17 Craziest Things Fans Have Done to Save Their Favorite TV Shows
Every May and June, network TV audiences wait with bated breath to find out if they'll be forced to bid adieu to their favorite programs. On occasion, they don't take the news of cancellation sitting down and going as far back as the 1960s, extremely fervent fans have channeled their outrage into organized, and sometimes bizarre, campaigns to save doomed series. Read on to see if rising up ever worked.
With its multiple spinoffs including the current Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access, feature films, reboots, copycats, conventions, and even themed cruises, it’s hard to imagine that this stalwart sci-fi franchise ever needed help. But Kirk and Spock’s space exploration was scheduled to end after two seasons in the late 1960s. When married Trekkies Bjo and John Trimble heard rumblings of its demise from the productions craft service workers, according to StarTrek.com, they developed the template for the endangered series letter-writing campaign and thus kicked one of the very first fan-powered save-our-show campaigns into gear. The couple first learned how the at-the-time brand new zip code system worked and then churned out copies of the letter on a hand-cranked mimeograph. They cooked pots of chili and spaghetti to feed volunteers who folded, labeled, and stamped. They also did interviews with local media to get the word out, which in turn encouraged other fans to make signs and protest outside NBC Studios. Their vigilance got the show a third installment, which was enough to enable syndication. Without reruns, the series would likely have been forgotten according to USA Today. Those who aren’t hard-core Trekkies may find the Star Trek fandom odd as a whole, but it’s got nothing on the weirdest TV shows of all time.
Fan efforts don’t just help shows at risk of cancellation. Sometimes, as is the case with the late 80s, early 90s body-jumping show starring Scott Bakula, they help keep their favorites in good time slots. NBC had discarded QL into the dead zone that was Friday night. VFQT didn’t like that and according to a 1991 Entertainment Weekly article they littered NBC president Warren Littlefield’s office with 50,000 paper pleas. The show’ creator Donald Bellisario (JAG, NCIS, Magnum, P.I.) also played hardball, refusing to sell NBC his new cop show until they stopped swapping slots.
Before online petitions, Twitter, and other modern strategies were invented, dedicated TV viewers had to fight for this beloved cult mystery the old-fashioned way. During the second season, ABC forced creators to reveal who killed Laura Palmer prematurely, moved the show to the Saturday night ghetto when its key demo was out on the town, put it on an unplanned hiatus, and eventually canceled it. Supporters formed COOP (Citizens Opposed to the Offing of Peaks), which was named after the FBI agent played by Kyle MacLachlan, started writing letters, and even held a rally. After creator David Lynch went on Letterman to beg people to watch and come to the series’ defense in writing, ABC president Bob Iger got even more mail and a lot of stale doughnuts according to MetaCritic.com. This is possibly the first example of the now popular fan campaign tool of sending an item inspired by the project’s content or plot. Although the show was still scrapped, ABC did agree to air the remaining six episodes and Lynch made a prequel film in 1992. Much of the gang also reassembled for a limited-edition return to the strange town on Showtime in 2017.
Roswell, New Mexico
The teen soap with a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl is the first of many Jason Katims-created TV shows to inspire infinite loyalty and a fan campaign to rescue it from termination. At the end of its first year, the aliens of Roswell, New Mexico were an endangered species. Taking inspiration from a scene where the space teens explain to one of their human friends their “dietary quirk” of liking food to be both “extremely spicy and extremely sweet,” the legions who needed more Max and Liz in their lives created a fansite called Crashdown.com, named after the restaurant in the scene, and started inundating The WB (now The CW) suits with bottles of Tabasco. MetaCritic.com reported the total bottles sent as 3,000 while Gizmodo claims the number was closer to 6,000. The play worked and they avoided heartburn for two more seasons. The WB then regifted the Tabasco to reporters according to the New York Post. The show was also rebooted in 2018.
Cagney & Lacey
The influential lady cop show starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless was canceled twice in the early 1980s, but eventually completed seven seasons and garnered eight Emmys thanks to vocal support from Ms. Magazine, its editor, Gloria Steinem, and the National Organization for Women, ratings growth during summer reruns—this was before streaming and when new shows were simply not debuted in the summer—and a letter-writing campaign spearheaded by Dorothy Swanson. Swanson, according to USA Today, apparently found her calling during that crusade and went on to form an advocacy group called Viewers for Quality Television (VFQT). The group went on to tout shows like Designing Women that they felt deserved a second chance despite low ratings and organize fan pushbacks until 2001 when the organization called it quits. After you’ve finished binging Cagney & Lacey, try out one of the other best tv shows with strong female leads.
Fans of the Neptune’s Nancy Drew, which included author Stephen King and Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s Joss Whedon, were on the case immediately after it became common knowledge that the CW show was in trouble after season two in 2006 and again when it was canceled in 2007. According to Insider, their strategy was multi-pronged: they raised more than $7,000 to have a plane with a banner attached begging for renewal fly around the studio lot, they donated their DVDs to local libraries to create new addicts, they blanketed CW offices with 10,000 Mars Bars and Marshmallows (which is also the moniker fans go by), and they made fake bills emblazoned with Mars’ face. In 2013, creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell tapped into that loyalty with a Kickstarter that raised $2 million in less than 11 hours to fund the 2014 VM movie. (Warner Bros. agreed to match the fan fund if indeed it turned out to be enough to make a film.) The sleuth, now older and wiser, lives to solve another crime this summer on Hulu, which has resurrected the show for a fourth season. Bell told Entertainment Weekly, “I knew Veronica Mars fans were cool, but I had no idea they could rally with such power. They are unstoppable — just like Veronica.”
What started as a fairly flagrant example of product placement in a story about a Geek Squad-like technician, who accidentally gets nasty government secrets downloaded into his brain, became the center of a successful rescue mission when Chuck ended up “on the bubble” as they say in Hollywood after season two according to The New York Times. The audience united online, waged war via Twitter, and went to the Subway sandwich shops in droves to show their nerd love on the day of the season two finale. Leading man Zachary Levi even marched with 600 fans to chow down on 12-inch clubs in the name of renewal in Birmingham, England according to Fandom. Like men, the way to NBC’s heart was apparently through the stomach (or more specifically its bank account) as the lunchmeat movement spurred a special sponsorship deal with the chain that paid for the third season of electronics and espionage. There was also a secondary push called “Have a heart, renew Chuck” in which fans donated money to the American Heart Association in NBC’s name to the tune of $17,000.
The CBS Skeet Ulrich vehicle about the Kansans who survive a nuclear attack found second-season salvation when people who thought the show was the bomb went nuts, literally, over news that the drama was going dark, like the titular town. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2007, Las Vegas-based Internet radio host Shaun O’Mac put out the call to arms motivated by a scene in Jericho’s finale where Ulrich replies “nuts” to an enemy asking for surrender just as Gen. Anthony McAufliffe did in World War II. He suggested they send CBS offices in L.A. and New York peanuts and the idea spread like wildfire. Some 20 tons of nuts arrived at the network. Some phones, faxes and email accounts also received so many responses that CBS was forced to change numbers and addresses. CBS allowed the show to return for a shorter second run with a reduced budget and in an attempt to prevent more action from the peanut gallery or a forever unanswered cliffhanger, they filmed two endings, a season finale, and a series finale.
After three seasons, the critically acclaimed tale about space colonists was grounded by SyFy. But buffs and critics made it their mission to send Thomas Jane and the rest of the cast back to Mars and the asteroid belt. A Change.org petition had more than 130,000 signatures and Business Insider says bannered planes were hired to fly around Amazon as supporters hoped the streaming service would pick up the show. Cakes were sent to the Amazon Studios head and Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, who counted himself among the devoted, personally sent CEO Jeff Bezos a note urging him to consider funding the fourth season, according to Deadline. Something worked as Bezos pulled The Expanse into Prime’s orbit. GOT and The Expanse are both TV shows based on bestselling books.
Friday Night Lights
When the saga of a Texas high school football team and its endearing coach fumbled in its second season and NBC was considering forfeiting, people passionate about the Panthers went to work assuming “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” according to MentalFloss.com and Vulture.com. In reference to that same FNL motto, some sent eye drops. In an on-the-nose campaign, others mailed NBC executive Ben Silverman light bulbs with the phrase “light’s on” written on the side. A third strategy involved raising money to send 20,000 footballs and FNL DVDs to troops stationed overseas. The trifecta convinced NBC and the new DirecTV channel to share costs and keep the show going for three more winning seasons.
NBC twice decided that time was up for the drama about a group of time travelers who chase a bad guy through important moments in American history as he tries to alter the future by changing the past. Clockblockers, as fans call themselves, tried to rewrite the series’ history by tweeting, writing letters, and posting to their social media accounts. They also made grander gestures like buying billboards in Times Square and paying a helicopter to fly over San Diego during the annual sci-fi and superhero convention Comic-Con according to USA Today. It worked … twice. The show was un-canceled three days after it was pulled from the lineup. (Interestingly, this was not the quickest fan-powered save. Brooklyn Nine-Nine was picked up by NBC less than two days after Fox retired the Andy-Samberg-led police squad according to Business Insider.) Then when it was canceled again after the sophomore season, the swell of support secured the producers a two-hour movie to wrap up the plotline in a bow, according to the New York Post.
To quote the Bluth family patriarch, “There’s always money in the banana stand.” And apparently, there are also show-saving ideas in it too. When Fox almost canceled the genius sitcom about a very dysfunctional California family full of terrible people after its second season, dedicated viewers sent executives crates of bananas in tribute to the quirky family business alongside letters according to Mental Floss. Fox still shuttered the series in 2006, but it was revived by Netflix a decade later.
In 2004, The WB surprisingly canceled the vampire show, its second-highest-rated series, near the end of the fifth chapter in favor of pumping fresh blood into the network by debuting new projects. According to MetaCritic.com, loyalists put their stake in an aggressive campaign of custom websites like SaveAngel.org, which hit 1.5 million page views in a few months, a barrage of letters, ad buys in entertainment publications, message boards, a rally at the WB lot in Burbank, and a mobile billboard that drove around LA making stops at the WB, its competitors like HBO, FX and TNT, and news outlets. The message? “We’ll follow Angel to hell…or another network.” Unfortunately, Angel stayed dead and left fans on one of the most mind-boggling TV cliffhangers of all time.
Firefly and Family Guy
The gangsters who loved the Joss Whedon space cowboy series may not have succeeded in lassoing up a second season, but their campaign of letters, online petitions, and emails eventually convinced Fox that issuing the solitary season on DVD would be a strong financial decision and the voracity with which the so-called Browncoats bought copies—stores sold out of the collection as quickly as they could stock it—convinced Universal to greenlight a movie version so that Whedon could wrap up the story. According to HowStuffWorks.com, Serenity didn’t break even at the box office but the DVD release was a bestseller on Amazon for months, even nabbing the number one slot for weeks.
Rabid DVD sales also rescued Family Guy, according to ScreenRant.com. The adult cartoon from Seth MacFarlane was yanked from by Fox to make room in the schedule for new programming after three years but after millions of copies of those three seasons sold at an alarming rate, Fox reconsidered and reinstated the show in 2005. And although Stewie is still a toddler, he and his crew are still alive and kicking 14 years later.
Fans of this clever CW black comedy about a slacker who is forced to collect souls for Satan because of a deal his parents made were dead serious about rescuing it when dwindling ratings and the 2007 WGA writers’ strike left it in renewal limbo. According to Gizmodo, cast memberTyler Labine suggested fans should send letters and socks, a nod to his character’s name, to the network. Apparently putting their best footwear forward worked as the series came back after nine months off the air for a second season. (It didn’t hurt the effort that the strike decimated network’s stock of new pilots.) It did not get a third year.
Trial & Error
Some wars are still being waged as is the case with the petition to save the legal mockumentary starring John Lithgow. After NBC canceled it in 2018, a Facebook page and Change.org petition hoping to convince the network to reverse their decision or get a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon to pick it up were created. The plan consisted of collecting signatures and sugar rushing executives with Twix candy bars, the preferred treat of choice of two of the characters.
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