The power, and limits, of the ‘Geeks’ lobby

THIS MIGHT BE hard to imagine, but a bunch of guys who strongly identify with the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” had enough spare time to vigorously lobby for its DVD release.

At least in that respect, they’re not alone. This is the time of year when flowers bloom but TV series die, and the Internet has provided the most committed viewers — rebels with a peculiar cause — unprecedented means to protest, mobilize and share their passion with others. Indeed, a petition on behalf of Fox’s “Wonderfalls” began circulating before the network canceled it.

Despite symbolic victories, however, the louder and more shrill these voices become, the less influence they often possess. And while networks understandably enjoy knowing that people savor particular shows, these small contingents are so unrepresentative of the larger population that their voices, like the tiny denizens of Whoville, seldom get heard.

The Internet echo chamber has nevertheless emboldened the activists, whose advocacy mashes the image of docile couch potatoes. Television’s shifting economics have also worked to their advantage, with fragmentation lowering the ratings threshold and DVD sales increasing the viability of narrowly focused entertainment, so long as enough fans are willing to pay.

Take Fox’s animated “Family Guy,” which between its DVD windfall and Cartoon Network reruns has risen from beyond the grave. Ditto for “Farscape,” allowed an upcoming miniseries wrap-up after apoplectic fans laid siege to the Sci Fi Channel, whose market niche requires enduring the occasional deluge of weird emails.

ANOTHER TYPE OF NIGHT CREATURE hooked on “Angel” rallied outside the WB network recently to plead for a stay of execution on the vampire drama. Although the crowd was said to be pretty evenly split by gender, my guess is that had the weblet dispatched a couple of attractive female publicists to the event, most of the men would have fled in terror.

Nor does this sort of ardor fade quickly, as evidenced by loyalists who recently ponied up several thousand dollars to place an ad pressing for another “The X-Files” movie, as if holding a vigil since its exit in 2002. Then again, that’s nothing compared with the ragtag band still pining for the original “Battlestar Galactica” 26 years later.

In general only a specific kind of show inspires such devotion — usually something with characters that don’t exist in nature, unless those rumors about Area 51 are true.

Yet my own fascination with such campaigns was spurred by a brilliant family drama, “My So-Called Life,” whose 19 episodes began repeating this month on cable net Noggin’s teen-oriented the N. When that show met its untimely end a decade ago — before “video on demand” was much more than a dirty thought — I wondered how many of the millions faithfully watching on ABC would pay a mere $1 weekly to see it continue.

Today, that question sounds almost quaint given the equation “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” addicts weigh each time their cable bill arrives.

THE FLORID PROSE thrown around by “Save our show” groups frequently makes them appear more than a little silly, and it’s hard not to wish some of those lost in cyberspace would invest their ingenuity in a more productive cause. This zeal offers a reminder that the Internet owes a great debt to “Star Trek” and porn — diversions that still provide much of its creative vigor.

What seems equally clear, though, is that when possible TV shouldn’t be in the business of disappointing its best customers. As a case in point consider CBS’ “Now and Again,” which culminated four years ago with a cliffhanger that left its intrepid hero in peril — for all eternity, it turned out, much to the understandable chagrin of the fan base.

Granted, few programs possess the underpinnings to mount a resurrection along the lines of the anomalous “Family Guy,” and there are enough loons with laptops to give anybody pause about engaging them. That said, these campaigns underscore that freaks and geeks’ money is surely as green as everybody else’s, and if fed properly, they’re more than happy to part with plenty of it.

CARSON’S RUN: In the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction dept., Carson Daly received a lifetime achievement award from MTV at Tuesday’s “TRL” Awards, with the network saluting the 30-year-old host for his “contributions to television, music and youth culture.”

This certainly sets the stage for next year’s lifetime honor, which should be a close race between the Olsen twins, Hilary Duff and the kid on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men.”

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