When The Shit Hits The Fan

The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf has one major bugbear when it comes to fandom; all of it. From his chair on GeekPlanetOnline’s front porch he likes to shake his walking stick and yell at the kids to get off his damned lawn; we’ve tried asking him to stop, but he has a nasty bite when riled…

For everything there is an end, and never more so than in genre TV. Sometimes shows will end naturally, such as Babylon 5, Blake's 7, Buffy, Battlestar Galactica and any other show beginning with B I suppose, but more often than not the sad truth is that genre shows are killed off before their time.

Whether its due to bad scheduling on the station's part, falling ratings or some other undisclosed factor - usually grouped under the enigmatic heading "creative differences" - shows will find themselves cast aside for the next big thing with alarming regularity.

However, since the advent of the internet, fans of these unfortunate shows have found a community and a unified voice, and like the Borg, the collective will not accept no for an answer. I am of course talking about online campaigns to resurrect a show, Lazarus-like, from the dead.

Campaigns to bring a show back have, on occasion, been known to work. Shows like Family Guy, Futurama and for a short while Jericho, have proven that people power certainly exists and that if properly motivated studios do listen. However, those aforementioned shows and the handful of others that managed this miraculous feat, however briefly, have encouraged fans of every show taken before its time to leap up and start a campaign, no matter how futile.

Now don't get me wrong: I believe in campaigning to save a show taken unfairly before its time, especially when due to studio blindness and hard nosed accounting decisions. But I also wonder if we as fans are going about this whole thing arse-backwards. Why not campaign to get people to watch the show before it's cancelled? Why not give it a fighting chance on the gurney rather than trying to breathe life into a corpse?

You see, the thing is: I see people complain that their show is being scheduled badly - or put into the Friday death spot if you're in the states - and that usually signifies the first death knell of a beloved property. But I would argue that in these days of video on demand and internet available episodes, the schedule really should not hold the sway over a show's life or death the way it used to. People can watch a show any time they like now and issues of piracy aside for the moment, the statistics of legitimate viewings and downloads are being used to monitor popularity of a show, and counting as much as any Nielsen ratings figures.

So in this ultra-modern age of personalised scheduling, where a show can garner millions or even billions of viewers, why do we find ourselves campaigning to resurrect shows that have died due to lack of ratings?

Well for the most part the answer is straight forward: no one is bloody well watching!

Yet once a show has died a curious thing occurs, fans the studios didn't even know the show had, appear out of thin air and start up massive campaigns to get the show restarted.

The most famous of these to my mind was with Joss Whedon's Firefly and the fans of the show, The Browncoats. Firefly's history is well documented so I'll not go into it here. But, what was interesting about the campaign to bring the show back was that word of mouth and huge DVD sales were key in its resurrection onto the big screen as the movie Serenity, a movie which, on paper and according to the DVD sales if nothing else, should have made a tidy profit for Universal. Yet it flopped, barely breaking even.

But why should that be when everything pointed to a massive appetite for the show? I'm sure it's a question a few suits at Universal asked once the opening weekend figures appeared. A quick scout around a rumour site or two - none of which are particular bastions of truth or even-handed reporting - suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, some Browncoats were "double-dipping" and buying more than one DVD box set to subtly skew the figures on Universal's balance sheet. Now personally, I'm not convinced that's true in the slightest, but it does offer up an interesting theory of a campaign that ultimately backfired. Because with Serenity barely in the green, Universal canned any further Firefly-based development, lest they lose more cash, because the true audience sizes they wanted were not really there.

Yet, returning to my original point, I think this alleged campaign and many others like it are ultimately misdirected. If we, as fans, spend more time campaigning for the show to be viewed by friends, family, workmates etc, while they're on in the first place, the show wouldn't die so quickly surely?

However, month after month, SF magazines are full of news stories about shows being canned or on the cusp of being cancelled, to the cries of indignation from fans online. The same fans who will cluster on fan sites and preach to the converted rather than telling someone unfamiliar with the show to check it out.

And why is that? Why won't we actively push a show like Firefly to all and sundry? Why will we just hang about in our geek lairs talking to people who have already bought into the show about how great it is while the other 99% of the population sits slack jawed in front of X-Factor or some other brain guff? Is there some shame in sharing a show you love with others who may be unaware of it? Is it apathy? Or perhaps is it a small niggling doubt that perhaps the show is not actually as good as you think? Or perhaps you consider it a guilty pleasure?

Whatever the reason, we as fans of shows like these, need to spread the word a bit more and not be so insular. These days, whether you believe it or not, SF is far more accepted in the mainstream and the era of mumbling under your breath like a shy, underage schoolboy trying to buy beer in a Threshers that you are a fan of Star Trek has long since past, when SF/Horror ideas like ghosts start appearing in Coronation Street, you know the stigma has really all but gone.

Be proud of your geekdom and the shows you like. Tell people about them and perhaps less will fall at the wayside before their time...



Lee Medcalf is still trying to get Willo The Wisp back on the air and feels his thirty year letter writing campaign may well be paying off at last.