Every year, I get the same letter, usually a couple of weeks into the new fall TV season. The plea is simple, yet poignant: Can I save the floundering show I love by watching it more?
The answer, unfortunately, is also simple: no.
Unless you are one of the 15,000 homes surveyed by the Nielsen Co. to statistically estimate TV ratings across the country, watching your favorite endangered show does nothing but wear out your TV faster and bring down your IQ level (excepting those smart enough to watch AMC's Mad Men).
Still, as the cancellation announcements pile up (ABC's My Generation just died; NBC's Outlaw is on life support) there are some things you can do.
For example, watch online, buy the iTunes episodes or get the DVDs. Nielsen might not tap your wisdom for their ratings, but every TV network looks at DVD and iTunes sales along with viewer stats for its websites. Here's where every mouse click and minute watching can make a difference.
If you've got the gumption, here are a few more suggestions:
Talk it up
Families who are measured by Nielsen aren't supposed to tell anyone. Which means your cubicle buddy could be the deciding vote on Jimmy Smits' TV future. Make sure he knows how much you love Outlaw, weird as that may seem.
Persuade people like me
I'll admit, if I could save shows on my own, Pushing Daisies wouldn't be pushing up daisies right now. But get enough professional TV nerds like me on your side, and suddenly you have newspaper columns across the country begging suits in Los Angeles and New York to wise up. One reason NBC saved Chuck, for example, is because TV critics, a sponsor and fans came together in one huge supportive burst of fanboy love. Which leads to . . .
Leverage lots of attention with something new
One big problem with many "save our show" campaigns is that they copy something that worked before. Once Saturday Night Live let a Facebook fan page persuade them to give Betty White a guest hosting gig, every other page was hosed, because that technique was suddenly old hat. So your challenge, as a borderline obsessive fan, is to gather your Twitter tweeps and Facebook freaks to brainstorm the next way your campaign will land on CNN's home page.
Get the stars and producers involved
The great "Save Chuck" campaign — basically the last time a fan-saved show actually kept going — also had the participation of the show's stars and producers, which equals more news coverage and credibility. Fortunately, in the age of Twitter, it's more possible than ever to enlist producers and actors in helping you fight to keep their paychecks coming.
By the time it's obvious a show is dying, key players may have already found new jobs or network execs may already have contingencies in motion. So if you dig Will Arnett or Maura Tierney, better start that Facebook page now for Running Wilde or The Whole Truth. Trust me; there isn't a moment to waste.