Battle Over: CBS gave 'Jericho' a fighting chance

Battle Over: CBS gave 'Jericho' a fighting chanceSad fact of life: If you watch enough TV, eventually a network isgoing to cancel one of your favorite shows prematurely, be it afterfive episodes or 50 episodes or 100 episodes. Any cancellation ispremature, unless the only shows you've ever watched areSeinfeld, Friends, Law & Order andE.R.

This week's premature cancellation, obviously, isJericho, which has been put out to pasture by CBS for the second time in less than a year.Because I think of cancellation as being a truncation of some sort,the conclusion without closure, I'm not sure that Jerichowas even really cancelled. After Tuesday (March 25), CBS will haveaired every episode of Jericho ordered by the network andthe show's producers shot an ending that will provide resolution tothe fans who resurrected it with letters, phone calls and,infamously (and reductively) nuts.

But for fans of cancelled shows, no network has ever done theright thing, no network has every given their shows the supportthey deserved. Reading reactions to the end of Jericho, itisn't surprising to see that show's fans falling into familiarpatterns.

Fans of Arrested Development remain irate at FOX'streatment of the Emmy-winning comedy, a contention that baffles me.FOX gave three seasons to one of the lowest rated shows ontelevision (or two-and-a-half, sort of). A best comedy series Emmydid absolutely nothing to improve the show's viewership and fanscomplain that FOX bounced Arrested Development around theschedule. Partly that's true, but more realistically, FOX wastrying Arrested Development in a variety of its best timeslots trying to make anything stick. The show aired after American Idol. It aired after The Simpsons. Itaired any place FOX had a home for it, but it didn't make adifference. The audience that watched the show -- that includes me-- loved it to death, but the audience that didn't watch it had nointerest in discovering it or sampling it. FOX gave Arrested Development enough episodes for three sets of DVDs. That'sgiving it a chance. Enjoy what you had, fans.

Fans of Veronica Mars remain irate at UPN and The CW'streatment of the adored teen private eye series, a contention thatbaffles me. Those two networks gave three seasons to one of thelowest rated dramas on television (or two-and-a-half, sort of).Critics never stopped raving about Veronica Mars andexecutives at both networks never stopped saying they worshippedthe show, but that didn't cause the ratings to change one iota.Yes, both networks moved Veronica Mars around a bit ontheir schedules and often pulled the show for long periods. Butboth networks gave Veronica Mars the best lead-ins theyhad available, whether it was America's Next Top Model orGilmore Girls. The audience that watched the show -- thatincludes me -- loved it to death, but the audience that didn'twatch it had no interest in discovering it or sampling it. FOX gaveVeronica Mars enough episodes for three sets of DVDs.That's giving it a chance. Enjoy what you had, fans.

That brings me back, of course, to Jericho.

CBS didn't give Jericho enough time for three sets ofDVDs, but there will be one full season and one partial season whenall is said and done. CBS didn't renew Jericho last seasonbecause, by the standards of the network's viewership, it didn'tmake the grade. It didn't come close to making the grade. But CBSbrought Jericho back because the executives liked thestatement it made. It said "We listen to the fans and we understandthe changing face of the media landscape. We recognize that we haveto do business a different way." They didn't need to, but theywanted to try something different.

The network brought the Jericho people to TelevisionCritics Association press tour last year and we wrote reams ofstories about it. They brought the Jericho people toComicCon last summer and to WonderCon this spring and we wrotereams of stories about it. They promoted the heck out of the show,running a relentless series of advertising that any viewer of NFLgames can attest to. Yes, that Tuesday night time slot is a deathslot and it may not have been exactly the most flawless piece ofscheduling, but CBS put Jericho where it had the space. Itput it in a time slot where any level of success, however minimal,would have stood out, would have been cause for celebration. Youthink CBS, the most watched network on TV, likes having a dead spoton Tuesday night? Of course not. And here's one thing that fans ofVeronica Mars and Arrested Development wish theycould have said in the last years of their shows: Jerichoaired every Tuesday night at 10. CBS said it was going to air aseven-episode season and that's what the network did. Part of thatwas that thanks to the strike, the network needed programming, butthe reasons aren't necessary. For seven weeks, Jerichofans knew where to watch their show, but not enough peoplewatched.

If the ratings that Jericho was getting last springweren't enough to justify renewing it then, how to justify bringingit back after a spring where every single episode did worse thanthe worst episode last season. You shouldn't doubt that ifJericho had done last year's average rating on Tuesdaynight at 10 p.m. this year, renewal would have been a no-brainer.But it didn't.

And Jericho fans aren't blameless here. Remember backtwo or three weeks before the show premiered and the first threeepisodes -- the episode sent to critics -- were already on theInternet? You think that looked good to CBS? The network waslooking for measurables and I'm doubting they scoured theBitTorrent sites with pleasure. And what about all of the emptyseats at WonderCon last spring and ComicCon last summer?

But that doesn't matter. Jericho fans are in the angerstage of grieving, a stage that for many TV fans never passes intoacceptance (though "bargaining" actually worked for theJericho group last year). They're saying they're going toboycott CBS, that they're going to go back to sending nuts orletters or whatever worked last year. They say that if CBS had justgiven the show a chance, it would have found an audience.

Cite evidence, please. Ratings were low. They showed no signs ofgetting higher. None. Online downloads were solid, but as you mayhave heard during the writers strike, networks and studios arehaving a hard time monetizing that stuff.

You say that Jericho was the best show on TV? Idisagree, but I'm glad you like it and darned if I didn't stillwatch every episode. You say that Jericho was refreshingand different? Absolutely. I can't argue with that. Even if theacting and dialogue were sometimes weak, Jericho wasalways a show with ideas, often original and provocative ones.Wanna know the sad thing? Jericho got more creative andmore intelligent (albeit sometimes less exciting and less fun) asit progressed, but as those things improved the ratings declinedalmost proportionately.

Want somebody or something to blame, Jericho fans? TryMoonlight. The Friday night drama has consistently droopedin ratings between Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rsdelivering an audience which, under normal circumstances -- thisbeing the network that cancelled Close to Home, whichwould have been a hit anywhere else -- wouldn't be enough forrenewal. But I have to believe that CBS is terrified by thededication and level of obsession from the Moonlight fans.If the network's going to pick up one low-rated drama for nextyear, it'll be Moonlight, because CBS would rather weatheranother sea of goobers than deal with irate care packages full ofblood.

Can I just say that I agree with y'all on one thing: The ratingssystem is a crock. If you want to make your fortune, develop abetter way of measuring TV audience size than what Nielsencurrently does. You couldn't do worse. But TV networks can only dobusiness with what they have available, so your letters that startwith "I watch Jericho religiously and so do my 100 best friends andnone of us have Nielsen boxes" really won't have much of an impact.CBS tried to do business a different way this past year and you gotseven new episodes out of it.

That's not bad.

Ask angry fans of Journeyman or Drive orFirefly if they would be satisfied with another sevenepisodes. Jericho fans probably shouldn't complain toCane fans about CBS not giving them enough of a chance tofind an audience. Airing in the Tuesday death slot, Caneaveraged 8.9 million viewers this season, but nobody invitedCane to make new episodes after the strike ended. In thatsame time slot, Jericho averaged 6.8 million viewers.

My point isn't to malign the most passionate of Jerichofans or to rub salt in the wounds so soon after the last saltmassage.

The point is just to say... Why the anger? Again! I understandsadness or frustration or a little bit of resignation. But why somad? Two DVD sets with 29 episodes? That's not so bad. The Prisoner only aired 17 episodes. Fawlty Towers aired12. My Freaks and Geeks DVD set has 18 episodes, one morethan my Undeclared set.

Why should Tuesday night be about venting your spleen at CBS, atthe tastes of American viewers at Nielsen?

Why not just say good-bye to Jake and Hawkins and the rest ofthe gang?

There'll be plenty of new shows to obsess over soon enough, atleast until they're cancelled.

What do you think?

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