers'' before Bones, the producer acknowledges that a romance starring ''one of the great shipper icons of all time'' (i.e., Buffy's Boreanaz) has certainly ''mined the mother lode.'' Adds another top showrunner: ''Networks would love to have the next Lost, but they'd rather have the next Bones and Castle. They're cheaper, easier to manage, and inspire the same buzzy interconnectivity that sci-fi does. They also encourage the thing that TV needs more than anything: passionate loyalty over time.''
Of course, shows that desire to stoke the fire of shipperdom have to know when to give the fans what they want. Some of the solutions are cheeky think dream sequences and doppelgängers and others are maddeningly, and cleverly, evasive. At the end of Castle's third season last May, Marlowe, who felt that the time was right for the stories and the shippers, finally allowed Richard Castle to declare his love...just as Detective Beckett was slipping into unconsciousness after getting shot. Lost exec producer Carlton Cuse no stranger to the shipper wars after six years of Jack-Kate-Sawyer couplings and decouplings explains that the conventional wisdom is that any show that hinges on romantic tension will implode once satisfied. ''The conventional wisdom is that once you consummate sexual tension, you zap a show of its magic. I'd love to see some bold showrunner go against that conventional wisdom and produce something great,'' he says. For frustrated fans of Fringe, the good news is that their favorite ship may be coming home: The March 23 episode ironically titled ''A Short Story About Love'' will be ''the be-all and end-all in terms of expectations about the Peter/Olivia relationship,'' says Wyman. ''We know the shippers are saying, 'We want them to be together,' and we get it. We want them to be together too. We do believe that their fate is to have incredible impact on each other's lives.'' Adds Pinkner: ''There are certain shows and stories that we've all fallen in love with where you end up feeling betrayed. We're very intent on not doing that.''
(Additional reporting by Shaunna Murphy and Nuzhat Naoreen)