Long before KickStarter offered new hope to save our shows from extinction, fans had to get creative if they wanted to rescue beloved TV programs from the brink of cancellation. From letter writing campaigns to legumes, fans have tried just about every trick, gimmick, and threat to keep their favorite shows on the air. Sometimes they’ve been successful and sometimes…not so much. With some of our favorite shows currently lingering in renewal limbo, let’s take hope with some “Save our Shows” campaigns of seasons past.
Star Trek, 1966-1969
“Look! Look! It doesn’t stop! They’re lined up all the way down the street,” exclaimed NBC executive Norman Lunenfeld upon seeing the trucks carrying thousands of letters in support a fledgling show on his network called Star Trek.
In Star Trek‘s three-year run, devoted fans saved the show from cancellation not once but twice. Each network threat prompted an outpouring of support, letters and protests. In January 1968, mid-way through the show’s second season, NBC hinted it might cancel Star Trek due to low ratings. In response, fans deluged NBC offices with up to a million letters, including some from high profile devotees such as New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. When the show was threatened again that December, more than 500 Cal Tech students protested in front of NBC Studios in Burbank, California. They held signs that read “Draft Spock” and “Vulcan Power.” There were similar protests in New York and San Francisco. The show was finally cancelled in February 1969 but the Star Trek universe has lived long and prospered with spin-off shows and feature films.
It was a truly American battle cry – one word that embodied our tenacity, irreverence, and down-home, can-do spirit.
General Anthony McAuliffe was the first to use it in battle. Attacked by surprise and surrounded by German forces during World War II, McAuliffe received an ultimatum from the German commander: Surrender or die.
McAuliffe responded with one word, “Nuts!”
That rallying cry was referenced in CBS’s post-apocalyptic drama Jericho. Outnumbered and out-gunned, Jericho‘s hero Jake Green receives an ultimatum from the men attacking his town: Surrender or die.
“Nuts!” Jake responds.
So naturally, when CBS executives canceled Jericho after one, low-rated season, hard-core fans not only shouted “Nuts!”, they mailed them to NBC in the tens of thousands. The network claimed it received 50,000 pounds of peanuts at its studio headquarters. CBS president Nina Tassler was so impressed by the outpouring of support that she revived Jericho as a mid-season replacement for eight episodes with a possibility of more if viewership grew. Sadly, the show was definitively canceled after those eight episodes but Jericho still stands as one of the greatest fan victories of all time. Today, it lives on in comic book form.
The near demise of this sweetly funny spy show launched one of the first fan campaigns to successfully harness the new found power of Twitter. When NBC placed Chuck on the “bubble” after ratings declined in its second season, fans took to the Internet with a new idea: instead of writing letters to executives, why not appeal the show’s advertisers. The sandwich shop Subway, featured in one episode of Chuck, becoming a rallying point for fans. On Twitter, they organized meetups at Subways across the country, buying sandwiches and dropping notes in the comment boxes saying the purchases were in support of the show. Even Chuck star Zachary Levi joined in, once ordering 600 Subway sandwiches for a group of fans. The campaign drew media attention from the “Hollywood Reporter” to “The New York Times.” Soon after, Subway struck a deal with NBC to help pay for the cost of the show’s third season. Chuck ran for two more seasons before taking its final bow last year.
Friday Night Lights, 2006-2011
Clear eyes, full hearts, and a devoted fan base can’t lose. When word spread that this brilliantly crafted Texas drama was on the verge of getting axed after its admittedly lackluster second season, fans rallied like a football pep squad. They sent light bulbs, eye drops and mini-footballs to NBC offices. Eventually, NBC struck a deal with Direct TV to keep the show on the air for three more seasons.
Fans of this teenage alien drama sent thousands of bottles of Tabasco sauce to WB to save the show after its first season. It survived three seasons and a move to UPN.
Veronica Mars and Firefly
Fans couldn’t resuscitate these two shows on TV but both found new life on the big screen with Firefly‘s “Serenity” in 2005 and next summer’s KickStarter-funded “Veronica Mars Movie.”
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