Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rockville resident Julie Burnette swears she isn’t the kind of person to take it personally when a television show gets canceled.

Then along came HBO’s decision to dump “Carnivale,” and now Miss Burnette is doing all she can to save the show from oblivion.

She created to change the minds of HBO executives, but she isn’t the only fan who’s gone online to reverse a programming decision. Similar sites exist to bring back UPN’s “Enterprise” and CBS’ “Joan of Arcadia.”

Web sites alone can’t do much beyond giving comfort to those who mourn their favorite show’s demise. But viewers are using them to sign online petitions, spark DVD buying frenzies and fund professional ad campaigns — anything to tell networks the Nielsen ratings don’t tell the full story.

Miss Burnette, who used her background in marketing and design to spread her message, holds viewing parties and tries to convince as many non-“Carnivale” watchers as she can to give the show a try.

As of now, “Carnivale’s” tent remains closed. A call to HBO’s publicity office wasn’t returned, but HBO President Chris Albrecht shared his ambivalence about the show’s death with reporters during last week’s Television Critics Association meeting in Beverly Hills.

Mr. Albrecht said the show’s high cost and its inability to attract an audience overseas sealed its fate, but he was shocked nonetheless at the outpouring of e-mails and calls from the show’s fan base.

“Carnivale” creator Dan Knauf says the show’s loyal fan base helped win the show its second — and final — season.

“The Nielsen numbers weren’t there, but they were getting a huge response on the Internet,” Mr. Knauf says. “They don’t have the tools to translate that yet.”

Mr. Knauf realizes the chances of “Carnivale” returning as a regular series are dim, but he is open to the project returning as a three-hour film or a series of such movies.

“One thing I won’t do is some three-hour movie to tie up loose ends,” he says. “I’ve got four seasons of material in excess of what I did.”

Liz Hale of Nashville created months before the show’s demise, fearing its lackluster ratings would doom the space drama. Her Web site raised enough money to buy an ad in Variety calling for the preservation of the show. Miss Hale took some satisfaction in knowing the advertisement made its way to the “Enterprise” set.

Now, her best bet might be for another “Star Trek”-themed show to get a green light.

Some shows do rise from the ashes.

After getting bumped from the NBC schedule, military courtroom drama “Jag” shifted to CBS, where it enjoyed a healthy extended run.

The best recent example is Fox’s “Family Guy,” which benefited in part from being an animated show. Had it been live action, the actors might have aged beyond their roles and the show’s look might not have been easily duplicated, says Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture with Syracuse University.

But “Family Guy” is an anomaly, according to Mr. Thompson, who reckons the return of a canceled show “is the equivalent of a miracle in the television business.”

Discounting the Internet’s impact, Mr. Thompson says the proliferation of channels on the television dial today offers canceled shows their best hope of resurrection.

The modern television landscape can also work against second chances. In the past, show producers leased the rights to broadcast their programs to the big three networks. “If a network canceled them, they could take it elsewhere,” Mr. Thompson explains, noting shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” appeared on multiple networks.

Now, those networks often own outright the shows they broadcast, a result of legislation in the mid-1990s which paved the way for networks to retain ownership of their programming.

Boody, Ill. resident Angela Williams created right after its cancellation in May.

Its return seems unlikely, but Miss Williams hopes at least to see the series’ second season appear on DVD as soon as possible and perhaps a television film or miniseries to bring about some closure.

“We haven’t given up hope,” Miss Williams writes via e-mail. “That’s one thing this show has taught the fans — nothing is impossible, unless you don’t have hope.”

Mr. Knauf understands why fans cling so tenaciously to shows, even when the odds are stacked so firmly against them.

“Nobody likes it when your’e reading a book and you’re halfway through it and somebody snatches it away from you,” he says.

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