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Fans' Nutty Campaign May Save 'Jericho' From Tumbling

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Because it received thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls, and about 20 tons of peanuts, CBS is trying to bring back "Jericho" -- the apocalyptic survivalist series it canceled because it was averaging only about 8 million viewers at the end of its first season.

Hard to make the math work on this story, but there you are.

CBS isn't talking. But a source, who did not want to be identified in any way, shape or form -- in perfect keeping with a story about rabid peanut-shipping fans of a show tailor-made for people to watch at night while cleaning their stash of guns -- said CBS contacted cast and crew to try to secure their services to bring back the show for a midseason run, of as few as eight episodes.

CBS's stab at a serialized the-end-is-near drama starred Skeet Ulrich as one resident of Jericho, a peaceful Kansas town -- the presence of notorious troublemaker Gerald McRaney notwithstanding -- plunged into social, psychological and physical mayhem when one day a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon.

Why send nuts, you are probably wondering. Well, in the series finale, hero Jake Green (Ulrich) borrowed the famous WWII nose-thumbing line delivered by the acting commander of the 101st Airborne when the Germans demanded that U.S. troops surrender at the Battle of Bastogne. Skeet was responding to a demand for surrender from residents of a formerly peaceful town located down the road a spell. And Jericho fanatics are carrying on the tradition, delivering the same message of non-surrender to CBS suits.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said at a recent conference that the campaign to save "Jericho" had reached "Touched by an Angel" proportions, including an "unbelievable" number of e-mails that, grievously, the tech-savvy "Jericho" forces managed to get past his computer's filters.

According to our paranoid source, about 30,000 protest e-mails were sent in just the first week after CBS unveiled its "Jericho"-less prime-time schedule to advertisers in New York last month.

One CBS exec has had to change his phone number after being swamped with phone calls in re the show's cancellation.

The news media have been going, um, bananas over the save "Jericho" campaign, taking only the briefest of breaks to report on the sacking of NBC entertainment chief Kevin Reilly.

Web sites navel-gazed about the effectiveness of sending various products to network suits in an effort to resurrect a dead show, such as the banana-shaped stress balls sent to Fox programming chief Gail Berman to save "Arrested Development," or the bottles of Tabasco sauce favored by alien teens, as part of the campaign to save the WB's "Roswell," or the rented Ferris wheel with which "Everwood" fans hoped to mesmerize CW chief Dawn Ostroff.

Video of peanuts being delivered to CBS execs in New York and Los Angeles popped up on YouTube.

Newspapers reported on the holy-war-ness of the campaign and how it's best never to use the word "canceled" in reference to a show designed to cater to the post-apocalyptic crowd. Also, they ran stories on the wiliness of the head of a company called Nuts Online who had never seen "Jericho" but nonetheless turned its cancellation into commerce, selling nearly 20 tons (at press time) of peanuts to infuriated fans.

The Wall Street Journal even ran a video of a guy at its D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif., who hijacked an appearance by Moonves with a commentary about the "passion" of the "hundreds of thousands of people" who wrote to CBS and all those tons of nuts and what did it take for a network to bring back a show.

That guy appears to be the brother- in-law of "Jericho" actress Pamela Reed.

HBO Shuffles the Deck

Not surprisingly, HBO's chief operating officer, Bill Nelson, has been named the pay-cable network's new chairman and CEO.

Nelson is taking the job long held by Chris Albrecht until he was arrested in early May for allegedly roughing up his girlfriend in the parking lot of a Vegas casino where HBO had just telecast a boxing match. That incident inspired the Los Angeles Times to write a story about how Albrecht allegedly had also roughed up another girlfriend who was an HBO employee.

But the HBO Alleged Girlfriend-Rough-Up Fallout doesn't stop there. Three other HBO staffers who didn't get the top job have been made co-presidents: Harold Akselrad, Eric Kessler and Richard Plepler.

Akselrad will manage legal and business affairs, film acquisition and technology groups and will remain HBO's general counsel, network parent Time Warner said in yesterday's announcement.

Kessler gets to oversee marketing and worldwide distribution of HBO networks and content. Plepler will be in charge of HBO's programming and corporate communications.

"I've worked with Bill, Hal, Eric and Richard for many years, and there's not a more skilled, cohesive or widely respected group of executives in the entertainment industry," said Time Warner President and COO Jeff Bewkes. He used to be a top executive at HBO, back when the L.A. Times says Albrecht allegedly roughed up that earlier girlfriend/HBO employee.

But there's more. One Michael Lombardo, who had been vice president, business affairs, production and programming at HBO, has been promoted to president of the programming group, reporting to Plepler. Reporting to Lombardo are a bunch of people who did not get the job, including Colin Callender, president of HBO Films; Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports; Sheila Nevins, president, HBO Documentaries & Family; and Carolyn Strauss, president, HBO Entertainment.

Record Ratings

Some broadcast ratings records were set last week. Unfortunately, they were lows.

Here's a look at the week's peaks and vales:

WINNERS

"Army Wives." Lifetime snagged its biggest series-premiere crowd in its 23-year history -- 3.5 million viewers -- with Sunday's 10 p.m. unveiling of this "Desperate Housewives"-ish drama. One hour earlier, a "Desperate Housewives" rerun on ABC logged 3.9 million.

"The Starter Wife." The two-hour opening of the Debra Messing series logged 5.4 million viewers for NBC-owned USA Network on Thursday, beating NBC-owned NBC, which was airing "The Office" (3.9 million), "Scrubs" (3.8 million) and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (4.1 million) during that time. Among the 18-to-49-year-olds NBC craves, "Starter Wife" was the best series performance in all of basic cable this year, beating even such fare as "Dirt" and "The Riches."

LOSERS

NBC. The same week it scored its smallest weekly audience since at least 1991 -- a prime-time average of 4.8 million viewers -- NBC announced it had dumped its entertainment division chief, Kevin Reilly.

"House." When Fox decided to give the unveiling of reality series "On the Lot" the coveted slot after the final "American Idol" performance night of the season (because "OTL" is, oooh, from Steven Spielberg!) instead of the "House" season finale, it not only let another network beat it for the first time ever on an "Idol" night, it also bumped the "House" episode into the summer season, where it logged its smallest-ever season-finale crowd -- 17 million viewers, about 8 million shy of last season's finale. On the bright side, "House" was the most watched show of the week.

"CBS Evening News." Suffered its smallest audience in about 20 years last week -- 5.5 million viewers -- breaking the previous week's record for the smallest audience in about 20 years.

The week's 10 most watched programs, in order, were: Fox's "House"; CBS's "CSI" and "Two and a Half Men"; Fox's Thursday "So You Think You Can Dance"; CBS's "CSI: NY" and "NCIS"; ABC's "Boston Legal"; CBS's "CSI: Miami"; Fox's Wednesday "So You Think You Can Dance"; and CBS's "Shark."

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