When some series get the ax, loyal fans take up the cause
By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN
New York Times
May 31, 2007, 8:33AM
The problem with the proposition that television is an art is that art is meant to be deathless, while television shows are always being canceled.
New sitcoms, for example, come on like your best friend forever the first time you meet, only to vanish without a trace when the network pulls the plug. They're like grifters that way. Suspicious. Sitcom sets are built to look like monuments to eternal friendship - everybody-knows-your-name Central Perk WKRP monuments - but if there's one false move in the ratings, they're axed to splinters, and no one seems to shed a tear.
Then there are hour-long shows. Even the plainest network drama in these days of The Wire and Nip/Tuck sets up mortal stakes -- with plane crashes, tanks, spinal-cord injuries, point-blank executions -- as well as tormented characters invented to seize the brain. These shows ask more than the comedies do: They don't demand friendship as much as fealty. In an unsuccessful drama this ambition seems laughable. In a successful one it just works. You fall in thrall. You accept the series as your master. Such is the case with The Sopranos, Rescue Me and, it seems, Jericho.
I probably should call that last series, which CBS canceled earlier this month, "the late Jericho," but it makes me nervous to write those words because its fans are die-hards.
Those Jericho people are way, way, way in the denial phase of grief. As you can imagine, fans of a post-apocalyptic survivalist show have a tendency to be somewhat defensive. Vehement. Sensitive. They haze outsiders. They embark on campaigns.
Lately, too, they buy nuts: More than 26,000 pounds so far, nearly all of them roasted peanuts from an online retailer called NutsOnline.com. That's 13 tons. These nuts are shipped in boxes to CBS executives, who fans persist in believing might bring the low-rated Jericho back to prime time.
Just as other battles -- for Everwood, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars -- have taken on the particular character of the show being fought for, so the one for Jericho has been put in terms you might expect from people who have been watching an embattled community in Kansas fight to survive after the nuclear destruction of major American cities.
For some the war seems more than a little holy: The Jericho call to arms doubles as a referendum on universal suffrage, charging that the Nielsen ratings system, which takes only passing notice of digital video recorders and new ways of watching television, is no more reliable than American voting machines.
Arguably, though, Jericho fans are just television fans at their most fannish, meaning (still, and after all these years) most Trekkie-like. Fans of Star Trek continue to represent the gold standard for American fandom, not only because they were the first to love a television show to distraction, but also because they spun from that love the breath of life.
They not only reincarnated their postapocalyptic series, which was nominally canceled in 1969, they also generated, as they see it, no fewer than five television shows, 10 feature films and hundreds of novels.
With that effort still yielding dividends in the form of video games, computer games and memorabilia, what committed fan wouldn't fight for a beloved show's second season?
People who cared about struggling shows tended to talk about NBC's Friday Night Lights or 30 Rock, which had both been renewed.
Jericho viewers generally got the news on the Internet: No more Jericho. In videos, on message boards and in e-mail messages came the rallying cry: Nuts. The idea crystallized quickly: "Say nuts to CBS."
The quaint use of nuts to mean both "that's rubbish" and "go jump in a lake" came to fans from the final episode of the series, called "Why We Fight," after the award-winning propaganda films by Frank Capra.
In that last episode Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) uses the word "nuts" to refuse his enemy's suggestion that he surrender. The G-rated expression is justified in a flashback to pre-apocalypse days: it comes from his grandfather's story about an American commander who stood up to the Nazis at Bastogne.
"Nuts" is a nice fit for this true-blue show, then: a flinty, Greatest Generation word, with a slightly bawdy bite. (Just before the grandpa story, hay is made over a mispronunciation of the word "peanuts," as if to sex up "nuts" as a catchphrase.) In the final episode the rogue-turned-team-captain of the town called Jericho -- that's Jake -- sees his father urge him to keep fighting the forces marshaling against him, before he expires on a kitchen table.
Finally comes an attack on Jericho that looks like the big one, and a blackout. A textbook cliff-hanger. No wonder some of the first fans to protest the cancellation recut the final episode with Jake and the boys fighting CBS. They uploaded their efforts to YouTube and began the supremely popular "Nuts to CBS" campaign.
How CBS thought it could peddle heady patriotic stuff like this -- not to mention run a series with episodes titled "Semper Fidelis," "One if by Land" and "Coalition of the Willing," if that gives a stronger sense of the soul of the series - and not expect a citizen-army to form in the show's defense is folly.
It's almost like creating Vulcans, the Enterprise and Starfleet and not anticipating that some children of the '60s and '70s, who didn't feel altogether embraced by life on Earth, might see themselves in the mirror of that new universe and devote hours, days and years of their young lives to ensure its survival.http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/tv/4848603.html