[12 June 2007]
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
“Jericho,” a show about the aftermath of a mushroom-cloud holocaust, lives on.
After CBS canceled the show in May, fans of “Jericho” mobilized online and vociferously protested the network’s decision. Amazingly enough, CBS reversed course and announced Thursday that it will bring back “Jericho” for seven episodes during the 2007-08 TV season.
“You got our attention,” CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler wrote in a note to “Jericho” fans. “You made a difference.”
But Tassler also told fans that if they want more than seven episodes, they’d have to increase the show’s audience.
“A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow,” Tassler wrote. “We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.”
Now that’s cheeky. Sometimes I think the networks operate from a manual called “How To Tick Off Viewers and Make Them Hate You.” The nerve of asking for viewers’ loyalty and energy when, judging by the networks’ actions, they seem intent on frittering those things away.
Here’s the cold truth: If networks want something from viewers, they must show the TV audience some consideration in return. There’s no need to wonder why viewership totals for many shows were down this spring. DVR use is one explanation, but the fact is, viewers are tired of being used and abused by the broadcast networks, if my e-mail in-box is any indication of their fed-up mind-sets.
So I hereby inaugurate the TV Viewer Bill of Rights. These are things that we demand that networks start doing. You want us to watch, market and support your shows? Fine. Do these things for us.
1. Stop caring so much about overnight Nielsen ratings. When DVR playback was added in, “Jericho’s” ratings rose at least 10 percent. When making decisions to cancel or save a show, networks should factor in iTunes sales, online streaming, on-demand viewing and the fervor of a show’s audience. NBC did that with “The Office,” and look how that paid off. With an Emmy, thank you.
2. Live with lower ratings expectations. You have a million ways to sell shows—through foreign rights, DVD sales, syndication, iTunes and so forth, and now you can sell ads online too. Get over the obsession with this week’s numbers, and look at the big picture: You have even more ways to sell your products and make money.
3. Give marginal shows more of a chance—let them air for at least six episodes before you yank them.
4. If you do cancel a show, put all of the remaining episodes online immediately. Don’t dole them out once a week. And if you’re going to burn off episodes on TV, tell us when they’re going to be on, and then don’t stop airing them without warning us.
5. If a show is going to be pre-empted or moved, tell viewers that. You have a broadcast network—broadcast the news, for Pete’s sake! Have an on-air announcer tell us when we can next see the show, and tell us on the Web site why it wasn’t on that week.
6. Speaking of Web sites, sites for individual shows often are a joke. Tell us when a show has been moved, pre-empted or canceled—before we read it somewhere else. And improve the often-clunky access to streaming shows on your Web sites.
7. Don’t yank shows around for no reason. ABC, you wanted good ratings for “Men in Trees”—and you got them. You moved it to Thursdays but then pulled it and never told us when it was coming back. Ask us again why we’re watching your shows in shrinking numbers.
8. For the love of TiVo, don’t give your shows two- or three-month breaks (at least “Lost” has learned this lesson). We have lives, and we don’t always remember when a show is returning or what happened before the break.
9. Don’t respond to the rise of DVRs and commercial-skipping by shoving endless product placement down our throats. Done right (meaning, done subtly) it’s an acceptable evil. Done wrong, it’s gross.
10. Last but not least, take chances. Make good shows. We’ll forgive you interesting misfires as long as you stop making tired versions of somebody else’s hits. Nobody saw the success of “Lost,” “Heroes,” “Ugly Betty” or even “Jericho” coming. Keep surprising us and creating interesting characters and worlds, and we’ll do our best to show up.