I’ve spent the last two days rewatching the first season of Jericho, which CBS has kindly left up on their site. I believe I’ve written about the show before; for those of you just tuning in, it’s a completely awesome thought experiment about what would happen in the United States after a series of nuclear attacks. Oddly enough, shortly before I discovered Jericho, I was working on a piece of short fiction about the events in a small town after the end of the world. If you haven’t started watching it yet, you should. The first season comes out on DVD on the second of October, so it probably won’t be up on the website much longer.
I’m not a television watcher because I don’t own a television, and I discovered Jericho in a circuitous fashion through StumbleUpon. I’m glad I found it. The show has a complex and interesting plot, along with compelling and well developed characters. But, perhaps most importantly in my opinion, it takes place in a small town much like my own, and the events feel very realistic. The sense of being cut off, of not being able to obtain information, of fear and confusion; it’s very believable. I wasn’t surprised to hear an interview in which the producers mentioned the events of 11 September and Hurricane Katrina as inspirations for the behaviour in the show.
Jericho doesn’t just have an very interesting story, in my opinion. It has a brilliant story, and the history of the show offscreen is pretty interesting too. The concept was originally worked up as a film, but the developers realized that a film wasn’t long enough to tell the story they wanted to tell, so they pitched it as a television show. Over the course of a season, events unfolded slowly and very naturally. We saw the best of people and the worst of people in a scenario which wasn’t that abstracted from reality; it could happen, although it’s not likely. Unfortunately, the first season of the show tanked. It got horrible ratings, and shortly after the cliffhanger final episode, CBS announced that the show was canceled.
What happened next…was fascinating. There was nothing less than a fan revolt, in which 20 tons of nuts were sent to CBS headquarters, referencing an event in the show (and a real-life event from the Second World War). After immense pressure, the network caved and agreed to pick up the second season, or at least seven episodes of it. I am eagerly looking forward to it, as are other rabid Jericho fans.
It’s especially awesome that the cast and crew have posted several videos publicly thanking fans for their efforts. In addition to the joking “thanks for securing my job,” they’ve talked about how they have grown to love the show and characters as well, and they’re grateful for the opportunity to explore Jericho for at least seven more shows. I think that the cast and crew were also impressed by the sheer level of devotion involved, and the huge outcry about the cancellation.
What’s interesting about this, to me, is the change that media is going through. The reason the first season appeared to tank is because people were watching it online, on the CBS website, or they were recording it to watch later. The ratings system clearly did not work for Jericho, since people weren’t watching it on their televisions. This almost spelled the death of the show, and it may prove to be an issue still, since CBS hasn’t committed to a full second season just yet, let alone future seasons. Given how complex the plot is, I can’t see it being wrapped up quickly; and I don’t want it to be.
Now, CBS is putting fans in an interesting position. The network is actively asking fans to watch the show when it’s scheduled to be on, and the cast and crew is adding their appeal as well. Basically, the network is rejecting alternate modes of watching the show, and essentially blackmailing viewers into watching the show “when they’re supposed to.” I’m not sure that this is smart or good business.
This puts viewers like me in a bad place because I don’t own a television, and I don’t want to. I like and appreciate being able to watch the show online, and I think that my vote should be counted. Putting shows online is getting to be more and more common, and CBS was an early adopter. I think that was a smart choice, and by doing that, the network opened up to a lot of new viewers, like me. Instead of punishing us for their own progressiveness, CBS should be stoked that they have so many devoted Internet fans of their shows. The ratings system needs to be rethunk, since shows like Jericho appeal to a different market than garbage like reality TV which one sector of the population gathers faithfully for every week. Nerds like their media flexible, and there are a lot of nerds watching Jericho.
As CBS has learned, it’s not a good idea to get nerds angry. We get awfully creative.