'Jericho' scoop straight from the TCA floor: CBS built the online network that defeated it
By the time they faced TV critics here in Los Angeles, you couldn't wipe the grins off the faces of the producer and stars of CBS' Jericho, likely just the fourth series in history to be canceled by a network and wiped off the schedule, only to see a massive fan effort (to the tune of 50,000 emails) change the network's mind.
"Our audience became faces and people and lives; these are real people who said 'This is my show and I love this..stop treating me like a number,'" said Lennie James, who plays enigmatic soldier Robert Hawkins, his British accent lending a saucy lilt to his words. "It was a rare insight for the networks; I hope they learn from it."
First, the facts: producers expect to focus on Jericho in the seven new episodes CBS has agreed to produce, though they had originally hoped to split time between Jericho, rival town New Bern and New York, which has survived the nuclear attack which seems to have fractured the country.
Viewers will initially see the battle between Jericho and New Bern, and then flash forward weeks to the arrival of the new government from Cheyenne, which will take over as an occupying force trying to stem revenge killings and friction between Jericho and New Bern. Executive producer Carol Barbee expects lots of parallels with our real-life adventure in Iraq, and says she's fully prepared for blowback from the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world.
Star Gerald McRaney is definitely off the show, his character Johnston Green killed to make room for star Skeet Ulrich's Jake Green to complete his character arc as the prodigal son who becomes an unwilling, but natural leader. Farmer Stanley Richmond will ask Mimi Clark, the IRS agent who had come to Jericho to audit him, to be his wife. But the show's focus will likely fall on Jake and Hawkins as they seek to save the world.
Production starts Monday on the show and will finish by September's end, meaning they'll be long done before episodes begin to air. And even though CBS executives said star Skeet Ulrich helped get the cast back on board once CBS decided to bring Jericho back, Ulrich himself said he was mostly calling just to tell everyone the show was coming back.
"I don't think I had to convince anybody," said Ulrich, who joked about thanking fans door-to-door. "I just love sharing shocking news...It's been an incredible experience from the lows of cancellation to the fans rising up to save us. I think the best way to thank fans is to do a great show."
The only fly in the ointment for this love-fest was the departure of McRaney, whose Johnston Green character seemed to be the heart of the show, though he died at season's end.
"Jericho is a town where people need to be able to die," said Barbee, noting that McRaney knew his character was to be killed, but likely didn't know it would happen in the first season. "When I called him (to tell him the character would die), his final comment to me was 'Let's go kick some ass.' He understood it."
"Snakes," quipped Ulrich, only to be topped by castmate James.
"Strippers," James said, laughing. "Strippers that bounce."
Which led a colleague of mine to wonder if there weren't 12 hackers somewhere in Colorado masterminding this whole exercise.
And biggest irony is that, in spending money to build a special Web site and online community to keep fans focused on Jericho when the show went on a long hiatus last December and January, they helped build the community when eventually forced them into a highly public reversal.
"What it did give us was an amazing Internet community," said Barbee. "We're very grateful."