Battle-Scarred 'Jericho' Marches On
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Carol Barbee will never look at TV viewers the same way again.
Last May, CBS canceled her freshman drama "Jericho." But after receiving more than 40,000 pounds of peanuts from devoted and outraged fans, the network reversed course, picking up the post-apocalyptic drama for a seven-episode second season.
"We had nothing to do with it," said Barbee, the show's executive producer. "The fans all did it themselves. I think it will probably be one of those things that will always be one of the highlights of my career."
In the first season, Jake (Skeet Ulrich) and his fellow citizens in the small Kansas burg of Jericho are forced to fight for survival in the face of nearby nuclear attacks. The action stays focused on the town and its surrounding areas; residents (and viewers) are unaware of what's happening in the outside world.
When "Jericho" debuted to respectable viewership numbers in September 2006, it was shaping up to be one of the few success stories of that season. CBS pulled it from the schedule in November so it could air future new episodes in consecutive weeks. But when the series returned in February 2007, ratings declined significantly; by May's season finale, the series had lost more than one-third of the audience who'd tuned in for the series premiere. The scheduling experiment had failed.
"A lot of people thought we had been canceled midseason," Barbee said. "It was done with the best of intentions, but you cannot just lose your presence on television."
Shaun Daily, who hosts a radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com, was a huge fan of the show. When word began to circulate that the series wasn't going to get a second season, he urged his listeners to ship nuts to CBS headquarters in Los Angeles and New York.
"I said, 'I don't know if it's going to work, but we've got to try,'" Daily said.
Why peanuts? In the first season finale Jake retorted, "Nuts," when the leader of the neighboring town of New Bern demanded surrender. (That's the same retort U.S. Army Gen. Anthony McAuliffe made to the Germans at the Battle of Bastogne in World War II.)
"Skeet found it very difficult to deliver that line," Barbee said. "He was like, 'I just feel so silly,' and then he did it, and he did it well. But none of us thought that somebody would think about it as peanuts. It's like this perfect storm. It's one word. It's kind of funny."
Lennie James, a British actor who made his U.S. television debut as the mysterious Robert Hawkins, had been warned that many American shows don't make it to a second season.
"What I had been led to believe was that when a show is canceled, it's canceled," he said. "There was no coming back. I believed we had no power to do anything about it."