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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Jericho’ cancelled, decent civilization ends

[This continues — or concludes, I guess, a months-long conversation I’ve been having with myself over at Film.com about the CBS series ‘Jericho’. To read the whole thing, start here, then: more, more, yet more, still more, and the last.]

Okay, time to move to another planet. Jericho’s been cancelled.

It’s not like Jericho was My Favorite Show Ever or anything, though I’d stuck with it despite its many problems, even through the ridiculous months-long hiatus that seems to be the new norm for network dramas this year. What makes me really mad is how representative the Jericho story is of the utter dim-wittedness of network television today.
Like that three-month hiatus the network put the show on starting in November 2006. Viewership had dropped off when Jericho returned in late February, after 12 weeks of no episodes — not even reruns — and this was, apparently, part of why the show got the axe. Who can I smack over this? Could CBS possibly have been surprised that the show — any show — would lose viewers when it disappears for three months? This is not how you build an audience.

CBS’s idiocy is clear in the letter to viewers posted in the message boards of the show’s official site. This is Kelly Kahl, Senior Executive Vice President of Programming Operations:

Dear Jericho Fans

We here at CBS have listened to your complaints in relation to the cancelation of the television Show Jericho.

At CBS we never cancel a show without a great deal of communication between our public groups and you the fans.

It was believed that Jericho had lost a significant amount of fans since the original pilot of the show.

We always feel that a show must carry its audience regardless of breaks or temporary periods within the transmission season.

In other words, it’s your fault if you can’t keep up with all the jerking around a network does. Oh, and don’t think letting your TiVo keep up with the show will help: if you’re watching at any time other than the live broadcast, you might as well not be watching at all, as far as the network is concerned.

More from Kelly:

CBS retain the full viewing rights to Jericho, and it is possible that a finale episode could be put into planning for the 2009/2010 season.

Translation: Major Dad’s corpse is gonna rot while you wait for his funeral, which might come along in two years or so. Or not. Suckers.

More corporate droning:

Despite this cancelation we would like to advise you the viewer that CBS offers many great Shows such as CSI-Miami as well as others.

What she means: If you’ve been drooling over Skeet Ulrich, may we suggest that David Caruso would be a good substitute? If you’d like to find out how the war between Jericho and New Bern is going, watch CSI Miami. If you’d like to know who is behind the nukes in the first place, watch CSI Miami.

Is she kidding?

Fans are pissed. I’m pissed. I just invested a television season’s worth of time and attention in this show, and for what? To be left hanging, with the story unresolved and the characters in limbo? And networks should be killing to hang onto the kind of passionate, active fandom Jericho has developed on the show’s official site.

Way to kill TV viewership, CBS. And I don’t just mean for one show: I mean for all shows. Why should any of us viewers you’ve screwed with Jericho trust CBS ever again? Shouldn’t we wait at least a full TV season to see whether you’re going to stand behind a show before we waste our time with it?

And that’s not even why I’m really pissed. I’m really pissed because the humanistic Jericho’s been cancelled at the same time that the wingnut wet dream 24 has been renewed for another two years. Jericho was in many ways the anti 24 (as I wrote on Film.com), blatantly rejecting the kinds of values that 24 espouses — torture, paranoia, suspicion, bigotry — and it didn’t need to create some imaginary liberal paradise in which to do it. No: the world of Jericho, for the characters as individuals as well as for the United States and the planet as a whole, is actually far more dire than the world of 24, and geez, it turns out that reason and justice and crap like that still works, is still worth fighting for.

I justify wasting time on mere fluff like writing about TV and movies by telling myself that looking at entertainment and pop culture in a context larger than that of a single TV series or a single movie is important, that it offers a window into our culture that is important, that even mere fluff isn’t mere fluff. And what this tells me is terrifying. Though I should hardly be surprised, not when Republican presidential debates sound like episodes of 24 themselves, with the candidates invited by the moderator to imagine the total awesomeness of terrorists of their own to torture, and one candidate invokes torture-meister Jack Bauer in a “classic” line that draws “a large round of applause.”

So, sure, Jericho’s just a TV show, but what does its dismissal say about us as a culture?

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