8 fan campaigns that saved series—and 14 (sob!) that failed

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Dec 16, 2012, 12:07 PM EST

It's the classic tale of David vs. Goliath—well, more like fan vs. network. Every season, a whole lot of television series are canceled. Some survive for just a handful of episodes, while others get a full season or multiple seasons before receiving the ax. All good things must come to an end. And for sci-fi fans, that's doubly true.

Be it on cable or network TV, sci-fi is a tough genre to sell. From Firefly to Wonderfalls, critical buzz can only get you so far if the ratings aren't up to snuff.

That's where the fans come in. From the dawn of time (or the dawn of television, to be more precise) there has been fandom. Fans can get attached to their shows rather quickly, and if a network tries to take them away things can turn testy fast. But, behind the vitriol and knee-jerk boycotts, some creative fans have come up with some pretty unique efforts to try and save their favorite series.

So, what worked? What didn't?

Angel, The WB (1999-2004)

How long did it last: 5 seasons, 110 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: With ratings trending up for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff in season five, news of the series' cancellation came as a gut check to fans, with creator Joss Whedon telling a fan site the news was like a "healthy guy falling dead from a heart attack." The series was the sad casualty of a behind-the-scenes power struggle, and fans scrambled to organize letter-writing campaigns, trade advertisements and billboard ads to try and garner a renewal or gain the attention of another network, to no avail. UPN had already snatched up The WB's leftovers with Buffy and Roswell, and it wasn't interested in bringing on any more pinch hitters. Apart from a continuation in comic book form, the thrilling cliffhanger of season five served as a coda for a show that was arguably cut down in its creative prime.

Jericho, CBS (2006-2008)

How long did it last: 2 seasons, 29 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep.

What'd they try: This CBS drama about a small town cut off the from the world after nukes explode in every major city in the U.S. tugged on the heart(string)s and minds of quite a few fans. The ratings were good early, but a lengthy scheduling hiatus robbed the show of any momentum it had and the network opted not to bring it back. Inspired by the first season's cliffhanger ending with a battle against a rival town for resources, and a pep talk where a general faced with harsh odds responded "nuts" to a request for surrender, fans sent mountains of nuts to the network in support of the series. The gesture worked, and CBS brought Jericho back for a shortened second season to wrap up some of the dangling storylines.

Journeyman, NBC (2007)

How long did it last: 1 season, 13 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: There just weren't enough fans of this Quantum Leap-esque series about a journalist being thrown through time to right wrongs. The series earned average ratings, and despite a fan campaign to send in Rice-A-Roni to the network in honor of the show's Los Angeles San Francisco setting, it was one-and-done. If nothing else, NBC execs could eat for years on the broken-hearted gestures of Journeyman fans.

Farscape, Syfy (1999-2003)

How long did it last: 4 seasons, 88 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep. Well, kind of.

What'd they try: One of the last true space operas, which helped pave the way for genre-busters like the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, Farscape will be remembered as one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time. The quirky series lasted four years but was abruptly canceled on a jarring cliffhanger that left fans reeling. So, many rallied to try and market the show to more fans, hoping higher ratings for the yet-to-air back half of the fourth season could change the network's mind. The effort ultimately failed to get a full renewal, but the buzz generated by the campaign managed to clear the way for a four-hour miniseries to wrap up the story.

Enterprise, UPN (2001-2005)

How long did it last: 4 seasons, 98 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Enterprise came about in an era of Star Trek fatigue, continuing more than a decade of on-air Trek shows. It was hit or miss with fans, taking a more casual approach to the canon and flashing back to when the seeds of the Federation were just being planted. The show was retooled late in its run, but the changeup was too little too late to save the flagging ratings. Instead of your typical letter-writing campaign, Enterprise fans started raising money to help fund a fifth season—eventually netting more than $3 million toward the goal. Despite some off-network flirtations from cable net Spike TV, nothing ever materialized and Trek went on hiatus until J.J. Abrams' recent Trek revival.

Roswell, The WB and UPN (1999-2002)

How long did it last: 3 seasons, 61 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep.

What'd they try: This soap opera with aliens lasted two seasons on The WB, but was dropped due to a steady decline in ratings. Though it wasn't a big hit, the fans that liked it supported it religiously. They started a mail-in campaign to send hot sauce to The WB and UPN, as Buffy the Vampire Slayer had just recently made a network jump and fans hoped the net-let would take a chance on the alien series as well. UPN did give it a shot, and though it just lasted one year, it gave the writers a chance to wrap up the storyline.

The 4400, USA (2004-2007)

How long did it last: 4 seasons, 44 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: This unique series about abductees from the past started out with spectacular ratings, though the numbers tapered off as the seasons wore on. Coupled with the Writers Guild of America strike, USA decided not to bring the show back for a fifth year, despite a huge cliffhanger that set up what could have been a very interesting story arc. Looking for a unique campaign, fans sent packs of sunflower seeds—the favorite snack of the character Dr. Kevin Burkhoff on the show—to USA, but it didn't work. A later push for Syfy to pick up the show also failed.

Witchblade, TNT (2001-2002)

How long did it last: 2 seasons, 23 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Based on the comic book of the same name, this short-lived cable series followed an NYPD detective fighting crime with the help of a supernatural device. The show was fairly popular, though TNT decided against bringing it back for a third year. Most speculate the decision had something to do with the fact that the lead actress entered a rehab facility at the end of the second season. Despite the odds, fans sent Pez candy dispensers to the network in support of the show, inspired by the lead character's name, Sara Pezzini. But it was no use.

Firefly, Fox (2002)

How long did it last: 1 season, 14 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep. Well, kind of.

What'd they try: In the years since its brief, four-month run in 2002, Joss Whedon's short-lived cowboy space drama Firefly has become the standard bearer for every show that died too soon. It launched with critical buzz, but the ratings never seemed to match the expectations. It didn't take long for Fox to pull the plug, but that's really where the fun began. Fans—dubbed Browncoats—started a postcard writing campaign to Fox (and later UPN), generated a massive online presence and placed advertisements in trade magazines to keep the show in the media and on peoples' minds. The attention helped the full series to a DVD release, and fans kept on pushing until the 2005 feature film Serenity was announced to continue the adventures of Capt. Mal Reynolds and his crew.

Flashforward, ABC (2009-2010)

How long did it last: 1 seasons, 22 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: This splashy, big budget ABC series was meant to be the successor to Lost. Despite huge ratings early on, the show stumbled down the stretch and fell well into toss-up range by the time the first season ended. But, the show finally found some structure late, and an interesting cliffhanger set up the potential for a longer run. When ABC passed on it, fans rallied with one of the most unique approaches: Staged "blackouts" in major cities, where fans pretend to blackout in allusion to the main storyline, where the entire planet receives a vision of their future.

Moonlight, CBS (2007-2008)

How long did it last: 1 season, 16 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Almost like a mix between Sherlock Holmes and Angel, Moonlight was a modest success for CBS during its brief run. But, the writer's strike put the show on an extended hiatus, which caused the ratings to take a hit. In honor of the vampire theme, fans organized nationwide blood drives to raise awareness for the show, but it just wasn't enough. CBS barely reconsidered, and following brief flirtations with The CW and Syfy, Moonlight was officially dead.

Star Trek: The Original Series, NBC (1966-1969)

How long did it last: 3 seasons, 79 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep.

What'd they try: When NBC attempted to cancel the original Star Trek series after just two seasons due to sluggish ratings, fans rallied one of the first mass letter-writing campaigns in history. More than 200 even protested outside the NBC office in 1968 to express their disdain for the decision. Considering there wasn't much of a precedent for a fan outpouring of this magnitude, NBC execs listened, and brought the show back for a final third year. Of course, that fan fervor would eventually fuel one of the biggest media properties in the history of TV and film, with multiple series (not to mention the recent reboot), plus a gaggle of book and merchandise tie-ins.

Twin Peaks, ABC (1990-1991)

How long did it last: 2 seasons, 30 episodes

Was it saved: No, but a little yes.

What'd they try: Now revered as one of the best television shows in history, David Lynch's mysterious Twin Peaks started hot in its first season, but saw ratings begin to taper off at the start of year two. Network meddling forced the creators to reveal a mystery central to the plot to generate some buzz, but it didn't seem to help. That, combined with iffy scheduling decisions, meant the show would never truly recover. Fans started a letter-writing campaign and even held a rally in support of the show, but it just wasn't enough. In 1993 a prequel film called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released, but it was a critical and commercial dud.

The Dresden Files, Syfy (2007)

How long did it last: 1 season, 12 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Fans of the short-lived The Dresden Files, based on the popular book series of the same name, took a unique tact to try and save the quirky show about a wizard turned investigator. The title character Harry Dresden was prone to using a drumstick to cast spells, so fans sent drumsticks en masse to Syfy in an effort to persuade the net to bring the show back. But, despite solid ratings in its timeslot, a second season was not meant to be.

Sliders, Fox and Syfy (1995-2000)

How long did it last: 5 seasons, 88 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep.

What'd they try: Though fans at the time loved this show, it was truly a grab bag of quality from season-to-season. With a revolving cast of characters "sliding" between alternate dimensions—all with subtle or glaring differences to our own—this show featured some wacky plots during its five-year run. After Fox cancelled it at the end of the third season due to dipping viewership, an ardent phone call and letter-writing campaign led a rising Syfy to step in and revive the show for an additional two seasons. The network hoped even a fraction of those network ratings could make it a hit on cable, but it just wasn't to be. Some fans followed, but with the quality so up and down, the network finally just pulled the plug.

First Wave, Syfy (1998-2001)

How long did it last: 3 seasons, 66 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: This turn of the millennium alien invasion drama was cancelled after three seasons due to low ratings, but it didn't stop fans from starting a creative (and potentially artery-clogging) "Save the Show" campaign. Fans sent in packets of salt to the network (the delicious spice doubled as a weakness for the alien race featured on the show) to show their solidarity, but not even a one-ton salt lick could have saved this one. One zealous fan even sent an engraved sterling silver saltshaker, which was reportedly saved as a memento by a VP at the network.

Wonderfalls, Fox (2004)

How long did it last: 1 season, 13 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Wonderfalls was a sad case of a show being too quirky for its own good. Following the exploits of a gift shop employee who starts communicating with intimate objects, the porcelain figurines eventually guide her to do good deeds. The series was sweet and smart, which is sadly a combination that doesn't usually last very long on Fox. Despite some critical buzz, the ratings were never quite there, and Fox called it quits after airing about half of the 13-episode order. Fans responded with a letter writing campaign, accentuated with postcards from the namesake "Wonder Falls" gift shop. Some other networks gave the show a cursory glance, but no one opted to pull the trigger. A full series DVD release that finally came after some immense fan pressure was the best anyone could hope for.

Chuck, NBC (2007-2012)

How long did it last: 5 seasons, 91 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep.

What'd they try: One word: Subway. This fan favorite spy-fi show probably shouldn't have lasted more than a year or two, but continued hardcore fan support gave it a long and healthy (no pun intended) life. Chuck fans took a unique approach when the ratings started to slip, targeting a product placement partner in the Subway sandwich restaurant chain. Fans supported the shops in droves, and the company rewarded that loyalty by ponying up to help fund the final few seasons of Chuck (in exchange for a fair amount of product placement of course). Chuck is the perfect example of what a creative, passionate fan base can accomplish with the right attitude.

Pushing Daisies, ABC (2007-2009)

How long did it last: 2 seasons, 22 episodes

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Like Wonderfalls before it, Pushing Daises was just too great for its own good. Following the exploits of pie maker Ned, who has the ability to bring dead things back to life with his touch (seriously), this dark-but-light drama was lucky to survive two years on a major network. During its run, Pushing Daisies was a critical darling, but the deadly combination of the recent writer's strike and so-so ratings were too much for even Ned's magical fingers to resuscitate. Fans responded with a unique effort to mail in daisies to the network, though their hopes proved to be just as dead as the flowers.

Kyle XY, ABC Family (2006-2009)

How long did it last: 3 seasons, 43 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: This sci-fi drama revolved around a family raising a young boy, Kyle, who has extraordinary abilities. Kyle has no belly button, and his origin remains shrouded in mystery for much of the show's run. The series was heavy on mystery, though an abrupt cancellation amid a ratings drop prevented the creators from paying off on all the questions they had asked. Fans rallied with a campaign to send in packets of the candy Sour Patch Kids (Kyle's favorite on the show), but the response was more sour than sweet.

Reaper, The CW (2007-2009)

How long did it last: 2 seasons, 31 episodes.

Was it saved: Yep.

What'd they try: Despite a truly unique premise, this dark comedy about a slacker who is drafted into working for the Devil was never a hit for The CW. The ratings were average at best, so the network pulled the plug after one year. But, a late push by several thousand fans to send in socks—in honor of a co-stars nickname—netted a short reprieve with a second season. The series really hit a creative stride in the second year, but the ratings never recovered and it was officially reaped in 2009.

Stargate Universe, Syfy (2009-2011)

How long did it last: 2 seasons, 40 episodes.

Was it saved: Nope.

What'd they try: Following in the footsteps of more than a decade of Stargate SG-1, and several seasons of Stargate Atlantis, Universe was supposed to be the project that revitalized the franchise with a Battlestar Galactica twist. The one thing no one anticipated? Stargate fans seemed to like the lighter elements of the previous series, and some had a hard time adapting to the darker tone of Universe. The ratings declined throughout the show's run, with some fans blaming schedule changes for the problems. Regardless, the show was not the hit everyone had expected from the onset, and Syfy dropped the show on a season two cliffhanger. Fans quickly launched letter writing campaigns and a brief Valentine's Day card campaign (news of the cancellation broke in December, and fans were hitting the pavement hot and heavy by February), but to no avail. Hope remained that a direct-to-DVD film might wrap up the dangling plotlines, but series owner MGM was facing financial woes and didn't want to risk making the film in what was becoming a soft DVD market.

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