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CBS' walls against 'Jericho' come tumbling down

Chuck Barney
Contra Costa Times (MCT)

You never thought it would happen in your lifetime, but, believe it or not, we now have actual tangible proof that television executives can, and will, listen to their viewers.

It came earlier this week when CBS - swayed by a spirited fan crusade and a mind-boggling bombardment of nuts - pulled an about-face with "Jericho" and rescued the apocalyptic survivalist drama from the cancellation graveyard.

Oh, how so refreshing. How encouraging. How totally stunning.

"Over the past few weeks you have put forth an impressive and probably unprecedented display of passion in support of a prime-time television series," CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler said in a letter to fans posted on the "Jericho" Web site. "You got our attention; your e-mails and collective voice have been heard."

And so CBS has ordered seven additional episodes of the Skeet Ulrich-led series about a small Kansas town struggling to deal with the aftershocks of a nearby nuclear attack. Those episodes will air sometime at midseason next year. However, to assure its survival beyond that, the show will have to improve upon the lackluster ratings it generated over the second half of its first season - a challenge that could be daunting.

But that's a concern for another day. For now, we should dwell on the positives. At a time when disgruntled viewers feel abused by a broadcasting industry that routinely makes inane and thoughtless decisions, it's great for a change to witness a display of old-fashioned customer service.

And not only should this development warm the hearts of rabid "Jericho" supporters, it should add fuel to the hopes of any marginally rated - but faithfully supported - show that teeters on the Nielsen precipice. I, for one, will now never again scoff at fervent fans who launch "save our show" campaigns.

Not that I see this becoming a trend. Examples of shows that came back from the dead remain extremely rare. They include "Cagney & Lacey" (1983, CBS), "Designing Women" (1987, CBS), "Roswell" (The WB, 2000) and "Providence" (NBC, 2002). In addition, "Family Guy" (Fox) was famously revived by robust DVD sales and last year "7th Heaven" (the WB) was given a one-season reprieve when the fledgling CW network brought it back. And then there's "JAG," which was dumped by NBC after its first season, but found new life on CBS.

So why did the "Jericho" resurrection work? Well, it helps that the show has ultra-dedicated fans. Fans like Concord, Calif., resident Carrie Kroeger, who immediately after CBS axed the show, went into "mourning" and posted this terse remark on my blog: "TV is dead to me."

Those fans rallied together to make some major noise in the form of protest petitions and e-mails. But mainly they overwhelmed the network with nuts. (The crunchy things you eat, not crazy zealots). Yes, they pelted the CBS offices in New York with several thousands of pounds of peanuts. (No word on whether they were dry roasted or not, or even shelled).

The nutty strategy was pegged to "Jericho's" season-ending cliff-hanger, which found the citizens of Jericho on the brink of war with a neighboring town. During the confrontation, Ulrich's character uttered, "Nuts" - a reference to a historic moment during World War II, when U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe used the word in response to the Germans demanding an American surrender at the Battle of the Bulge.

Obviously, the "Jericho" fans didn't surrender either, fighting the good fight until they coaxed CBS into submission. The last line in Tassler's message to those diehard devotees?

"P.S. Please stop sending us nuts."

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