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Shocked fans hope for ghost hunter's return to 'Supernatural'

Mark Price
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

It's always a gutsy move when a popular TV show kills off one of its stars.

But when the show has only two lead characters to begin with, it seems downright crazy.

That didn't stop the writers of the CW cult hit "Supernatural," when they made good on a threat this year to kill off hunky Dean Winchester and send his soul to hell. The final seconds of Season Three ended with Dean, played by Jensen Ackles, suspended by hooks and screaming for help as he dangled over a bottomless pit.

Fans of the show were horrified, of course, which is exactly what the writers wanted.

"We were hoping that people would be screaming at their TV s," says Sera Gamble, a producer and writer for the series. "We knew all season we were going to do it. We'd be wussies if we didn't ... People were so invested, so horrified, so upset. You know you've done your job right when they care that much about a character."

Season Four kicks off at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday on The CW, and Gamble isn't giving any clues as to how Dean Winchester might resurface. Clearly, he will have to return in some form, or The CW faces a fan revolt. The show, which details the exploits of ghost-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, has a strong enough following to support its own comic book, a series of paperbacks, a role-playing game and countless fan Web sites.

Gamble, who writes four to six episodes a season, admits she was at first taken aback by the fans' intense level of enthusiasm, given the show's modest ratings. She recently attended a fan convention with co-stars Ackles and Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester, and compared it to Beatlemania.

"It was the energy equivalent of having thousands of panties thrown at a rock star," says Gamble. "I felt that, if security hadn't been there, there would have been nothing left of the actors, not even bones ... People were nearly hysterical when they (Ackles and Padalecki) came out."

Coincidentally, it was Gamble who set Dean Winchester's fate into motion, when she wrote a Season Two episode involving the legend of how blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul for fame. Dean Winchester summoned the same demon and made a similar deal in an attempt to save his brother's life. The bulk of Season Three was spent trying to break the deal, leading fans to believe all would end happily.

Gamble says the show's creator, Eric Kripke, made the final call on Dean's death. Kripke has given the writers a basic storyline that he expects to last at least five seasons. She says the writers gather daily, eat a lot of pizza and Caesar salad, and come up with ideas that advance his vision.

"Eric does the lion's share, when it comes to the most twisted things on the show," she says. "I don't know how he comes up with this stuff. We have a big board covered with ideas, and some of them are things I have no idea how to approach as a writer."

An example?

"Something involving a leper colony. I don't know how to turn that into an episode."

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