It's probably happened to most of us: We get addicted to a TV show and tune in every week, but for some reason no one else seems to watch. Or maybe you hear that one of your favorite programs is up for cancellation, and you can't figure out why. There are all sorts of reasons that networks decide to cancel shows. The show could be getting low ratings, or maybe it contains controversial material that advertisers don't want to sponsor. It could be too expensive to produce, or maybe the networks just want to mix up the programming schedule. No matter what the reason, it's never fun to discover that a show you look forward to each week is about to get canceled.
So what if your favorite show is on the chopping block? While cancellation might seem imminent, viewers have more power than you might think. Since the '60s, viewer campaigns to save TV shows have helped buy programs more time on the air. From e-mail and letter-writing campaigns to more gimmicky stunts, viewers have shown networks their loyalty in order to save their favorite shows from cancellation.
Here, we'll look at 10 cases in which the fans came to rescue of their favorite programs.
"Star Trek: The Original Series" was the first TV program saved by fans. NBC was planning to cancel the science-fiction series after two seasons, but a letter-writing campaign by fans kept the show on the air for an additional season.
In 1968, sci-fi lovers Bjo and John Trimble organized a letter-writing blitz when they heard that one of their favorite shows was facing cancellation, and many fans credit Bjo with saving "Star Trek." She and her husband mailed letters to fellow Trekkies telling them how to write in to NBC to ask them to save the show.
While one more season might not seem like a big win, this set the stage for many subsequent campaigns to keep shows on the air, and the fan outcry was part of what encouraged Paramount Studios to produce the first "Star Trek" movie in 1979.
Unlike many other shows that fans saved from cancellation, "Family Guy" was the result of indirect action, rather than an organized campaign to save the show.
Fox cancelled "Family Guy" in 2002 after just three seasons and released the first 28 episodes on DVD the following year. That release sold 400,000 copies in the first month alone, and when Cartoon Network's Adult Swim picked it up in syndication, their ratings went up 239 percent. In an unprecedented move, Fox renewed the series in 2005 based on those DVD sales and syndication ratings, placing it in prime programming real estate -- right after "The Simpsons" during its "Animation Domination" block. Fox also released a direct-to-DVD movie, "Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story" in 2005.
Following in the footsteps of "Family Guy," "Futurama" fans brought the show back from cancellation simply by being fans. DVD sales and high ratings for syndicated episodes, along with some good old determination from producer David X. Cohen, convinced executives to revive the series.
Fox canceled "Futurama" in 2003 after a four-year run, and the series remained off the air for years until Adult Swim picked up it up in syndication. Those old episodes got great ratings, and Cohen took a hint from "Family Guy" and pushed Fox to produce a direct-to-DVD movie. "Bender's Big Score" was the first of four feature-length "Futurama" movies. Based on DVD sales, Comedy Central picked up the series, where it's been renewed for another 26 episodes. That means "Futurama" will be on the air through at least the summer of 2013, much to its fans' delight.
"Jericho" fans played a much more active role in buying the show another season on the air.
After viewership dropped for the post-apocalyptic series following an 11-week hiatus, CBS decided to cancel "Jericho" after the first season. In the season finale, the main character was faced with pressure to surrender his town, and he shouted, "Nuts!" Fans took that sentiment to heart, and they not only called and e-mailed the network, but also sent 20 tons of peanuts to CBS Entertainment to show their support for "Jericho."
The fans' nutty plans worked. Network researchers took another look at those ratings, discovering that there were more viewers than Nielsen was reporting thanks to DVRs and online streaming. CBS brought the show back for a short second season but canceled it for good in March of 2008. However, the show continued as a six-part comic book series that many consider a third season for "Jericho."
CBS's "Cagney & Lacey" was a TV series about a pair of female police officers. While a female cop show might seem like nothing new now, in the early '80s, this premise was a big deal for the growing feminist movement. It started out as a made-for-TV movie and was so popular that CBS launched a series. So how did the show get canceled, and what saved it?
The second season of "Cagney & Lacey" suffered from low ratings, and the network canceled it in 1983, much to the dismay of rabid fans, as well as the show's supporters in the women's movement. Barney Rosenzweig, who wrote the TV movie, began receiving letters from fans who wanted the show back on the air.
The response inspired Rosenzweig to organize a fan letter-writing campaign, and some heavy hitters like Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinem helped promote the drive. The fan response was overwhelming, and CBS took notice. The network renewed "Cagney & Lacey" in 1984, and it went on for four more seasons.
Joss Whedon's space-cowboy series "Firefly" almost seemed like it was doomed from the start. Fox frequently changed the show's time slot or preempted it for other programming. It even aired episodes out of order. The sci-fi series only ran for a single season, and Fox canceled it before all 13 episodes aired.
Despite its bad time slots and rocky scheduling, "Firefly" built a strong fan base, and when Fox released the entire 13-episode series on DVD, sales were through the roof. Stores sold out of the DVD as quickly as they could stock the shelves. Fans of the show, who call themselves "Browncoats" after the rebel fighters from the show's backstory, played a big part in getting DVDs on the shelves. The Browncoats campaigned Fox with online petitions, e-mails and letters.
While Fox didn't bring "Firefly" back from cancellation, Universal Pictures saw the DVD sales and offered Whedon the chance to make "Serenity," a movie to wrap up the series' story line. "Serenity" came out in fall of 2005 with less than stellar box office numbers. But while the $39 million film failed to break even in the theaters, it did very well as a DVD. "Serenity" ranked No. 1 on Amazon's best-seller list the year it came out. There have been several rumors of a "Serenity" sequel, but so far no studio has officially announced one.
The sci-fi series "Roswell" premiered in 1999 on the WB and ran for three tumultuous seasons before the network canceled the show. For much of that time, it was the devoted fan base that kept "Roswell" on the air through a series of campaigns and gimmicks.
The best-known campaign to keep "Roswell" on the air during the first two seasons was "Roswell is Hot!" Fans started an online petition and sent in letters and bottles of Tabasco sauce, a favorite of one of the show's characters, to show the WB that they supported their favorite show. The WB received over 3,000 bottles of the hot sauce, and network executives said that the campaign contributed to the show's survival.
In 2001, the WB dropped the show, but UPN picked it up for a third 22-episode season. The deal included buying rights to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and UPN hoped that airing "Roswell" after the popular "Buffy" would give the show a ratings boost. Unfortunately, ratings for the show remained low, and a Tabasco campaign couldn't save it for a fourth season. UPN canceled Roswell permanently in 2002.
A variety of fan-organized and media campaigns kept "Friday Night Lights" on the air when NBC wanted to cancel the show.
Fans pulled together through Facebook groups, online petitions and e-mail campaigns to show NBC that they supported "Friday Night Lights." In the spirit of "Roswell" and "Jericho," fans searched for a symbol that they could send to the network to show their support, so they sent light bulbs and eyedrops to NBC.
Light bulbs are pretty self-explanatory, but why eyedrops? The Clear Eyes-brand eyedrops were a reference to the team's motto on the show: "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." The VH1 show "Best Week Ever" organized the light bulb campaign, while the eyedrops were a totally fan-driven gimmick.
Despite the show's low ratings, these fan-supported efforts kept "Friday Night Lights" on the air for five seasons before NBC announced its cancellation in 2010.
When CBS canceled the '80s sitcom "Designing Women," a fan letter-writing campaign successfully resurrected the show.
"Designing Women" started out with good ratings, but when CBS moved it from its Monday night time slot to Thursdays, viewership plummeted. In the days before DVRs, there was no way this fledgling comedy could compete with the popular series "Night Court," which aired at the same time on NBC. Fans pulled together with an advocacy group to organize a letter-writing campaign, inspired by the one that saved "Cagney & Lacey" a few years earlier. Around 50,000 fans sent letters to CBS demanding that they resurrect the show, and they also petitioned advertisers to support "Designing Women."
The network responded. In January of 1987, the head of CBS Entertainment reportedly flew a white flag in his office window and renewed "Designing Women."
Fans and producers worked hard to save the sci-fi series "Quantum Leap" from the notoriously bad 8 p.m. Friday time slot. The show originally aired on Wednesdays at 10 p.m., and it enjoyed high ratings until NBC moved it to Friday evenings, a virtual death sentence for most TV shows. Network executives claimed that they moved "Quantum Leap" to the Friday night slot to try to improve that time period's dismal ratings, but the producer and fans were not on board.
When "Quantum Leap" producer Donald P. Bellisario heard about the schedule change, he was furious and used the show's newsletter to rally a fan letter-writing campaign. With efforts from fans and advocacy groups, more than 50,000 letters supporting the show arrived for NBC president Warren Littlefield. The "Keep the Leap" campaign was a success, and NBC moved "Quantum Leap" back to its original time slot less than a year later. The popular show went on to air for five total seasons.
For more fun TV articles, check out the links on the next page.
What did John Oliver have to say about scientific studies on 'Last Week Tonight'? Learn more about John Oliver in this HowStuffWorks Now article.
- 10 Real-life Crimes That Became Fictional TV Episodes
- 10 Completely Unrealistic TV Relationships
- 10 TV Shows That Have Gained a Global Audience
- Before There Was TV: Sports History Quiz
- Before There Were DVDs: The Film Industry
- What was the first televised sporting event?
- How did the advent of television impact politics?
- How has the evolution of TV changed America?
- How do TV commercials influence American culture?
- Has TV changed people's relationship expectations?
- What does it take to keep a TV show from being canceled?
- Do courtroom dramas change people's understanding of the law?
- Affinitive LLC. "Universal Pictures: Serenity." (April 8, 2011)http://www.beaffinitive.com/case-studies/universal-pictures-serenity/
- Armstrong, Mark. "WB Heeds 'Roswell,' 'Felicity' Fan Mail." E!Online. May 15, 2000. (April 8, 2011)http://www.eonline.com/on/shows/chelsea/chelseaness/b39854_wb_heeds_roswell_felicity_fan_mail.html
- The Associated Press. "Giggity Giggity! Family Guy clan heads to comics." Bloomberg Businessweek. April 5, 2011. (April 6, 2011)http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9MDKP000.htm
- Ausiello, Michael. "Exclusive: 'Friday Night Lights' sets end date." Entertainment Weekly. Feb. 10, 2010. (April 8, 2011)http://insidetv.ew.com/2010/02/10/friday-night-lights-to-end/
- Bernstein, Fred. "Pulling itself out of the ratings waste heap, 'Designing Women' becomes TV's Trashy New Smash." People Weekly. April 20, 1987. (April 8, 2011)http://www.designingwomenonline.com/Articles/PR002.php
- Cagle, Jess. "Leapin' Wizards." Entertainment Weekly. March 29, 1991. (April 8, 2011)http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:EuINMcLdDSoJ:www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,313790,00.html
- Chonin, Neva. "When Fox canceled 'Firefly,' it ignited an Internet fan base whose burning desire for more led to 'Serenity.'" SFGate. June 8, 2005. (April 8, 2011)http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-06-08/entertainment/17375721_1_firefly-screening-fans
- Day, Dwayne. "Star Trek as a Cultural Phenomenon." U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. (April 6, 2011)http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Social/star_trek/SH7.htm
- Empire. "Serenity And Beyond." Jan. 9, 2006. (April 8, 2011)http://www.empireonline.com/news/story.asp?NID=17800
- Ford, Sam. "Light Bulbs and Eye Drops: FNL Fan Care Packages for NBC." MIT Convergence Culture Consortium. Feb. 14, 2008. (April 8, 2011)http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2008/02/light_bulbs_and_eye_drops_fnl.php
- Huff, Richard. "'Roswell' may face extinction." NY Daily News. Jan. 25, 2002. (April 8, 2011)http://articles.nydailynews.com/2002-01-25/entertainment/18184502_1_upn-roswell-aliens
- MediaPost. "'Roswell' Joins 'Buffy' on UPN." Reuters/Variety. May 17, 2001. (April 8, 2011)http://www.mediapost.com/publications/index.cfm?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=11333
- Moore, Jason. "The Jericho Comic Book: An interview with Jon Steinberg." Save Jericho Again. July 6, 2009. (April 8, 2011)http://www.savejerichoagain.com/2009/07/jon_steinberg_comic_book_interview/
- The Rosenzweig Company. "About Cagney & Lacey." Cagney & Lacey: The Official Website. (April 8, 2011)http://www.cagneyandlacey.com/about-cagney-lacey
- Sanders, Coyne Steven and Tom Gilbert. "Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz." HarperCollins. 1993.
- Sconce, Jeffrey. "Star Trek." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. (April 6, 2011)http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=startrek
- Scott, Tracy L. "'Roswell': Saved by Tabasco sauce." The Washington Post. Dec. 30, 2000. (April 8, 2011)http://www.lawrence.com/news/2000/dec/30/roswell_saved/
- Stack, Tim. "A Brief History of the 'Family Guy' -- Important dates in the life of the animated series from Fox." Entertainment Weekly. April 18, 2005. (April 6, 2011)http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1049746,00.html
- Stelter, Brian. "A TV Show Hopes to Cover a Lot of Ground in Postapocalyptic Kansas." The New York Times. Feb. 12, 2008. (April 8, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/12/arts/television/12jeri.html
- Tobey, Matt. "New Futurama Episodes Premiere June 23, Series Picked Up for 26 More Episodes!" Comedy Central Insider. March 28, 2011. (April 6, 2011)http://ccinsider.comedycentral.com/2011/03/28/new-futurama-episodes-premiere-june-23-series-picked-up-for-26-more-episodes/
- Tyler, Greg. "Bjo Trimble." Trekplace. August 1999. (April 6, 2011)http://www.trekplace.com/bjotrimble.html
- Weisman, Jon. "A brighter future for 'Futurama?'" Variety. June 19, 2010. (April 6, 2011)http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118020836?refCatId=14