The Power of Fans
by Emily Offshack (@CanadianEmily)
Over the years, groups of passionate fans have come together to save their favorite television shows from cancellation. The prevalence of social media makes fan campaigns that much easier, and together, we might have the power to change how television success is defined.
Jericho was cancelled after its first season, but CBS reversed the decision after fans bombarded the network with emails and, more importantly, twenty tons of peanuts. The choice of peanuts came from the line spoken by character Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) when asked to surrender in the season finale: “Nuts.” It was his refusal to surrender, and in kind, fans refused to give up on their show.
Publicly praising the fan campaign, CBS ordered seven episodes to air as a mid-season replacement, but warned that there would need to be more viewers for more episodes to be produced. Unfortunately, ratings never picked up and Jericho was again cancelled after the second season.
The passion of Star Trek fans dates as far back as the original series, when NBC announced that they were cancelling the show after its second season in 1968. Boldly going where no fan had gone before, a massive letter-writing campaign was organized and students from Caltech, Berkeley and MIT organized demonstrations outside of NBC offices in Burbank, San Francisco and New York. Their voices were heard, and Star Trek was brought back for a third season. However, its budget was cut and it was moved to a Friday timeslot—the place where shows were sent to die. It was cancelled again after its third season.
Luckily for Trekkies, the third season allowed the show to go into syndication, which brought more viewers and helped create the massive franchise that continues to develop new content to this day.
Fringe proved that moving a series to Friday is not necessarily a death sentence—especially with a loyal, active fan base to back it up. Now airing its fifth and final season, the sci-fi gem was granted time for a proper ending, and that’s really all anyone can ask for.
There are numerous things that Fringe fans have done to support the show, but the Twitter campaign has received a lot of attention. Knowing how difficult it is to get common terms to trend on Twitter, the team at Fringenuity began creating episode-specific hashtags for fans to use while watching the show. They were so successful that Fox began supporting their efforts by displaying the unique hashtags on the screen during the episode.
Another collective effort worth watching is this video that fans from around the world contributed to after Season Three ended and character Peter Bishop (Josh Jackson) vanished.
I am indebted to the fans who worked so hard to keep Fringe alive. After being simply grossed out by the first few episodes (skin melting off flesh and whatnot), I abandoned the series too early and only recently caught up after noticing all of the hype on Twitter. I am proof that new viewers can be obtained by the collective effort of strangers; Fringe is now my favorite on-air show and, in my opinion, one of the greatest series of all time.
A show that seemed to always be on the verge of cancellation, Chuck defied the odds and remained on air for five seasons, and the fans who participated in numerous save-our-show campaigns can take a lot of credit for that. In one of the smartest fan campaigns to date, Chuck fans knew that if they couldn’t make a huge impact on the show’s viewership, they had to let the advertisers know that the existing fan base was noticing and purchasing their products. Many advertisers were thanked, but it was the Subway campaign that really took off.
On the night of the season two finale, fans purchased footlong Subway sandwiches, left comment cards explaining why, and tweeted to Subway to show that their advertising dollars were being well spent. Zachary Levi himself even led a group of fans to a Subway in Birmingham. It worked: Subway became a major sponsor of the show and the series was renewed for a third season.
Chuck also demonstrated that product placement doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Every time Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) feasted on a Subway sandwich, it was like being part of an inside joke. If product placement is what it takes to keep great entertainment alive, that’s a small price to pay.
Cancellation is a minor obstacle
Sometimes, passionate fan campaigns have little initial success, but even after a show is off the air, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. Although Firefly was ultimately cancelled after too few episodes, continued fan support resulted in a successful DVD release and the production of the follow-up film Serenity. After being off the air for seven years, enthusiasm for Arrested Development has brought it back into production with new episodes airing on Netflix in 2013.
Television fan communities are passionate forces of good, trying to protect quality entertainment that might otherwise get shoved aside. What show are you currently trying to save? What other shows do you think were cancelled too soon?