Internet Saved the TV Star

Writing letters is a hassle. There, I said it. By the time you’re finished physically transcribing your message using pen and paper, you need to search frantically for an envelope and stamp only to discover that your mother used all of the remaining ones on her scrapbook because they had Elvis on them.

Or is that just me?

Regardless, I think most reasonable people will agree with me that it’s much easier to send out an email than it is to write a traditional letter. Is it impersonal? Sure, that argument could be made, but I highly doubt that Verizon’s support team, your congressional representative, or NBC will take offense to your aversion to pen and paper.

The Internet’s Greatest Gift

The Internet has bestowed many gifts upon us, but perhaps the greatest gift of all–if you don’t count a direct line to politicians, open access to all of the information in the world, and cash cats–is the ability to directly express displeasure to a formerly intangible television network about our favorite TV show’s cancellation. Before social media and the online video platforms really took off, the only way to support your favorite TV show that was in limbo was by buying the entire DVD boxed set and hoping for a response like Fox’s for Family Guy, or writing hundreds of letters to the network and begging your friends in person to do the same.

How far we’ve come. Since these dark ages, products like Netflix Instant Watch and YouTube have become Internet icons. Products like these have delegated much of the power to reach a large audience held by traditional media companies and given it to the people. Or in Netflix’s case, to an online version of a traditional media company.

A Case Study

When Fox’s Arrested Development was cancelled, cries from its cult fan-base fell on deaf ears at the network. Instead of dying down, the demand for more episodes of the Bluth family’s misadventures increased as time went on because it became available on Netflix Instant Watch. I, personally, am one of the individuals who was not a fan of Arrested Development during its original run, but fell in love when I began watching it on Netflix years after its cancellation. After its cancellation and resurgence in popularity, Arrested Development became something larger than an above-average comedy that was cancelled before its time–it became a symbol for every beloved television show that was cancelled by profit-seeking networks interested in cultivating numbers over producing quality content.

Thanks to the Internet, however, Arrested Development didn’t need to take its cancellation lying down and was able to strike a deal with Netflix to host its fourth season over seven years after its initial cancellation. Maybe this sends a message that cancelled, critically-acclaimed shows need not bother with their original networks and should go directly to online or independent hosting to continue their run…but Maeby not. (At least I didn’t make a banana stand reference.).

Traditional media networks have shown that even they can be swayed if a show’s audience makes themselves visible enough. An example of this is the cast of Community’s #SaveGreendale campaign. When Community was dropped from NBC’s Thursday night line-up on hiatus, fans and the Community cast themselves lit social media outlets such as Twitter ablaze with a message for NBC: Don’t cancel our show. Especially if Whitney still exists. The campaign reached such heights that Community was brought back to NBC to finish its third season with virtually no argument from NBC and for a fourth season in the Fall, however, for a half-season in a less than satisfactory Friday night time slot and without its creator and mastermind: Dan Harmon.

Looking Ahead

Would Community have survived at all without social media and the #SaveGreendale campaign? My guess is no, particularly because of how many drastic cuts and changes NBC made to the show even after its cult-following essentially took over the Internet in a rally to save it.

Whether the goal is to make a network like NBC reconsider its decision to cancel your favorite show, or to have your television show moved to a different, less traditional online medium, there is no doubt that the Internet is changing television’s landscape drastically. Although DVD sales will likely continue to be a common means of gauging a show’s popularity, the popularity of a streamed video is also beginning to become an indicator of how much clout a show has.

Yelling at your favorite television station for cancelling a television program is an American past time, but it’s become much more effective with digital form letters and hashtags as opposed to traditional letters and phone calls. As time goes on, maybe we’ll see more quality television saved from cancellation because of our increased ability to communicate with the networks. Until then, I’ll be counting down the days to Arrested Development’s Netflix debut and avoiding Honey Boo Boo like the plague.

Samii Ruddy

Samii Ruddy is an undergraduate student at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. When not obsessing over technology, she can be found reading about politics, collecting comics, or attempting to longboard around campus. You can reach her at @samiiruddy on Twitter.

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