EVERY YEAR around this time — during that Memorial Day window when baseball teams still cling to pennant hopes — television fans channel “Gladiator’s” Maximus (“I will have my vengeance!”), vowing retribution against networks that canceled a favorite series.
Don’t believe them.
Not that the vitriol isn’t entertaining — as highlighted by emails regarding the stake CBS pounded into its vampire drama “Moonlight,” whose supporters have announced plans for a “vigil” in Burbank this week. Survivors pining for the Eye network’s more-deserving “Jericho” are still busily scribbling pissed-off missives, too.
“CBS is officially dead to me,” one “Moonlight” viewer posted on Variety‘s website, summing up the response. “I will not watch anything on that network and will encourage everyone I know to continue to ignore it. … Hope their advertisers enjoy selling the Clapper and Life Alert to the seniors that may or may not remember to turn the TV on and watch their lame shows.”
Still, if you possess the fan gene — and as someone who attended Comic-Con long before anybody paid me to, I plead guilty — the premise that one disappointing experience will cause many people to swear off a network is, frankly, a stretch. If a TV program can assume that much importance in somebody’s life, odds are they’ll find something else to replace it.
Then again, this has become the prevailing tenor of our discourse, whether it’s television or politics. People have grown well schooled in the vocabulary of protest, organized through online communities or assisted by advocacy groups that instruct them in how to compose angry letters for maximum effect.
THE ENTIRE presidential campaign this year has been couched in similar terms: Conservatives threatening to stay home if John McCain wins the GOP nomination, while pundits debate whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama supporters will sit out the election if their candidate isn’t on the ticket.
To be fair, a minority of those complaining will probably follow through. TV programmers, moreover, should be mindful of fan campaigns. As one sage critic (actually, I think it was me) has stated before, discarding series without a measure of closure risks alienating viewers and making a few less willing to commit in the future.
For the most part, though, once emotions cool there’s reason to believe people will fall in love all over again, even if that invites additional letdowns.
Having witnessed several past fan jihads, there is a recurring profile to the most vocal elements — who frequently insist that they’ve never gotten this involved in a show before, and whose best chance of an enduring relationship might be with a vampire, Cylon or some otherwise-fictional creature.
Conventional media nevertheless pick up and magnify these voices because — as demonstrated above — they’re colorful, and we’re overworked and lazy.
EARLIER IN MY CAREER, I remember loitering outside the Farmer’s Market to survey people about their TV preferences. It was tedious work — half of them couldn’t name more than a couple of programs — but back then, that was the logical way to garner man-on-the-street opinions.
Today, it’s so much easier to surf the Web, which explains how Internet sniping about movies such as “The Incredible Hulk” and the latest Indiana Jones sequel gets prominently cited in mainstream coverage. Never mind that such griping is usually anonymous and hardly representative of the public at large.
Writer-producer Aaron Sorkin, for one, has lamented this trend, belittling it through a character on his since-defunct NBC series “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and elaborating on those thoughts in publicity sessions.
“When the New York Times quotes a blogger … suddenly you give it the imprimatur of the New York Times,” Sorkin said at the time. “That’s, first of all, lazy on the part of the New York Times, (and) second of all, incredibly misleading.”
A modicum of perspective does seem to be in order. After all, nearly half of marriages end in divorce and people keep doing that — so what makes anyone think fans will avoid “relationships” with new dramas?
That isn’t to say these people aren’t genuinely mad. It’s just that while some of them are a trifle odd, most won’t get even.