Television viewers are more than willing to invest money in quality programming.
If a show is as successful at inspiring loyalty as Jericho has been over the last couple of years, it doesn’t even matter that it has been cancelled. Not in this particular case anyway, since Jericho producers Carol Barbee and Jon Steinberg have voiced confidence that the show will most likely return in some form or another.
The efforts of Jericho fans to bring the show back for a third season on a cable network are often labelled as “rabid” or “nutty,” but the last among the many campaigns is very much on the pulse of television audiences at large, as the numbers for this year’s May sweeps indicate. More about those later.
On May 25, a gigantic billboard saying “Jericho and more than 6 million fans need a new home,“ “network needed, loyal fans will follow” emerged on Ventura Avenue in Studio City. It is aimed at potential new homes for the show – cable networks like SciFi, USA, TNT, Hallmark, and the CW – and it will be up throughout June at a location near several networks’ headquarters.
The really impressive part is that the whole thing went from idea to execution in a couple of weeks’ time: fan donations, having the Jericho cast and crew, including Skeet Ulrich, autograph items to be auctioned on Ebay, and the auction itself, which all led to raising the $7,500 needed to get the billboard up.
The campaign is just one of many. On top of sending letters to CBS and the cablers on a regular basis, efforts include getting a similar ad in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety in April, sending over 1,000 pounds to Nielsen headquarters, buying DVDs for U.S. troops in the Middle East, donating peanut butter to the Kansas Food Bank, and getting a Save Jericho commercial to air on cable in the Los Angeles area. The last two campaigns have yet to be brought to completion.
This week, Jericho fans are joining forces with Moonlight fans to hit the radio airwaves in an international Radio Dedication Campaign. They will be calling local and national radio stations that are taking dedications and requesting several songs from the shows in order to inform listeners about the campaigns and remind them of the upcoming DVD releases.
On top of that, CBS and Comcast executives can expect to be swamped by another round of Jericho fan letters. (In April, Comcast was reported to be in talks with CBS Paramount in a possible three-way deal that would see the cable provider help fund the third season of the show in exchange for the rights to the first run of the episodes.)
When Jericho was brought back for a second season this time last year, a month after CBS had received over 40,000 pounds of peanuts, it was adopted both by CBS and the media as a potential poster child for a future business model.
A year later, the show has grown into a positive flagship of viewer trends in general, covering ground from the dissatisfaction with the networks’ dependence on the Nielsen ratings to the importance of social networking and the new media for network television.
In the latest instance, the nuclear skyline of the fictional Jericho, Kansas has made its way to the heart of L.A. at a time when executives are pondering the numbers of the May sweeps, just in time to reiterate what is common knowledge by now – and it bears repeating:
Viewers will pay for good television.
This last week, the industry has been buzzing about two things. One, cable subscription fees having risen 77 percent since 1996, mainly on account of inflation, licensing fees and programming costs. The other, the regular coverage of the May sweeps, which have spelled out pretty scary numbers for the major networks – a 27 percent plunge for NBC among most significant losses – at a time when the overall number of television viewers has actually risen by two percent.
Explanation? As Variety reports, the majority of U.S. cable networks posted double digit growth of primetime viewers compared to last May.
In other words, the number of cable subscribers, who pay at least $60 a month, is growing while the major networks – those broadcasting content for free – are losing audiences.
Some nutty times we live in, eh?
With that in mind, it is really no surprise that a good show can prompt an international group of people to action. Especially a show that touches on issues that have been so widely discussed for the last few years. Nuclear strike fears. Government conspiracies. The general loss of political naivete.
The real appeal of Jericho, however, is that it uses the old science fiction trope – nuclear holocaust – to contrast a possible aftermath with traditional small town values and occasionally riff on similar positive moments in history to infuse the post-nuclear political landscape with a necessary dose of morale. The Battle of Bastogne footnote, for instance, is how the whole Nuts campaign got started to begin with.