Organized flash mobs and mounting billboards still may not save your favorite shows, as some fan campaigns are finding out. Following Netflix’s most recent decision to stand firm on its cancellation of “The OA,” the question remains, “what will save these shows?” When networks and streamers find that smaller favorites aren’t big cash cows, fans search for innovative ways to save them once they’re on the chopping block. In today’s digital world, social media seems to be the more instantaneous way to get shows back on the air. But it is certainly not a guarantee.
After “Timeless” fans caused a stir online following the show’s second cancellation with the #SaveTimeless campaign in 2018, the network opted to close the show with a two hour finale. It was a move producers Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke described as “the next best thing” since they were able to give the dedicated fans some closure.
More recently, “One Day at a Time” found a new home at Pop TV after being canceled by Netflix, partially thanks to the public response sparked by executive producers Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce.
“As a television executive you look at a lot of different aspects to picking up a show,” Pop TV president Brad Schwartz tells Variety. “Being a small network, a big thing for us is being able to put shows on the air that is someone’s favorite show. What social media showed us was that there was a very loud and proud group of people who loved this show.”
“One Day at a Time” continuing on a cable network marks the first time a canceled show from a streaming service has been picked up by a linear channel.
But it’s not just about cyber-screaming one’s love for a show on Twitter and Instagram accounts. How campaigns make use of social media to target those who put their money behind a show plays an important role in the success or failure of the movement. Applying pressure to advertisers had an effect on the lifespan of the NBC show “Community,” for example. The NBC show seemed to be circling the drain after season three when it was halted to make room for “30 Rock’s” return. However, it was miraculously renewed for two more seasons until its eventual cable cancellation in 2014. After fans mounted a diligent campaign, Yahoo! Screen picked up the show for a sixth season before it finally ended its run in 2015.
“Community” fans used their social media accounts not only in attempts to trend #sixseasonsandamovie, but also to send messages to the program’s advertisers to make them aware of the show’s enthusiastic fanbase.
“We did it because that has to do with money, and maybe that would make a difference,” says Communicon founder Gillian Morshedi. But, she admits, “it’s so hard to quantify [what methods worked] because maybe it’s the networks or studios or streaming sites that feel like they can capitalize more off of the fervor that fans feel.”
Back in 2009,“Chuck” fans hit the streets to focus on network advertisers such as Subway by taking over local franchises, buying sandwiches and leaving comment cards that mentioned the show once they were done. For “The OA” fans, campaigning toward advertisers isn’t an option: there are no advertisers on Netflix. Instead, revenue comes from subscriptions, and viewership numbers are not made public, making it impossible to correlate how noise on social platforms translates to new binges. Therefore, even if a show is picked up by a streamer, there is no guarantee it will have a long life.
“Designated Survivor” was saved by Netflix after ABC canceled the show in 2018, but the streamer promptly canceled it again in July of this year, a little more than a year after picking up the Kiefer Sutherland-led drama and after dropping only one new season. The same happened to “Lucifer,” which was canceled by Fox in 2018 and picked up by Netflix a month later, dropping a new season by the end of the year. In June of this year, Netflix announced it was ordering another season of “Lucifer” — but that upcoming fifth season overall would be its final one.
“I think the reason Yahoo! Screen built their streaming service on ‘Community’ was because it had such an enthusiastic fan base and especially because it was a streaming service just trying to start out,” Morshedi says. “For the existing streamers like Hulu or Netflix or Amazon Prime, and the existing networks and studios, it’s hard to know what’s going to matter.”
When Pop picked up “One Day at a Time,” there was no expectation that the show’s Latinx family would expand the diversity of the CBS-owned network’s audience, since according to Schwartz, Pop “well over-indexed with Latinx audiences and Black audiences. So we knew that those audiences were people we already reached.” Although Netflix’s viewership numbers for the show are unknown to any streamer or network outside of the original owner, Pop seems optimistic about the show’s ability to generally broaden viewership by comparing Nielson ratings directionally to with its other successful programming like “Schitt’s Creek.”
“It’s better to be a smaller network’s No. 1 show than a bigger network’s No. 8 show,” Schwartz says. “We’re working with fantastic people: Gloria and Mike, who showrun the show, and Norman Lear, who’s an icon in the history of television. We really don’t know what the future is, but we’re really passionate about it. We love it.”
However, fans of “The OA” and even “Shadowhunters” aren’t as lucky. Freeform granted producers of “Shadowhunters” the opportunity to wrap up their storyline in a two-hour movie, but a portion of the audience of the show still wants more and is dedicated to using hashtags including #SaveShadowhunters to try to get noticed by other networks. Fans of that show also organized a $25,000 donation to the Trevor Project in the show’s name and flew a banner directly over Netflix’s headquarters.
When it comes to “The OA,” which was canceled after a second season that ended on a cliffhanger, a follow-up movie has already been nixed. Additionally, since Netflix is the producer for the series, there’s no chance of another Pop and “One Day at a Time” rescue story.
But, with the current trend of revivals such as “Veronica Mars” and the more recently announced “Lizzie McGuire” and “Saved by the Bell,” super-fans may need to just wait a few years for their favorite show’s triumphant return.