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TV 101: "Save Our Show" Stunts Are Dumb

by Jay Black, posted May 5th 2010 2:03PM
I would have used a picture of Glenn Beck here, but I thought that would upset some people.Recently, fans of NBC's 'Chuck' decided to stage flash mobs as a way to raise awareness about a show that seems to spend 99% of its time on the cusp of cancellation.

There are two things wrong with doing this. The first is that the solution to the ratings issues 'Chuck' has is obvious (and one that I've written to NBC about several times). California State Law prohibits me from outlining here exactly what my idea is, but just know that it involves Yvonne Strahovski, a string bikini, and several gallons of apple butter.

My second problem with the flash mobs is far more complex and nuanced, but if I had to sum it up into a sentence, it would be this: anyone who participates in a stunt to try to get a show to remain on the air is dumb.

Let's outline what this article is not.

1. This is not an article that will say that people need to make better use of their time. I've written nearly 300,000 words about television for this site, so clearly I'm in no position to tell people how to spend their time. (Quick statistical side note -- 91,021 of those words reference either women I find attractive or Sith Lords).

2. This is in no way a criticism of Fandom. I love the goofy passion that nerds have for things that aren't real - hell, I spent my entire college career either playing D&D or voting in national elections, so I can't criticize anyone for believing in fairy tales. There's nothing wrong with caring a little too much about TV.

That said, I stand by my original statement: if you took part in a flash mob to save 'Chuck', then you are dumb.

The reason why is because stunts don't work like they're supposed to. People participate in these things with the intention of keeping a show from being canceled and increasing its popularity so that further stunts aren't necessary to save it. While the former might happen from time to time, the latter never happens.

Stunts don't save shows in any kind of meaningful way. Sure, networks might temporarily jump on the publicity bandwagon and green light another season, but historical precedent shows that any resolution to a stunt is likely to be a half-assed one.

Three recent examples bear this out:

Conan O'Brien - fans took to the internets with an "I'm with CoCo" campaign that was so powerful, it ended with Jay Leno back in control of the 'Tonight Show' and Conan O'Brien being moved to basic cable.

'Jericho' - Clay Aiken single-handedly brought this show back to life using the two things he knows best: Claymates and nuts. And what did we get? Seven more episodes that no one watched.

'Roswell' - fans sent Tabasco Sauce to show their support, which bought one more low rated season on the WB, followed by an even lower rated season on UPN. (Wait a second, you might say, that's TWO seasons following the stunt, which ain't so bad. Yes, but one of them was on UPN so that doesn't count. In 2001, being canceled was actually preferable than being on UPN).

Further, stunts don't have any marked effect on a show's popularity because no normal person hears about a stunt and thinks "Wow, those 'Chuck' fans are really passionate - I bet you that's a great show that I need to start watching!"

What they think is this: "Hm, 'Flash mobs?' I wonder if that means people are naked? No? Oh, well, that's a shame, I would have liked to have seen naked people. Gee, it seems like that show 'Chuck' certainly has a lot of nerds who like it. Good for them, I'm glad they've found something other than sex to keep them occupied. I will now forever link 'Chuck' with 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars' as something that nerds really love for some reason. I'll never watch that myself because I don't want to be known as one of those people. Fist pump! Jersey Shore!"

It's important to remember that the networks don't actually care about producing quality entertainment; they care about producing entertainment that people will actually watch. That's a distinction that results in shows like 'Chuck' and 'Arrested Development' and 'Firefly' withering and dying while Charlie Sheen earns four lifetimes worth of coke and hooker money every time a new 'Two and a Half Men' airs.

The only stunt that actually has any lasting effect is watching the show. There is historical precedence for this as well:

In 2002, Fox canceled 'Family Guy'. Its core fan base was either too stoned or too incarcerated to raise much of a fuss and that was that. Except that its ratings on Adult Swim and its DVD sales were so strong that two years later Fox brought the show back, not only giving us several more years of 'Family Guy' but more importantly setting the stage for this 'South Park' episode.

It wasn't nuts glued to the chin that saved 'The Family Guy' or sending Quagmire-style leopard-print underwear to Fox - it was eyeballs and wallets. Once fans proved they would watch the show, Fox put it back on the air.

A stunt to save a show is like a love poem written for a prostitute: you don't need couplets, you just need a couple of bucks. Stop futzing around and just pay the lady.

That's what 'Chuck' fans ought to be doing. Instead of organizing useless flash mobs, they should be concentrating on a non-annoying way of getting people who haven't watched the show to give it a try. If it's good enough to warrant a stunt, it ought to be good enough to build an audience.

And if it's not? Then maybe Yvonne Strahovski will finally agree to star in the screenplay I wrote for her - 'Jay and Yvonne make a Porno' (in 3D).

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. If you want to find out more about Jay or see one of his live shows, check out his website at www.jayblackcomedy.net).

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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Remember what Oscar Wilde said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." That having been said, money talks. Watch the show, buy the products that the sponsors sell, and write letters. Get your friends to write letters. Write to the sponsors that you saw their product during the show. Write the network that airs it and the company that produces it. Those types of things 'talk.'

May 12 2010 at 12:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You won't get any argument from me. Buffy was a good series until several things happened: UPN went under, Joss Whedon sold the series to FOX and turned its management over to someone who evidently had no idea what she was doing, since the last two seasons were (for the most part) excrescent, and the focus of the show went from Buffy and her friends to Buffy and her crotch-buddies.

May 12 2010 at 8:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This certainly dates me, but I remember as a teenager participating in a write-in campaign to save "Star Trek". We 'saved' it, all right, to limp along for another season in a pre-ordained Doom Spot. Were we dumb to do it? Maybe so, but I think it's largely because the original show had so many devoted fans that it eventually turned into a solid gold franchise.

May 12 2010 at 8:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Yes, but one of them was on UPN so that doesn't count. In 2001, being canceled was actually preferable than being on UPN)."

I think all the fans of Buffy would have to disagree with you on that.

May 06 2010 at 7:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Often times the outcry to save a show like this is like prolonging the life ot Terry Schaivo. They force something that is ready to go to stick around a lot longer than it should. Chuck started out as a great show ( as did Veronica Mars and Jericho) they had a loyal, yet small fan base that pushed to keep the shows around longer than maybe they should have and what you have are halfhearted efforts from producers, writers, actors who want to and should move on to new projects. The only exception is Friday Night Lights which thanks to the saving grace of DirectTV is still great. I say let a good show die when it's ready. Use your bandwidth to watch 40 somethings whack it on chat roulette and leave programming decisions to people who know better.

May 05 2010 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jay, you are spot on. The only thing the companies care about is the number of eyes watching the show, and the dollars that number generates. That's sad, but being a disappointing fact of life doesn't make it untrue.

I wonder if some of the people who blasted you on this actually read what you wrote? The suggestion that if you care enough to do a flashmob, then you'll care enough to actually try and get more people watching is obvious, and yet so many people seemed to take offense to it.

May 05 2010 at 10:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chuck's comment

I think you missed the point of the Chuck campaign this year: getting more eyeballs on the show. Last year it was about proving fans understood the network cared more about the advertiser than the viewer. This year it's about promoting the show in a way that, with any luck, will catch a few Nielsen families' attention and boost the ratings. Will it work? Maybe not, but it's worth a try.

May 06 2010 at 4:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well,you've obviously misunderstood what the Chuck flash mobs were about.

It wasn't a "dumb stunt". (And our last "dumb stunt" actually got us 19 more episodes, SO THERE.) The people who put it together and those who participated know full well that stunts and sandwiches aren't going to save the show a second time.

Only ratings will help Chuck, so they organized to raise awareness of the show; which should hopefully result in more viewers and higher ratings.

But thanks for the article anyway.

May 05 2010 at 9:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I appreciate you cynicism but in this case I advise you to go chuck yourself.

May 05 2010 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dear Jay,
You are talking like an idiot.

Many people do these things to show their appreciation, many know that what they are doing won't work. For the CoCo campaign, many people knew they were not going to change NBC's mind, but they still rallied. They were standing for what they believed in, and having fun in doing so.

May 05 2010 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Adrian's comment
Jay Black

You've got a good point on both counts.

1. Doing it as just a fun way to show your loyalty to a show that you love is just fine in my book. Those people are not dumb.

2. I am an idiot. This is important to remember whenever reading any of my material.

May 05 2010 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"A stunt to save a show is like a love poem written for a prostitute: you don't need couplets, you just need a couple of bucks."

Wait. You're telling me that poetry DOESN'T work on hookers? Damn....

May 05 2010 at 5:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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