From Tabasco to peanuts to ... baby bumps
It has become harder and harder to grow attached to new television shows these days due to the alarming rate of shows getting canceled before they have a chance to establish themselves or find an audience. With the proliferation of cable programming and alternate forms of media, network shows must generally hit big and fast to have a chance at a long and rich syndicated future.
Sometimes, fans of shows on the cancellation bubble take action to prevent their favorite shows from becoming extinct, often harnessing the power of the Internet to organize inventive campaigns – though, as we shall see below, such campaigns have played a role since well before the Internet era. It remains to be seen if some of this year’s shows on the bubble will receive the same fevered support as past shows, but with the networks only weeks away from announcing their fall schedules, now is the time for campaigning.
Below, we look at the most notable “Save Our Show” campaigns in TV history, followed by an analysis of some of the active fan campaigns for shows that are on the bubble this year, with instructions for what you can do to save your favorite shows.
Notable fan campaigns from throughout TV history
Star Trek (NBC)
The Campaign: In 1968, at the end of the show's second season
The Outcome: Success! The show returned for a third and final season in 1968-69
The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise once faced a threat worse than Klingons, hostile aliens, and faulty warp cores: low ratings. When Star Trek aired, the seminal science-fiction franchise was a struggling series in danger of not coming back after its second season. At that time, a letter-writing campaign to a network was unheard of, but dedicated fans succeeded in using one to convince the network to bring the show back for a third season. Unfortunately, renewal turned out to be a mixed blessing: the series’ production budget was substantially cut back, and the show was moved to the graveyard of Friday nights and eventually cancelled.
Cagney & Lacey (CBS)
The Campaign: In 1983, at the end of the show's first season
The Outcome: Success! The show returned and ran a total of seven seasons (1982-88)
It’s hard to believe that the award-winning police procedural starring Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly was actually cancelled after its first season. A grassroots letter-writing campaign organized by the show’s executive producer and production company brought C&L back from the dead; support from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine, and the National Organization for Women didn’t hurt, either, and the network learned that people actually liked watching shows that featured women with real jobs and real friendships. Resurrecting the show paid off for CBS: the show moved into the top 10 during its second season and ran six additional years after the original cancellation, garnering numerous awards (Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series in 1985 and 1986, six Lead Actress Emmys between Daly and Gless) and high ratings both domestically and internationally.
Twin Peaks (ABC)
The Campaign: In 1991, near the end of the show's second season
The Outcome: Mostly failed. ABC did air the remaining episodes of season 2, but the network would not agree to a third season and we're now stuck with that cliffhanger ending forever.
After the network forced series creators to reveal the central mystery (who killed Laura Palmer) during the middle of the second and subsequently last season of this cult series, Twin Peaks lost steam. But even on autopilot, the pop-culture phenomenon stood out more than most early ’90s television programs, and fans took ABC to task for moving the show to Saturday nights (when most of the show's demographic was not at home), putting it on hiatus, and eventually canceling it outright. A group of fans named for lead character FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, COOP (Citizens Opposed to the Offing of Peaks), started a letter-writing campaign and even held a rally, helping to convince the network to air the last six episodes of the show. Co-creator David Lynch went on Late Night with David Letterman (see video below) to appeal to viewers to watch the show and send mail to then ABC television president Bob Iger to help save the show from cancellation; some fans even sent stale doughnuts. Even though efforts to save the show were unsuccessful, Lynch co-wrote and directed a cinematic prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, in 1992.
Roswell (The WB/UPN)
The Campaign: In 2000, near the end of the show's debut season
The Outcome: Success! The show ran a total of three seasons (1999-2002)
In 2000, those viewers fearing a first-season cancellation of the Tabasco-loving alien teen soap opera rallied for this early example of the power of Internet fan communities. This was also perhaps the first show-saving campaign that involved including a food item along with the usual letters. Organizing themselves through the fansite Crashdown.com, named for a restaurant in the show, fans sent 3,000 bottles of Tabasco to the WB network execs. While the CEO and programmers appreciated the sentiment of the hot sauce, they were more impressed by the burgeoning power of the Internet to secure viewers and a passionate fan base, and the show was renewed for two more seasons.
The Campaign: In 2007, at the end of the show's first season
The Outcome: Partial success. The show did return for a limited second season, but a similar campaign the next year could not secure a third season.
“Nuts!” Jake Green’s famous line from the last episode of the first season of Jericho—appropriately enough, a rallying cry for the underdogs—led some fans to go to nutty measures to compel network executives to resurrect their favorite cancelled post-apocalyptic show, pooling their resources to send 20 tons of peanuts to CBS programmers. Media-savvy fans also created some fairly slick advertising, including a billboard and a bizarre online game. In a partial reprieve, the network ordered seven new episodes to air as a mid-season replacement. Sadly, the ratings did not improve for this limited run, and -- despite another campaign which included a fan-made commercial (below) -- Jericho was not renewed for a third season, though it lives on in comics.
Veronica Mars (UPN/The CW)
The Campaign: In 2007, at the end of the show's third season
The Outcome: Failed. The CW did not bring the show back for a fourth year
The perky teenage sleuth ended her girl-versus-the-world reign over her hometown of Neptune after three seasons of snark, noir, and heartbreak. To try to save the show, fans of the critically heralded but low-rated series sent the network 10,000 Mars Bars, as well as fake bills inscribed with “Veronica Mars Is Smarter Than Me”—a reference to Season 1’s “Clash of the Tritons.” Despite support from critics, E! Online’s Save Our Show campaign, and famous fans such as Kevin Smith, Stephen King, and Joss Whedon, the network was not impressed by the Mars attack. They declined to renew the show, though a 15-minute treatment for a fourth season that shot Veronica four years into the future at the FBI academy was pitched to the network and is available on the Season 3 DVD (see video below; the cast includes The Shield's Walton Goggins.). Recently, show creator Rob Thomas has also pitched a big-screen Veronica Mars movie to Warner Brothers, giving grist to still-active VMars sites like Neptune Rising. Team Logan, anyone?
Felicity (The WB)
The Campaign: In 2000, at the end of the show's second season
The Outcome: Success! The show aired a total of four seasons (1998-2002)
Before J.J. Abrams was rebooting Star Trek, he and collaborator Matt Reeves helped define startup network The WB with coming-of-age college drama Felicity. Keri Russell played the titular character, who follows her high-school crush to college. That same impulsiveness inspired Felicity lovers to congregate on the Warner Bros. studio lawn to protest its potential cancellation, with stars of the show also showing up in person to lend support. A strong Internet presence and an extensive letter-writing campaign also helped convince the network to bring the show back for a third season.
Angel (The WB)
The Campaign: In 2004, when the show was cancelled near the end of its fifth season
The Outcome: Failed. The show remained cancelled
The cancellation of The WB’s second highest-rated show after Smallville was a shock to both fans and the show’s staff, but the network wanted new shows for new audiences. Websites to save Angel immediately sprung up, including SaveAngel.org, which hit 1.5 million page views and 400,000 unique visitors only a few months later. While critics rallied for the show, fans went all out: They wrote letters to media and to the network, bought ads in trade publications, created message boards, rented a mobile billboard to drive around L.A. with the message “We Will Follow Angel to Hell...or Another Network,” and organized a rally at the WB studio in Burbank, CA, where fans were interviewed by the likes of NPR and Ryan Seacrest. Many fans hoped their support would at least lead to a TV movie or two, but it didn’t. In a bittersweet vindication, WB’s gamble on new shows didn’t exactly succeed. On the other hand, freed from his iconic role, star David Boreanaz has done well for himself as the male lead in cancellation-free Bones, now in its fifth season.
Arrested Development (Fox)
The Campaign: In 2005, at the end of the show's second season
The Outcome: Success! The show came back for a short -- and final -- third season
The sanity-challenged Bluth family crashed onto the Fox network in 2003 to great critical acclaim. Jason Bateman played relative straight man Michael Bluth, father to George Michael (Michael Cera) and wrangler of the rest of his family, which included aspiring magician GOB (Will Arnett), serial activist Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), alcoholic dowager Lucille (Jessica Walter), and everyone’s favorite never-nude, Tobias Fünke (David Cross) among others. The innovative single-camera comedy, narrated by Ron Howard, was a multi-layered gem that demanded attentive viewing to catch every callback, but wasn’t above visual gags. The series was a huge hit with bloggers, critics, and awards shows, but despite a loyal fan following, AD was never much of a ratings powerhouse. The first season ran a full 22 episodes, but the subsequent two seasons had reduced episode runs of 18 and 13, respectively; after the last season’s order was cut, the Season 3 episode “S.O.B.s” went hilariously meta with its thinly veiled references to the show’s travails. The well-organized Save Our Bluths campaign sent banana crates to the network and encouraged fans to write “strongly-worded” letters to Fox, which were instrumental in helping the show return for a third and final season. Rumors have been circling for years about a feature film version of the series, but as of yet, nothing has come to fruition. Poooooor Michael.
The Campaign: In 2004, when the first-year show was cancelled after just four episodes
The Outcome: Failed. The show did not return to network television, although the entire 13-episode first season eventually received a DVD release
Despite achieving decent ratings before it was moved to a brutal time slot, Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies) and Todd Holland (Malcolm in the Middle) only got four episodes of Wonderfalls on the air before the impatient network pulled the visually inventive U.S./Canadian co-production about post-collegiate sales clerk Jaye Tyler and her talking tchotchke pals. The show creators tried to shop the quirky dramedy around to other networks, supported by dedicated fans from the likes of SaveWonderfalls.com, where Wonderfalls-philes also pleaded for a DVD release to see the finished 13 episodes. Even the cast got involved, visiting the site and doing webcasts. While the show was not picked up, Fox paid heed to the fan fervor and made all of the finished episodes available on DVD.
Current shows in need of saving (and soon!)
None of this year's bubble shows seem to be generating quite the same level of fan fervor that previous programs have, although there are a few active fan campaigns hoping to secure an extra season for a few troubled shows.
Better Off Ted (ABC)
The fact that this timely show about soulless corporations is on the bubble may be proof that if you’re enjoying a new show that stars Arrested Development’s Portia de Rossi, you might want to start mounting a campaign to save the program as soon as possible. The underappreciated sitcom debuted in March of 2009 and has struggled in the ratings ever since, perhaps because most viewers aren’t quite ready to laugh about the modern workplace when many are struggling to even have a workplace. (ABC's refusal to give it a consistent time slot also didn't help matters.) Fans of the satirical comedy have gone 21st century for this show about a fake technology company, creating petitions, a Facebook group, a dedicated website, e-mail campaigns, and Twitter hashtags. On the low-tech end, letter-writing via snail mail -- a staple of past fan campaigns -- is also being used, and fans are sending Veridian Dynamics keychains en masse to ABC president Stephen McPherson.
The first season of Heroes was hard to ignore, with its sympathetic cast, a comic-book-like premise, and the catchily omnipresent tagline “save the cheerleader, save the world.” In the three subsequent seasons, however, it became difficult to keep track of the multiple characters and storylines; even the creators admitted to having lost the plot a bit. Fans and members of the media alike spoke out openly with ideas for improving the show. Despite the public backlash and hovering on the verge of cancellation the last few seasons, the show retains a rabid fan base that isn’t afraid to use the Internet to achieve its aims of bringing Heroes back for a proper conclusion. Online petitions, Facebook groups, letter-writing campaigns with the inclusion of “Save the World” paraphernalia, numerous dedicated Twitterers, and prominence on high-visibility campaigns like Watch with Kristin’s “Save One Show” on E! Online may have helped Heroes stave off cancellation in the past, but they may not be so lucky this time.
This nerdy spy series has been the beneficiary of multiple fan campaigns fueled by social media, podcasts, Twitter backgrounds, and critical support, and this season is no exception: Chuck just placed first in E!Online’s prominent “Save One Show” campaign, and lead Zachary Levi recently sported a baby bump at WonderCon, promising to have his co-star Jason Gomez’ child if the show is renewed. However, it may be tough to top last year’s campaign, in which economically-savvy fans approached the network where they’d feel it: in the pocketbook. Fans purchased footlong sandwiches from Chuck product-placement sponsor Subway and wrote letters in the hopes that both the network and Subway would see that fan loyalty would translate to advertising dollars. Levi even got behind a Subway counter to show his support (see video below), and, along with letter-writing, fan donations to the American Heart Association, sending Nerds candy to execs, and members of the media getting in on the trending action, the campaign helped Subway and NBC rise to the challenge with a sponsorship deal to help fund the third season. It remains to be seen if a similarly impressive effort will need to be made to bring the show back for a fourth season; fans have already shared show-saving strategies ranging from the obvious (if you have a Nielsen box, watch Chuck live) to the not-so-obvious (make sure you watch your DVR-recorded episode the night it airs) and are trying to secure more viewers by placing ads. But, so far, nothing has approached they hype of last year’s “Finale & Footlong.”
Human Target (Fox)
With the recent announcement that this season of 24 will be its last, Fox may have room for another action show on its schedule, and the recently ended first-year series Human Target could be just the right fit. Unlike 24, Human Target offers a mostly stand-alone narrative that doesn’t require episode-to-episode devotion, making it a perfect candidate for future syndication. While the show has shown up on a number of “save this show” polls and a recent comic book adaptation may add fans, it’s surprising that there isn't a more active fan campaign for this well-scored DC Comics adaptation that co-stars the hunky Mark Valley, Pushing Daisies alumnus Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley, a genre fan favorite for his performance as Rorschach in Watchmen and his upcoming portrayal of horror icon Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot.
What do you think?
Have you ever joined a fan campaign to save a show from cancellation? What shows are worth saving this year? Let us know in the comments section below.