Thursday, June 07, 2007

Spider-Man, nutty fans and 'Jericho'

Today's column looks at the implications of CBS resurrecting "Jericho" after being harassed by fans for the last month:

Okay, "Jericho" fans. You just demonstrated your great power. But are you ready for the great responsibility that comes with it?

Late yesterday, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler posted a message on the message board an nouncing she had ordered an ab breviated seven-episode second season of the canceled post-apocalyptic Midwestern drama. The decision came only after CBS' offices were deluged with phone calls, e-mails, and tons and tons of nuts. This last was in reference to a character in the season finale saying "Nuts!" to an offer to surrender, which was in turn a reference to Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's response to a similar demand from the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. (At the end of her message, Tassler asked, "Please stop sending us nuts.")

Fans have mounted similar campaigns on behalf of low-rated shows that were either canceled or on the verge of cancellation, but they rarely have much impact -- especially now that the Internet makes organizing "save our show" campaigns so easy.

Even when network executives are occasionally swayed -- as, say, WB suits were when "Roswell" fans deluged them with bottles of Tabasco near the end of the first season -- the Nielsen ratings rarely go up to reflect the passion of the hard-core fans. ("Roswell" struggled after renewal, was canceled by the WB and then picked up by UPN for one more season as part of a business deal to acquire "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.") About the only show that had a long run after a fan campaign brought it back from the dead: CBS' "Cagney & Lacey," and that happened nearly a quarter-century ago.

To read the full thing, click here.


Anonymous said...

Well, there's also Family Guy.

I'd agree that Jericho isn't out of the woods yet, though. Especially since, from what I've seen, it didn't strike me as an especially good show.

Anonymous said...

Family Guy was different, though, since I believe it was based both on actual ratings on Cartoon Network and DVD sales.

Anonymous said...

You know, for a while, I felt guilty about watching Jericho. It's not a great show. It limped along slowly for the first few episodes, slowly revealing what we knew. It has some cliches. It has some odd unbelievable moments. But it's not bad. They are trying. And the last few episodes picked up. Unfortunately, Jericho without Gerald McRaney is going to be something else entirely.

Tom O'Keefe said...

I do think there could a difference here. Jericho started out as a hit. It only struggled after it spent almost 2 months off the air only to return in head-to-head competition with American Idol.

Also, I think the show was mismarketed a bit. It seemed like it was going to be a show about surviving a nuclear winter when, in reality, it was about the struggles that come with rebuilding a society. It did start of slow and tended to be a bit preachy. But it was really kicking in during the last half of the season. Hopefully CBS will adjust their marketing campaign for the show. Maybe some reruns of season one on Sci-Fi would help?

Ellen Gray said...

I never thought the Tabasco sauce campaign was real -- I believe the WB itself was behind it, as a promotion for Roswell. (Which doesn't mean all the Tabasco-mailers necessarily realized it at the time.) And since the campaign didn't begin after the show was canceled, only when it was thought to be in danger, I think Cagney & Lacey remains the only example we can cite before Jericho of fans actually saving a show. And even that comes from an era where Nielsens weren't as finely tuned as they supposedly are now.

All that said, I think CBS made a close, but wrong call on this one in the first place, since Jericho wasn't the only show to suffer after a lengthy hiatus, just the only show to be punished this year for that alone.

Kensington said...

Can I just point out what might be an elephant in the room? The ratings measurement system is broken. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the Nielsen system is completely out of touch with what's really happening, especially in the age of DVRs and downloads, both legal and illegal.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy Jericho and am glad it's coming back. As others have noted, it did significantly improve as the season wore on, and the finale was awesome. One question: Why did Major Dad quit the show?

Anonymous said...

Major Dad has been trying to quit since the show got picked up. Actors sometime take pilots that they don't want to get picked up, I think this was the situation with Jericho. I know he was pissed that they gave him a killer flu right out of the gate and that he had nothing to do. Of course, he was just coming off the role of a lifetime(Hearst on Deadwood) so maybe this just didn't measure up.

Dennis, for sure legal downloads figured into this decision. CBS discovered that Jericho had a disproportionate number of online viewings that would have made a real significant bump in the ratings. As for illegal downloads, I suspect the lionshare are from other countries where the show is not yet airing, so it is hard to take them seriously even if they could be counted.

Tom O'Keefe said...

While not many cancelled shows have been brought back, there have been quite a few that got picked up by other networks.

Didn't Baywatch originally air on NBC before moving on to long run in first-run syndication? And I believe it was JAG that made the jump from NBC to CBS. Taxi moved from ABC to NBC. Diff'rent Strokes moved from NBC to ABC. Get Smart changed networks towards the end of its run. And I'm pretty sure Leave It To Beaver got cancelled at the end of its first season. That might make for intersting "summer burn off" article.

Anonymous said...

Jericho suffered from the twin evils of mismarketing and that stupid hiatus everyone trotted out this year.

It wasn't the best show I've ever seen, but if you couldn't realise that it was essentially Deadwood without the swearing, you possibly weren't paying close enough attention.

I loved Jericho, warts and all, and was sorely disappointed when it was cancelled.

Unknown said...

I'm with Dennis. I've never even HEARD of someone (even on the Internet, where I'm a compulsive surfer) who has a Nielsen box. NOBODY.

There's got to be a better way to do these things. They can bloody well track everything on the Internet, every stream and download and $2 on iTunes. They can't figure out how to factor that in in the first place?

Anonymous said...

Surely Nielsen families have to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement.

Ted Frank said...

My parents tell me we were briefly a Nielsen family in the 1970s, and found the whole diary system such a hassle that they quit.

The Nielsens can't have *that* much confidentiality, because otherwise we wouldn't see those hilariously meta local-TV news sweeps week events profiling local Nielsen families.

Jeff said...

I guess I have to go watch Deadwood now, cause Jericho was a compelling show. Depressing, but compelling.

K J Gillenwater said...

What I don't get is that it *didn't* have abysmal numbers at all. In fact, I remember it being one of the 'surprise hits' of the fall. Even after it was gone from the schedule for 2 months and pitted against the "American Idol" results show, it didn't lose hardly any of its audience. What more could CBS want???

I think it's great they are giving "Jericho" another shot. It wasn't the best show out there, but I enjoyed it every week, and I really grew attached to some of the characters.

So, why do we have to somehow feel guilty for bringing back a show that was doing moderately well in its time slot? Does every show have to be a huge, break-out hit in order to deserve to stay on the air?

Kathy said...

I am thrilled that CBS is giving "Jericho" another shot. The fans over at the CBS message board for the show are well aware of what they accomplished and what still needs to be done. To that end, they are staying organized knowing that's up to them to help build the fanbase.
Even if you aren't a fan of the show, the campaign launched to save "Jericho" is a study of old vs. new media. They were able to quickly organize, get the message out, find a good gimmick (nuts!) and enlist an online seller to pool all the orders going to Black Rock. Politicans and activists should take note of what can be done by "ordinary" viewer.

(In celebration I ordered nust for all my coworkers)

Anonymous said...


What about Quantum Leap?
Since it was before my time (I didn't get into it till after it was cancelled) I don't know how "saved" it was, but I did hear it had been put on hiatus before it was brought back (the same year that the Dark Shadows revival series failed to survive the effects of pre-emption due to the Gulf War (it was interesting to read about QL in a book about Dark Shadows)

Pam (one of the second wave of Scott Bakula fans)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Even after it was gone from the schedule for 2 months and pitted against the "American Idol" results show, it didn't lose hardly any of its audience.

This is not correct. The show lost at least a quarter of its audience during the hiatus. There's a school of broadcasting thought -- usually proven to be the case -- that once you lose viewers, they don't come back.

So, why do we have to somehow feel guilty for bringing back a show that was doing moderately well in its time slot?

"Moderately well" is a relative term, especially at the end of the season, but no, you shouldn't fill guilty. You just need to be aware of the consequences if this goes badly. If "Jericho" comes back and is a hit, wonderful, and it will give ammo to the next Save Our Show campaign. If "Jericho" comes back and the ratings aren't good, then that's not only it for "Jericho," but for the whole SOS concept.

Anonymous said...

I just read Nina Tassler's letter to the fans, and I was interested that she placed the onus back on the fans to go out there, now, and get *more* fans. It's a good idea, really. (apparently CBS will be helping by rerunning the series over the summer. hey, if they did that, maybe I'd watch it too. I wish NBC would do that with FNL. I don't jump in in the middle. I started watching Buffy with ep1 - on FX.)


K J Gillenwater said...

Alan, you are right about American Idol and the ratings for "Jericho." However, "Jericho" did get higher ratings than "According to Jim" and "America's Next Top Model," both of which will still be around next season.

I think what they need to do now is promote it differently. Advertise it as a character drama with a unique back drop. Not a survivalist's dream show or something with radiation burns and nuclear-created zombies roaming around. I think some people thought it would be a sci-fi fan's kind of show.

Really, it is a human drama about how people come together under extraordinary circumstances. There are mysteries to solve, but the relationships between people and other towns and outsiders is what makes this show so compelling to watch.

Plus, Heather has to come back and let Jake know she's still alive! Get rid of the blonde bimbo!!!

Anonymous said...

I was a Nielsen household in the late '90s, by which time they had dropped the diaries and automated the whole process. I seem to recall a prohibition on telling journalists you were a Nielsen household, but I'm not positive. From what they told me, I got targeted as part of a small increase in the number of households monitored nationwide. The total number was surprisingly small, but supposedly statistically valid. Here's the URL for an interesting article written by a sociologist who participated around the same time I did: