#RenewEverythingSucks and the Ongoing Battles to Save TV Fan Favorites

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Once upon a time, an official cancellation announcement was the death knell for TV shows. No longer. A mere 30 hours after Fox announced it was cancelling “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” NBC snatched the show up for a sixth season. This Lazarus effect was due in no small part to social media: when the cancellation was announced, Twitter went nuts, with fans everywhere begging for the show’s resurrection, including Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro, Broadway wunderkid Lin-Manuel Miranda, the last jedi himself Mark Hamill, and even a shot out by the 90s boy band Backstreet Boys.

According to NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, although NBC already had longstanding ties to Andy Samberg and the show’s producers, the fan response was a tipping point for NBC to revive the show. And why not? The revival is an all-around a win-win: fans get to keep their show, and NBC looks like the good guy for saving “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The survival of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a great example of everything coming together at the right time.

 

Unfortunately, fan-led renewal campaigns aren’t always so successful. When the cancellation of Netflix’s “Sense8” was announced, fans pushed Twitter hashtags like #RenewSense8 and #BringBackSense8 and signed petitions (the change.org petition had 524,727 signatures) to show the size of the audience for “Sense8.” Although Netflix concluded that this passionate audience wasn’t “large enough to support the economics of something that big, even on [Netflix’s] platform” (at approximately $9 million an episode, “Sense8” was as expensive as HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” but without the same audience size), it did ultimately respond to the campaign by producing a two hour wrap-up special.

Sometimes, on the other hand, studios don’t publicly acknowledge fan renewal campaigns. Despite ten months of effort by fans of Netflix’s “Gypsy” to gain a second season, for example, which included two billboards in Los Angeles and a petition on iPetition with 30,472 signatures, the show remains dead without evident discussion of revival (it was cancelled after only six weeks, Netflix’s fastest cancellation to date of an original series).

Right now, the #RenewEverythingSucks/#SaveEverythingSucks campaign is trying through various channels to get through to Netflix, including sending some 2,000 Ring Pops, 1,950 pride flags, four pounds of cumin, and 2,000 pinecones to Netflix’s corporate office, putting up a banner by that office, and a petition on change.org with 20,181 signatures. In addition, the cast and crew of “Everything Sucks!” are still working hard to rally support. Unfortunately, the campaign comes at a time when Netflix executives are seeking to drastically increase the number of freshman shows it cuts a year.

 

It seems almost impossible to predict what renewal campaigns will work and which will not. In 2004, “Angel”—then the WB’s second highest-rated show—was cancelled even though fans wrote letters to the media and the WB, bought ads in trade publications, and rented a mobile billboard to drive around Los Angeles. In 2007, fans of “Veronica Mars” sent the CW 10,000 Mars Bars and fake bills, but despite critical acclaim and support from fans like directors Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon, the show failed to secure a fourth season (it later got a movie funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $5.7 million).

Ultimately, one lesson learned from all these examples may be that billboards, food, and celebrity endorsements probably don’t tip network executives one way or another these days because they don’t allow networks to gauge the size of the audience. Since the #1 reason behind the cancellation of shows is insufficient viewership, network executives need to be convinced that the audience is large enough to merit the continued investment of their company’s financial resources. (There’s slightly more nuance to the story, of course. According to Lisa Herdman, senior vice-president at Los Angeles-based ad firm RPA, social media is a large factor in the renewal of shows on the bubble, but “if the negotiation isn’t right for a particular network, that’s not going to matter,” which could in part explain the cancellation of “Angel.”)

Canceled network shows can sometimes find a new life on cable or streaming services, and canceled cable shows can try for renewal on streaming, but what about shows booted from Netflix? If Netflix can afford to have smaller, niche audiences than either broadcast or cable TV, then if a show is assessed to have too small and niche an audience even for Netflix, there seems little hope the show will be revived. For shows like “Gypsy,” which seems to have received fewer than a million viewers for its episodes, and “Everything Sucks!”, that’s bad news indeed. In cases like this, it’s not that the shows lack quality or that renewal campaigns didn’t try hard enough, but rather than studios and networks are focused on the economics of production.

 

The lesson learned from recent renewal campaigns–both successful and not– seems to be that there is greater network sensitivity to social media movements to save shows. So although we can’t save all of the things that we love, maybe in the future we’ll have a higher chance of saving shows than we have in the past. So keep signing petitions and keep Tweeting, because every voice matters.

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