[Edit: Written in the depths of the upfronts, this article serves as an attempt to specify CBS’s reasoning for canceling Jericho. In the end, their logic has some sound bases, and that’s really the purpose of this article. For more on the Save Jericho campaign that developed after this article was written, head here. – Myles]
So, out of all of the upfront decisions made over the past few days, the one which has brought forth the most anger has certainly been CBS’ long-rumoured decision to cancel apocalyptic drama Jericho. And, I feel the pain fans are feeling at this moment, considering the show ended of a cliffhanger. However, while I hate to rain on the parade of anger [Currently ongoing over at Your Entertainment Now], I feel the need to point out that Jericho’s failure is not just CBS’ fault, and chances are they won’t be reconsidering anytime soon.
I stopped watching Jericho early in the season when it was mind-numbingly boring, long before New Bern (Is that right? I’ve just been reading about it) and all of the drama that followed, and Hawkins finally kicking some ass. I stopped watching because the show wasn’t holding my interest. If the show had ended its first half in a decent state, I think the show had a chance…but it didn’t. It was back-loaded. The same thing happened to Lost, but it had two seasons of goodwill keeping people around…Jericho had none of that.
I talked at length earlier this year about Sci-Futility, a principle that science fiction and other “niche” genres have a potential audience smaller than your normal show. When shows like Heroes or Jericho premiere, they gain some casual attention, but other time these casuals will get distracted by the latest new reality show or crime procedural once the storyline slows down a little. It happened to Lost, and this spring it happened to Heroes…but it affected Jericho the most. The show saw a drop from a strong performance to a middling return barely worthy of mention amongst CBS’ other hits.
What happened to Jericho was that those people who were iffy on its quality in the first half of the year suddenly had a new option at 8pm: American Idol aired weeks of its Boys/Girls performances in the hour, and the result was Jericho getting its ass handed to it. CBS knew this, sure, but from a business perspective a good show should have been able to hold its audience. This might not be the case at other networks, like NBC, which held onto low-performing Friday Night Lights in the same time period. They’re in need of a hit, critical or otherwise, to keep up their prestige. CBS, meanwhile, it not lacking in hits.
When you have the ability to repeat an episode of CSI and get better ratings than an expensive new episode of Jericho, which would you choose from a business perspective. I honestly believe that the network would do just that, not even bother ordering pilots, if they weren’t also trying to change their image…or appear to wish to. In reality, I think CBS is content with raking in piles of dough with their crime procedurals and just experimenting for fun with dramas like Jericho.
It’s not a question of quality: I’m sure that CBS were impressed with the strong upward movement in the show’s storylines as they reached the end of the season. However, those Nielsen ratings are more important than that quality for a network that has so many high-performing shows. CBS could never justify to advertisers, or their shareholders, why they would keep around a low-performing drama when they had so many other, better, more buzz-worthy options.
For those fans of Jericho who are upset about this, I really think that you need to think about this situation carefully. Jericho was never a good fit for CBS: look how many of you are quickly swearing off the network in the wake of this announcement. It’s a network of aging crime shows, one after the other, and the occasional spark of youth crowded out by the dead bodies puling up around it (The Ghost Whisperer, perhaps the closest the network has, has boobs, so that gives it appeal). The network was an odd place to find a post-apocalyptic drama, and as a result this was almost inevitable.
In the world of TV dramas in the 2006/2007 season, Jericho had everything working against it. It was a serial drama, so successful last year with Prison Break but shunned widely this year. It was on CBS, a network with incredibly high ratings standards, and where it didn’t really fit in. It was in a timeslot which would, at a point, conflict with American Idol. It had a three month hiatus in which Idol arrived and Jericho re-emerged into a hellish atmosphere. And, in the end, the casual fans who watched in the beginning didn’t stick around until the end. I don’t think we can blame just CBS for all of this, its scheduling. Other shows weathered the storm, and it didn’t.
So, saying goodbye to Jericho must be tough, but in the end CBS didn’t have a choice. Fan outrage or no fan outrage, Jericho failed to win itself a spot on the 2007/2007 schedule…fair and square.