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view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

There Goes Jericho

On May 16th, CBS announced the fall of Jericho. "Lost viewership" was the factor cited by Nina Tassler, the network's president of entertainment.. As we all know, shows come and go, and fans can be fickle. This month's top hit can be next month's ratings disaster; the variables are many, and network programmers rarely do viewers any favors as they (often inexplicably) juggle time slots. The woefully archaic Nielsen system can wreak havoc on new shows, especially when they take time off during the season. The cruelest standards of all are certainly applied to large-cast, multiple-location ("expensive") dramas like Jericho. Conversely, the most dedicated, loyal, enthusiastic, and vocal audiences are built by high-cost serialized dramas like Jericho--not by low-budget, quick-profit reality programs.

If a popular contestant-based show like Survivor was cancelled, dedicated watchers might feel some fleeting disappointment, accompanied by the consolation that it was fun to watch and had a good run. But when a network incinerates a well-received dramatic serial like Jericho, especially so early in its unfurling, fans are shocked and outraged. These are smart, thoughtful viewers who've invested their time and attention. They don't take the news lying down, either. Reader response to CNN.com's
Marquee Blog, (which helped debut the announcement), now runs to nearly two hundred comments. Most of the respondents mention the weeks-long "hiatus" and the harsh time-slotting suffered by Jericho. Dozens of commenters point out how unique this show was, and the broad family appeal it offered.

CBS message boards
Messages posted to the (soon-to-be-gone?) official Jericho
community number in the hundreds, with "views" reaching the tens of thousands. Writers have carefully collected and posted network contact names, addresses, fax numbers, email addresses and related links. New websites, blog sites, and message boards have cropped up immediately to rally support among Jericho fans. "Save Jericho" is the obvious battle-cry, and this blog does a fine job of gathering the current links and information. At least one major online petition continues to collect signatures--over 50,000 of them!-- calling for network action. Even after the claimed loss of audience, Jericho still had at least 8,000,000 loyal viewers. Most of them are not happy, and not afraid to say so.

The outpouring of fan support for this drama has been nothing short of awesome. These are witty, creative, and vocal viewers. They want some closure, at least. With the current variety of distribution outlets for video, we all just might get that closure. Every network has secondary channels for content rebroadcast; and there are plenty of other cable channels desperate for quality content. We have plenty of pay-per-download options, too. It won't be the same, though, as watching a show we love the first time it runs on a major network station. Those other delivery systems seem to devalue their offerings in comparison to what most of us grew up with. After all, how many videos are posted on YouTube right now--a million? Probably a lot more than that. The entire concept of "broadcast" is changing right before our eyes, however. Even something as straight-forward as TiVo has sent shock waves through the hallowed network corridors. Now you can receive television on your cell-phone, although I don't really understand why you'd want to. The message I'm seeing right now from Jericho's fans is simple: we want our Season Two, and we want it on our regular old teevee's!

The real question remains: where is this whole idea of network television headed? Are we asking too much of the airwave execs when we hope to find outstanding programs on our so-called free stations? When I wrote about Jericho originally, back around episode three, I expressed concern about the network's willingness to take risks with expensive dramas. Don't think for even a minute that "CBS cares." Their entertainment president, Tassler, frankly admitted in her first statement about this cancellation that "it's all about the money" (or words to that effect). The only valid reason CBS has for airing a high-quality drama is that drama's ability to attract millions of faithful viewers. If they could accomplish the same result by broadcasting the weather all day long, they'd do it! Fortunately, audience loyalty matters very much, as long as it's a big audience and there's a substantial profit to be made. So far the only viable way to gather faithful viewership is by providing some sort of high-quality programming. That order can now be filled, however, with less costly contestant-based fare like American Idol and Amazing Race. The financial success of these shows has led directly to the network executives' impatience with dramas. Jericho certainly isn't the first top-notch serial to be unceremoniously dumped; no chance it will be the last.

Here's the bottom line, literally. Fox's American Idol earned more than one hundred million dollars last quarter. Meanwhile, ten million intensely devoted viewers weren't enough to make Jericho profitable for CBS. Does that give you some idea of how expensive a show like Jericho is to produce? The only reason we still can see quality dramas on "free" TV is that the networks have found it very difficult to replicate Idol's success. Huge audiences still tune-in to see the various CSI's and Law & Order's. It's a good thing they do, or those programmes would be gone as well. For the rest of us, who are still searching for something more original and unusual like Jericho, there's not much hope. The time is approaching when we'll only see shows like that by subscription or pay-per-view. (And you can bet your last dollar they'll still be filled with commercials!) You'll want a bigger monitor for your computer, and the fastest Internet connection available--that's where you're going to find the best quality dramatic offerings. It won't happen this year, and maybe not next year; but it's coming. Keep your credit card handy, too, 'cause you're gonna need it. Ah, the wonders of technology, huh?

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