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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

CBS nukes ‘Jericho,’ but don’t panic yet

It’s official: CBS has canceled Jericho. The word came down on Friday:

STATEMENT REGARDING “JERICHO” FROM CBS ENTERTAINMENT PRESIDENT NINA TASSLER

The March 25th episode of Jericho will be the series finale. Without question, there are passionate viewers watching this program; we simply wish there were more. We thank an engaged and spirited fan base for keeping the show alive this long, and an outstanding team of producers, cast and crew that went through creative hoops to deliver a compelling, high quality second season. We have no regrets bringing the show back for a second try. We listened to our viewers, gave the series an opportunity to grow, and the producers put a great story on the screen. We’re proud of everyone’s efforts.

That’s the entirety of the statement from CBS.
The show’s ratings have been poor during this short season… at least as the major broadcast networks define “poor” in 2008. That’s a fact. There’s no point in talking about what a dinosaur the Nielsen system is or how CBS was unfair to the show by jerking it around the schedule and putting on long hiatuses. That’s all true, but it doesn’t matter.

Scripted dramas on network television are on their way out — NBC chief Jeff Zucker said as much this week, but we didn’t need him to tell us that. It’s obvious: American Idol and other cheap-to-produce reality shows get gangbuster ratings, and only a few blockbuster scripted shows can match them: Lost, House, 24… and not too many others. And as Robert Seidman at TV by the Numbers pointed out, no matter how many people are watching Jericho online or on DVR, the same is true of Lost, etc. Every show is getting watched in lots of ways that have nothing to do with sitting in front of the tube when the networks want you there. So there’s no point in organizing a campaign to send 100 tons of nuts to CBS executives. CBS doesn’t care what you think. To CBS, you are the dinosaur, Passionate Jericho Fan.

But you’re not a dinosaur, and shows like Jericho are not dinosaurs. What you and Jericho are are the tiny furry mammals scurrying around under the giant legs of the dinosaur networks, and the big meteor has already hit. The networks are already dying, and they’re starting to realize it, and there’s nothing they can do to survive: the entertainment environment has changed too much.

With just a bit of evolution, though, there’s no reason why Jericho can’t survive and even thrive. On cable — maybe Sci Fi will pick it up — or maybe even on the Internet. It doesn’t have to be an expensive show to produce, because it’s not about FX: it’s about character and story, and smart screenwriting (and maybe a culling of some minor characters to bring the size of the cast down, which the show could probably do with anyway) can make up for lack of budget. Jericho doesn’t need CBS to be viable, and the show can be pared down, if necessary, without sacrificing what fans love about it.

Am I disappointed that Jericho has been given the boot? Of course I am… particularly with how astonishingly relevant the show has been, particularly in this second season, to the very big and very bad things that have been happening to American society in the last seven years. I would have liked more ordinary TV-watching Americans to latch onto the grim but ultimately optimistic revolutionary spirit of Jericho than have, it seems, latched onto the small-minded, insular, neoconservative spirit of a show like 24. It makes me wonder whether Jericho’s failure to catch the public imagination in a huge way is indicative of a closing down of the freedom-loving attitudes that once made America America. I hope not. I fear otherwise.

But this is the reality in 2008: anything that cannot garner enormous ratings on the networks will not endure there. But that just means that a show like Jericho can afford to be smarter, wiser, and more discriminating in whom it appeals to. I do hope it will be back in some form. But even if it isn’t, we will look back on it as a trailblazer for the smarter, wiser, smaller shows that will follow in its wake.

I hope.

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  • Well, for all intents and purposes, tomorrow night’s show will be the series finale. I get the distinct feeling that everything we’ve seen in this second season was originally intended to be stretched out over a few seasons, and that the series’ producers hugely compressed the storyline to allow them to get the meat of the story on the screen before the show got axed for good. I won’t be at all surprised if tomorrow night’s episode goes 99% of the way toward putting a big bow on the story, with the bad guys getting their comeuppance and the good guys staring off into the sunrise as a New Age begins.

    Even if Jericho does get picked up by another network, it won’t be the show it has been on CBS. For me, this is the end of the Jericho road… and it’s too bad, because it’s really the only good show I’ve seen on CBS in a long, long time. (Jericho gets canceled but we have three versions of CSI? Yeah, that makes sense.)

  • Pen Dragon

    It’s possible that, decades from now and for the reasons you cite, Jericho will be a generation-defining cultural artifact…kind of like Star Trek is now. Of course, no one remembers that the original Star Trek ran for three lackluster seasons and then got canceled. I have no idea what replaced it or what contemporary ratings juggernaut it failed to measure up to, and I’m quite sure that whatever they were, no one now considers them as important as poor, obscure, ratings-challenged Star Trek.
    One would hope that Jericho is the new Star Trek (but only after Firefly, which truly deserves that title, gets its due). But like you said, that would require the future people to admire the true American spirit of freedom…and I just don’t see that happening.

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