Jericho_s2_skeeet_240Sad fact of life: If you watch enough TV, eventually a network is going to cancel one of your favorite shows prematurely, be it after five episodes or 50 episodes or 100 episodes. Any cancellation is premature, unless the only shows you’ve ever watched are Seinfeld, Friends, Law & Order and E.R.

This week’s premature cancellation, obviously, is Jericho, which has been put out to pasture by CBS for the second time in less than a year. Because I think of cancellation as being a truncation of some sort, the conclusion without closure, I’m not sure that Jericho was even really cancelled. After Tuesday (March 25), CBS will have aired every episode of Jericho ordered by the network and the show’s producers shot an ending that will provide resolution to the fans who resurrected it with letters, phone calls and, infamously (and reductively) nuts.

But for fans of cancelled shows, no network has ever done the right thing, no network has every given their shows the support they deserved. Reading reactions to the end of Jericho, it isn’t surprising to see that show’s fans falling into familiar patterns.

Fans of Arrested Development remain irate at FOX’s treatment of the Emmy-winning comedy, a contention that baffles me. FOX gave three seasons to one of the lowest rated shows on television (or two-and-a-half, sort of). A best comedy series Emmy did absolutely nothing to improve the show’s viewership and fans complain that FOX bounced Arrested Development around the schedule. Partly that’s true, but more realistically, FOX was trying Arrested Development in a variety of its best time slots trying to make anything stick. The show aired after American Idol. It aired after The Simpsons. It aired any place FOX had a home for it, but it didn’t make a difference. The audience that watched the show — that includes me — loved it to death, but the audience that didn’t watch it had no interest in discovering it or sampling it. FOX gave Arrested Development enough episodes for three sets of DVDs. That’s giving it a chance. Enjoy what you had, fans.

Kristenbell_veronicamars_s3_240Fans of Veronica Mars remain irate at UPN and The CW’s treatment of the adored teen private eye series, a contention that baffles me. Those two networks gave three seasons to one of the lowest rated dramas on television (or two-and-a-half, sort of). Critics never stopped raving about Veronica Mars and executives at both networks never stopped saying they worshipped the show, but that didn’t cause the ratings to change one iota. Yes, both networks moved Veronica Mars around a bit on their schedules and often pulled the show for long periods. But both networks gave Veronica Mars the best lead-ins they had available, whether it was America’s Next Top Model or Gilmore Girls. The audience that watched the show — that includes me — loved it to death, but the audience that didn’t watch it had no interest in discovering it or sampling it. FOX gave Veronica Mars enough episodes for three sets of DVDs. That’s giving it a chance. Enjoy what you had, fans.

That brings me back, of course, to Jericho.

CBS didn’t give Jericho enough time for three sets of DVDs, but there will be one full season and one partial season when all is said and done. CBS didn’t renew Jericho last season because, by the standards of the network’s viewership, it didn’t make the grade. It didn’t come close to making the grade. But CBS brought Jericho back because the executives liked the statement it made. It said "We listen to the fans and we understand the changing face of the media landscape. We recognize that we have to do business a different way." They didn’t need to, but they wanted to try something different.

The network brought the Jericho people to Television Critics Association press tour last year and we wrote reams of stories about it. They brought the Jericho people to ComicCon last summer and to WonderCon this spring and we wrote reams of stories about it. They promoted the heck out of the show, running a relentless series of advertising that any viewer of NFL games can attest to. Yes, that Tuesday night time slot is a death slot and it may not have been exactly the most flawless piece of scheduling, but CBS put Jericho where it had the space. It put it in a time slot where any level of success, however minimal, would have stood out, would have been cause for celebration. You think CBS, the most watched network on TV, likes having a dead spot on Tuesday night? Of course not. And here’s one thing that fans of Veronica Mars and Arrested Development wish they could have said in the last years of their shows: Jericho aired every Tuesday night at 10. CBS said it was going to air a seven-episode season and that’s what the network did. Part of that was that thanks to the strike, the network needed programming, but the reasons aren’t necessary. For seven weeks, Jericho fans knew where to watch their show, but not enough people watched.

Lenniejames3_jericho_cbs_240If the ratings that Jericho was getting last spring weren’t enough to justify renewing it then, how to justify bringing it back after a spring where every single episode did worse than the worst episode last season. You shouldn’t doubt that if Jericho had done last year’s average rating on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. this year, renewal would have been a no-brainer. But it didn’t.

And Jericho fans aren’t blameless here. Remember back two or three weeks before the show premiered and the first three episodes — the episode sent to critics — were already on the Internet? You think that looked good to CBS? The network was looking for measurables and I’m doubting they scoured the BitTorrent sites with pleasure. And what about all of the empty seats at WonderCon last spring and ComicCon last summer?

But that doesn’t matter. Jericho fans are in the anger stage of grieving, a stage that for many TV fans never passes into acceptance (though "bargaining" actually worked for the Jericho group last year). They’re saying they’re going to boycott CBS, that they’re going to go back to sending nuts or letters or whatever worked last year. They say that if CBS had just given the show a chance, it would have found an audience.

Cite evidence, please. Ratings were low. They showed no signs of getting higher. None. Online downloads were solid, but as you may have heard during the writers strike, networks and studios are having a hard time monetizing that stuff.

You say that Jericho was the best show on TV? I disagree, but I’m glad you like it and darned if I didn’t still watch every episode. You say that Jericho was refreshing and different? Absolutely. I can’t argue with that. Even if the acting and dialogue were sometimes weak, Jericho was always a show with ideas, often original and provocative ones. Wanna know the sad thing? Jericho got more creative and more intelligent (albeit sometimes less exciting and less fun) as it progressed, but as those things improved the ratings declined almost proportionately.

Want somebody or something to blame, Jericho fans? Try Moonlight. The Friday night drama has consistently drooped in ratings between Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs delivering an audience which, under normal circumstances — this being the network that cancelled Close to Home, which would have been a hit anywhere else — wouldn’t be enough for renewal. But I have to believe that CBS is terrified by the dedication and level of obsession from the Moonlight fans. If the network’s going to pick up one low-rated drama for next year, it’ll be Moonlight, because CBS would rather weather another sea of goobers than deal with irate care packages full of blood.

Can I just say that I agree with y’all on one thing: The ratings system is a crock. If you want to make your fortune, develop a better way of measuring TV audience size than what Nielsen currently does. You couldn’t do worse. But TV networks can only do business with what they have available, so your letters that start with "I watch Jericho religiously and so do my 100 best friends and none of us have Nielsen boxes" really won’t have much of an impact. CBS tried to do business a different way this past year and you got seven new episodes out of it.

That’s not bad.

Ashleyscott7_jericho_cbs_240Ask angry fans of Journeyman or Drive or Firefly if they would be satisfied with another seven episodes. Jericho fans probably shouldn’t complain to Cane fans about CBS not giving them enough of a chance to find an audience. Airing in the Tuesday death slot, Cane averaged 8.9 million viewers this season, but nobody invited Cane to make new episodes after the strike ended. In that same time slot, Jericho averaged 6.8 million viewers.

My point isn’t to malign the most passionate of Jericho fans or to rub salt in the wounds so soon after the last salt massage.

The point is just to say… Why the anger? Again! I understand sadness or frustration or a little bit of resignation. But why so mad? Two DVD sets with 29 episodes? That’s not so bad. The Prisoner only aired 17 episodes. Fawlty Towers aired 12. My Freaks and Geeks DVD set has 18 episodes, one more than my Undeclared set.

Why should Tuesday night be about venting your spleen at CBS, at the tastes of American viewers at Nielsen?

Why not just say good-bye to Jake and Hawkins and the rest of the gang?

There’ll be plenty of new shows to obsess over soon enough, at least until they’re cancelled.

What do you think?

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg