In May of 2007, CBS’ drama series ‘Jericho’ was canceled, and fans across North America weren’t happy about it. Their response took the form of a campaign to send peanuts to CBS (Referencing a line in the season’s final episode), and to spread their word through the modern communications methods available on the internet. It may be somewhat surprising, then, that these were not all twenty-something internet users who helped save this beloved series. In fact, some of them would be old enough to be their grandparents.
These viewers are not part of targeted advertiser’s demographics, and they certainly aren’t what people would expect when they picture someone who posts on internet message boards. These Baby Boomers are not just large in numbers: they also believe that they, too, can make a difference. They might not fully grasp MySpace or Facebook, but that doesn’t keep them from making their voice heard.
“You know what they say,” Jericho viewer Sharon Tomlinson, 53, writes, “60 is the new 40. It is a mistake for TV networks and advertisers to think that our age group is irrelevant.” There is no question that networks are not actively seeking out older viewers; one of CBS’ shows for next season is Swingtown, a drama about a suburban community of swingers. While there is an audience for that type of programming, it isn’t what viewers like Sharon are looking for.
They were looking for a show like Jericho, which according to Nielsen ratings struggled to engage younger viewers late in its season. However, it didn’t have any trouble pulling in viewers outside of that 18-49 demographic privileged by advertisers, if the events that followed are any indication. When the show was canceled in May, many of those most devoted to the cause were not internet-savvy youngsters, but rather boomers hoping to save something they cared about.
On the Jericho message boards, user GaTravelGal recently created the Jeriatric Boomers War, a thread where users can reminisce about the past and help each other in learning new tools to fight for Jericho’s success.
“I started this thread because I felt like my voice and other’s my age should be heard, that what we wanted should matter,” she writes. That message board post has exploded to over 600 posts in just a week and a half. It has become a way for these dozens of older viewers, who descended to the boards after the show was canceled to speak their mind, to share ideas and memories.
In this internet age, fandom has taken on new forms of fan fiction, message board communities, and YouTube tribute videos. At the heart of it all there needs to be a love of a show. No matter one’s opinion on Jericho, it is clear that these boomers and the rest of the show’s fans are devoted; however, it was the boomers who were able to play an important and central role in the proceedings.
“[We were] the level heads that kept the campaign going in a civilize manner,” writes Teresa, a viewer from Delaware. After learning of the cancellation, she logged onto CBS.com and found hundreds of like minds hoping to save one of her favourite programs. She even started telling her friends and family, trying to pull them in for the cause.
“Some said I was crazy and some jumped in and helped,” Sharon recollects. This type of devotion was not uncommon: as Jericho fans began to bond together by sending nuts to CBS en masse (Over 20 tonnes of nuts were sent), more and more fans began to organize. And, at the center of this organization, the boomers were beginning to make themselves heard.
“We were educated, diligent, patient and understood the principles of corporate business,” Teresa continues. It was these qualities that allowed the campaign to persist, and eventually become successful. The show was saved by CBS in early June, when they committed to seven new episodes to air sometime next year.
But the battle isn’t over yet, a fact that the Jericho boomers appear to realize more than some of the campaign’s younger supporters. They’re banding together, chatting about fond memories of earlier years and bonding as a unique section of the television viewing population. And, as a result, they’re the ones still fighting to make sure their show can continue.
“We are a formidable force to this day,” writes a user by the name of Alpha99Wolf. “Learning how to use chat rooms, blog sites, etc. is bringing us up to speed with the preferred demographics in that respect. We changed history before in profound ways, and we have the power and discipline to do it again.” And this is becoming more common: boomers are beginning to embrace internet sites such as YouTube or Facebook as ways of communicating their messages.
While CBS was once likely the most boomer-friendly network, increased pressure from other networks have taken them away from that path.
“I think CBS has valued us for many years,” Alpha99Wolf explains, “but now due to pressure from other networks they feel that they have to change the status quo and appeal to a younger demographic, leaving baby boomers behind.” And yet, it seems as if it is the baby boomers that are sticking around. After Jericho was brought back to life, a majority of those who sent nuts or made phone calls appear to have disappeared into the carefree summer months.
But the boomers remain some of the most loyal, perhaps less distracted by passing phenomenon and more likely to keep their attention on a single cause. After Jericho was successful in gaining a seven-episode second season, many of the campaign’s supporters disappeared from Jericho’s message boards and stopped supporting the series actively. This was not the case for the boomers, as their involvement has increased since the renewal. It seems that it is the boomers who are most loyal to their cause, and are hoping to keep their show alive for many seasons to come.
For Susan Davis, 46, this battle to save Jericho echoes her life experience living in Washington D.C.
“As a boomer who grew up in the DC area, I was active in more protests than I can remember. Had we simply decided that one battle won was reason to put down the signs and stop the marching there would be many true victories that would have never happened.”
“The protest is long from over,” Susan says. “Everyone needs to pick up their signs, put on their marching boots and, evidently, start hitting the net with all the passion we had a month ago.”
The boomers are a powerful force, large in number and large in experience. However, we always sort of assume that they will be a powerful force in things other than technology or entertainment; the idea of the baby boomers bringing back a TV show through an internet campaign would have seemed impossible three months ago.
And now it’s time to see whether anyone takes notice of their contribution to this landmark campaign. With younger demographics more and more desirable, is there a place for the Jeriatrics in the minds of advertisers or networks?
“Why they feel that after a person reaches a certain age that they are no longer the “target viewers” is beyond my comprehension,” Susan writes, reflecting what really is the question that these Jericho-loving boomers are forcing onto CBS and other networks. They have proven to be intensely loyal fans who, even if not entirely technologically aware, have been willing to learn and adapt to a new era of protest.
What’s next for the Jeriatrics? They’ll be telling friends about Jericho, and crowding around their TV sets every Friday night, when CBS is rerunning Jericho’s first season at 9pm EDT. And if anyone thinks that they’re going to be backing down any time soon, I think they’ve got one word for you.