Jericho: A Question of Blame, a Legacy of Fandom

Tonight, March 25th, Jericho airs its series finale…well, it’s second one, in a way. When the series ended its first season on a cliffhanger, few expected that ten months later we’d be once again sending Jericho into the horizon. It was a bubble show then, but today it is official – Jericho is gone.

Here at Cultural Learnings, we spent a lot of time on the nature of the fan movement to save the series, as people bombarded CBS with Nuts until they cried mercy. Fans hoped in that moment, when CBS renewed the series for seven episodes, that it signaled CBS turning a leaf. That Nina Tassler, in all of her kindness she displayed in this scenario, would be there for Jericho all summer and fall long, making sure that the buzz surrounding nuts would not die down easily. Obviously, as we can see, it did.

I think that one of the things that I find most fascinating about all of this is the concept of a relationship between viewer and network. As we see  more and more producers of individual series engaging with their audience through podcasts or blogs, it seems as if the networks themselves are incapable of grasping the idea of some sort of unspoken contract between the two sides when it comes to struggling shows.

I think this is unfortunate, but I think it allows us to extend this idea of a contract of sorts further. There are many parties who eventually help make up the decisions, and the problem is that they’re all looking out for different interests.

You’ve got the network looking at the bottom line, and a broader corporate image likely decided by a conglomerate head.

You’ve got the fans who want their show to return, and who believe strongly in that fact irregardless of finances (And for darn good reason – enjoyment of television should never be subservient to financial reality).

You’ve got the producers, who have to make the show and want the experience to continue despite the concerns.

And then you’ve got the critics. While not involved to the same level as other parties, the critical consensus about a show is going to put it in a better spot for a bubble pickup (See: Friday Night Lights, likely How I Met Your Mother in a month or so).

The problem for Jericho was that the network and the critics weren’t on their side. Now, the critics are a lost cause – they are independent minds who have every right to dislike a series, so this variable can’t be manipulated. But the network does have an obligation to the producers and to the fans to do the series justice.

That didn’t happen, as I think we’ve been able to piece that together with all of the spot-on observations brought together by Rich over at Copywrite Ink. But CBS likely has the high ground in the fact that they swallowed the costs for a low-rated seven episodes of a series they didn’t want to produce, giving fans more resolution than they had before and another seven episodes with (some) of the citizens of Jericho. In the history books prepared in the vein of the ones from the new Cheyenne government, it will tell the story of how the kind Nina Tassler helped give fans a conclusion to a series that was never supposed to have one.

When I first started writing, I had mentioned to fans that even a miniseries would be best-case scenario – it would be tightly packed, but it would provide closure. Ultimately, I now have no idea if that had been true – I caught up on the season thus far over the weekend, and everything feels too rushed. Even seven episodes doesn’t seem like enough time to help us return to Jericho, and while there has been some enjoyable moments overall the story arc is nearly incomprehensible at this point, jumping around with little semblance of unity.

To an extent, this is a symptom of the first season: it was an uneven series of episodes, finally reaching critical value at the end of the season when a large segment of viewers, the network and critics had given up on it. This left the producers and the fans, who rallied together and through their combined efforts brought us more Jericho than we expected. But as it ends, nothing changed – those viewers never returned, the networks never gave it a chance, and critics wrote it off as a novelty as soon as the nuts settled.

There is no question that mistakes were made: at CBS, amongst Jericho fans, and even the producers who could have tightened their storytelling even if it meant seeing less characters. But ultimately, I can’t blame fans for finding conflict in a complicated situation, or in producers for struggling to deal with a lower budget and intense fan expectations (Along with the opinions of critics hovering over their shoulder).

But I don’t think I can blame CBS either – even though I think that the textbooks will need more nuance on this story, I ultimately don’t think that there was any type of vindictive nature to Nina Tassler’s decision not to emphasize Jericho’s return. I think that Jericho’s struggles were certainly exacerbated by some wonky scheduling, but to an extent this was what one had to expect: the chances of an intensely serial character-driven drama building enough audience to fit on CBS’ highly competitive schedule was slim to begin with, especially since the much more successful and consistent Close to Home even got the boot.

So, then, what does that mean for Jericho’s legacy? Rather than reading about CBS’ decision to grant mercy to the series, let’s ignore their role altogether in favour of that of the fans. It was them who changed the path of the series, who near-single-handedly changed the way people think about television resurrection. Their actions were bold, their resilience commendable, and their optimism infectious. Tonight is a gift to them not from CBS, but from the producers of this series and from their own brethren, those who took part in this stunning campaign.

I know that Jane at Jericho Monster is devoting her blog to this phenomenon, and I shall hope for the sake of some of my favourite bubble shows that their audience reads what she has to say and helps limit the power of networks over bubble series. Until then, however, we shall settle in for a conclusion that might not be the absolutely best case scenario, but still signals a victory nonetheless.

Rock on, Rangers.

6 Comments

Filed under Jericho

6 responses to “Jericho: A Question of Blame, a Legacy of Fandom

  1. Jane

    Excellent post, Myles. Thank you for all your posts about Jericho. It’s time for these networks to wake up. All these quality shows are canceled and they take the easy way out via “low ratings.”

  2. Myles,

    One of your most insightful posts. You’re right, of course. The contract between networks and viewers has changed; and there is little need to lay the blame at the feet of anyone.

    Mistakes are often made when people forge new ground. The best we can do is learn from them.

    Well said,

    Rich

  3. Nancy

    What do you mean some of it was the fans fault?
    I whole-heartedly disagree!
    Carol Barbee: PLEASE find another home for JERICHO!!!!

  4. The folks over at the Jericho wiki are trying to brainstorm about what to do next. No peanuts this time! Let’s find a better network. Live brainstorming session during the broadcast!

    You have a lot of great ideas, as do your readers so let’s have them heard! No voice shall go unheard!

    http://jericho.wetpaint.com/page/Save+Jericho+II

  5. I hope Jericho can find another home too! For those who haven’t seen the show before, it’s great that Fancast has the episodes for free on their site:

    http://www.fancast.com/tv/Jericho/2405/watch-it/on-fancast

  6. Rereading after time has passed. You are right – so many mistakes and missed opportunities on many fronts. The fans still have hope though. I believe Jericho can be a success and make money for the network which is of course the bottom line. Make a movie. PIMP the heck out of it and those 10 mill fans will come back and new ones and we are gaining new fans every day.

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