Fan campaigns to save cancelled, or soon-to-be-cancelled TV shows is nothing new. While the internet has changed the way some of this works, it’s been going on for decades.
The granddaddy of the saved TV show is the original Star Trek, way back in the sixties. Cancelled by NBC, a massive write-in campaign resulted in a first for fandom — a cancelled show put back on the schedule. Unfortunately, Star Trek only lasted one more year, and frankly, that’s usually the story of saved shows. They seem to have just one more year in them, but the networks make a lot of fans happy, and it saves them from having their entire schedule boycotted.
The next show to get a new life that I recall was Cagney and Lacey. The rub here is that the producers not-so-covertly instigated the movement. Their comments about the show’s status riled up the fans, who took their anger over the show’s impending cancellation to CBS. It worked, and the crime drama continued.
After that save, write-in campaigns became more frequent. Quantum Leap, for example, was saved from cancellation and went on for two more seasons.
Other shows also benefited from fan support, including Roswell. In fact, it may have been the attempt to save the science fiction series that changed the shape of these campaigns. To show their insistence that their favorite show not be cancelled, Roswell fans didn’t just write letters, they sent in bottles of Tabasco sauce. Tabasco sauce was a favorite of the aliens. This has spawned other fan efforts that have included a symbolic item to try and get their point across.
As an aside, this type of endeavor took on massive proportions not to save a TV show, but to save a character in the early 2000’s. Michael Shanks had left Stargate SG-1, and the fans were not happy. In fact, they were incensed. They began the “Save Daniel Jackson” campaign, and it was indeed huge. They wrote letters to everyone who had any association to the show — networks, sponsors, producers. Not only that, they took out full page ads in the Hollywod trade papers. This was not cheap. They also generated a ton of attention. The result? Shanks was back the next season.
While the efforts to get Shanks back on Stargate SG-1 was massive, it wasn’t the first. Years before, fans had gathered outside of Burbank Studios to protest the killing of Doctor Marlena Evans on Days of our Lives. It was basically a one-time event, but for its day, it was worthy of making the news. What the fans didn’t know, though, is that it was all just a publicity stunt of sorts. Marlena was alive and well; it was her twin sister who’d been murdered. Actress Deidre Hall was simply on vacation until it came time to do the big reveal.
That acknowledgement made, I truly believe the Save Daniel Jackson movement was the most well-oiled fan campaign in the history of television, even surpassing the Star Trek fete. It was amazing what these people did.
Back to the main focus of TV shows, more recently Jericho was saved, but the fans didn’t show up to watch, and it was cancelled again. Scrubs was saved by changing networks. Just one week before this article is being written, NBC cancelled Medium, which was picked up within a few days by CBS, thus negating any need for a fan campaign. In some way, shape, or form, Family Guy, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, Twin Peaks, and Designing Women were affected by write-in support of their fans. Not just that, but taking the tools learned from the Save Daniel Jackson movement, fans ignited the Save Carson Beckett campaign and succeeded in getting the once-dead-and-killed-off doctor back on Stargate Atlantis on a limited basis. These folks actually upped the stakes by having a rally in front of Bridge Studios where the show was filmed and notifying the media, which showed up.
The landscape of the fan campaign has changed. The internet has become a tool to unite people, and there are now more possibilities, such as what happened with the soap opera, Passions. NBC cancelled it and DirecTV picked it up. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if a show succeeds in staying on the air for one year or for ten more years; it’s just that the fans’ voice is heard, and the show continues beyond what it would have otherwise. Clearly, when done effectively, the networks do listen.