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When fans revolt, do TV execs listen?

CBS's U-turn over 'Jericho is a sign that networks are reassessing niche shows and how to retain loyal viewers.

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On a normal day at work, Canadian regional councilor Jeff Knoll might be reminding residents to check fire-alarm batteries or posting storm warnings and school closures. But for the past three weeks this professional politician and father of five has been hard at work on behalf of another town, this one American and, oh yes, fictional.

Mr. Knoll is one of the leaders in the worldwide effort to save "Jericho," a TV drama about a small Kansas community isolated in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. CBS canceled the low-rated series in May.

Unlike the creative work of other dedicated fans to save shows such as "Everwood" and "Roswell," this politician's efforts have paid off. After a campaign that included a 10-city radio tour with the show's stars as well as the well-publicized "Nuts to CBS" drive – fans sent over 40,000 pounds of peanuts to CBS this past week – the "Eye" network has revived the show.

In what observers call an unprecedented move, CBS is asking the fans to partner with the network to turn fan mail into dollar signs. "Jericho" will return as a seven-episode midseason replacement but CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler issued a statement imploring the fans to "rally around the show" by watching it in ways the network can count (preferably live on television rather than on DVR or the Web). She also encouraged the fan base to "recruit new viewers."

Mr. Knoll and his cohorts are part of a rising breed of fan that has come of age in the past few years – the empowered, vocal, globally organized enthusiast with both the passion and the means to actively engage in a cause and, most important, make a difference.

"The biggest change in the past few years," says Jeff Bates, editorial director of Slashdot, the news site for tech geeks, "is the growth of the Internet, social networking, and the immediate buzz that goes with that."


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