Jericho: NY Times piece on it's fate

TV Arts


May 30, 2007
End-of-Days Fidelity for 'Jericho'

The problem with the proposition that television is an art is that art
is meant to be deathless, while television shows are always being

New sitcoms, for example, come on like your best friend forever the
first time you meet, only to vanish without a trace when the network
pulls the plug. They're like grifters that way. Suspicious. Sitcom
sets are built to look like monuments to eternal friendship -
everybody-knows-your-name Central Perk WKRP monuments - but if there's
one false move in the ratings, they're axed to splinters, and no one
seems to shed a tear.

Then there are hourlong shows. Even the plainest network drama in
these days of "The Wire" and "Nip/Tuck" sets up mortal stakes - with
plane crashes, tanks, spinal-cord injuries, point-blank executions -
as well as tormented characters invented to seize the brain.

These shows ask more than the comedies do: they don't demand
friendship as much as fealty. In an unsuccessful drama this ambition
seems laughable. In a successful one it just works. You fall in
thrall. You accept the series as your master. Such is the case with
"The Sopranos," "Rescue Me" and, it seems, "Jericho."

I probably should call that last series, which CBS canceled earlier
this month, "the late 'Jericho,' " but it makes me nervous to write
those words. That's not because I was an obsessive viewer of that
postapocalyptic survivalist show (though, having finally caught up, I
like it), but because its fans are die-hards.

Anything about the demise of "Jericho" at the hands of the CBS brass
should therefore be whispered. Those "Jericho" people are way, way,
way in the denial phase of grief. As you can imagine, fans of a
postapocalyptic survivalist show - especially those who have not quite
faced that Rover's with the angels in heaven now, right, Mommy? - have
a tendency to be somewhat defensive. Vehement. Sensitive.

"Jericho" lovers write fan fiction, original stories based on the
show's characters. They argue over fine points. They make knowing,
intimate references. They pull off stunts and skits that pick up on
the attitude and logic of the show. They haze outsiders. They embark
on campaigns.

Lately, too, they buy nuts: more than 26,000 pounds so far, nearly all
of them roasted peanuts from an online retailer called
That's 13 tons. These nuts are shipped in boxes to CBS executives, who
fans persist in believing might bring the low-rated "Jericho" back to
prime time.

Just as other battles - for "Everwood," "Arrested Development,"
"Veronica Mars" - have taken on the particular character of the show
being fought for, so the one for "Jericho" has been put in terms you
might expect from people who have been watching an embattled community
in Kansas fight to survive after the nuclear destruction of major
American cities.

For some the war seems more than a little holy: it pits an endangered
home-and-hearth drama set on the Plains against "American Idol," a
chintzy Hollywood reality competition that is invariably called a

At the same time, the "Jericho" call to arms doubles as a referendum
on universal suffrage, charging that the Nielsen ratings system, which
takes only passing notice of digital video recorders and new ways of
watching television, is no more reliable than American voting
machines. ("Jericho" features all kinds of makeshift and jury-rigged
technology and suggests that the combination of munitions and TiVo can
be formidable in the red states.)

Arguably, though, "Jericho" fans are just television fans at their
most fannish, meaning (still, and after all these years) most Trekkie-
like. Fans of "Star Trek" continue to represent the gold standard for
American fandom, not only because they were the first to love a
television show to distraction (and communicated that love before the
Internet), but also because they spun from that love the breath of

They not only reincarnated their postapocalyptic series, which was
nominally canceled in 1969, they also generated, as they see it, no
fewer than five television shows, 10 feature films and hundreds of

With that effort still yielding dividends in the form of video games,
computer games and memorabilia, what committed fan wouldn't fight for
a beloved show's second season? Earlier this month, at the upfront
presentations, at which the networks unveil fall shows to advertisers,
the buzz among journalists, executives and media buyers focused on
video players, personnel changes and a handful of striking pilots.
People who cared about struggling shows tended to talk about NBC's
"Friday Night Lights" or "30 Rock," which had both been renewed.

"Jericho" viewers generally got the news on the Internet: no more
"Jericho." In videos, on message boards and in e-mail messages came
the rallying cry: Nuts. The idea crystallized quickly: "Say nuts to

The quaint use of nuts to mean both "that's rubbish" and "go jump in a
lake" came to fans from the final episode of the series, called "Why
We Fight," after the award-winning propaganda films by Frank Capra.

In that last episode Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) uses the word nuts to
refuse his enemy's suggestion that he surrender. The G-rated
expression is justified in a flashback to pre-apocalypse days: it
comes from his grandfather's story about an American commander who
stood up to the Nazis at Bastogne.

"Nuts" is a nice fit for this true-blue show, then: a flinty, Greatest
Generation word, with a slightly bawdy bite. (Just before the grandpa
story, hay is made over a mispronunciation of the word "peanuts," as
if to sex up "nuts" as a catchphrase.) In the final episode the rogue-
turned-team-captain of the town called Jericho - that's Jake - sees
his father urge him to keep fighting the forces marshaling against him
before he expires on a kitchen table.

Finally comes an attack on Jericho that looks like the big one, and a
blackout. A textbook cliffhanger. No wonder some of the first fans to
protest the cancellation recut the final episode with Jake and the
boys fighting CBS. They uploaded their efforts to YouTube, and began
the supremely popular "Nuts to CBS" campaign.

How CBS thought it could peddle heady patriotic stuff like this - not
to mention run a series with episodes titled "Semper Fidelis," "One if
by Land" and "Coalition of the Willing," if that gives a stronger
sense of the soul of the series - and not expect a citizen-army to
form in the show's defense is folly.

It's almost like creating Vulcans, the Enterprise and Starfleet and
not anticipating that some children of the '60s and '70s, who didn't
feel altogether embraced by life on Earth, might see themselves in the
mirror of that new universe and devote hours, days and years of their
young lives to ensure its survival.
Thanks for that.
From the people who fought (and won) to get CBS to bring Jericho back

Dear Friends,

I have just read and signed the online petition:

"Change Nielsen's"

hosted on the web by, the free online petition
service, at:

I personally agree with what this petition says, and I think you might
agree, too. If you can spare a moment, please take a look, and
consider signing yourself.