Working the Web to save TV shows

Fans unite online at petition sites

July 11, 2006|By MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

When Invasion, the ABC science-fiction show, ended its first season May 17, a key character was in mortal peril and alien-human hybrids had rounded up nonhybrids, concentration-camp style, in a storm-drenched south Florida town. The ending had all the makings of a cliffhanger, but ABC had announced its fall-season schedule the day before -- and Invasion wasn't on it.

No second season. No cliffhanger resolution. No indication of a bounce to, say, a cable network.

That wasn't good enough for Lizzie Ernst, a Dallas artist and FedEx Kinko's employee.

"I'd really started to get into Invasion," Ernst said by phone, adding later via e-mail that it had taken her most of the season to warm up to the slow-building, novelesque series.

"The way we heard it was canceled and everything, it didn't feel right," she said. "We felt like we needed to do something about it."

Although she'd never made noise about a show's cancellation before, Ernst began a petition drive to save Invasion, joining legions of fans throughout TV history who have written to and pestered networks to revive canceled series and resurrect killed-off characters. Efforts such as this go back at least to the original Star Trek (killed before its time in 1969 after a three-year run on NBC), but thanks to the Internet, they're gaining increasing visibility.

Ernst had seen other people use petitiononline.com, one of several Web sites that feature campaigns such as this one, so she posted her petition there. Recently, it had more than 29,500 signatures.

Voices of protest

But it's more than just the Internet that's carrying these voices of protest, says Kelley Smith, another Invasion lover who'd like to see the show come back.

"We started out with a letter-writing campaign, which is ongoing," Smith said. "And then mailing postcards from everyone's hometowns. And we flew a banner plane over ABC's headquarters in Burbank and Hollywood."

A quick look at petition online.com shows that just about any show can find a following passionate enough to attempt to save it. Some of the petitions listed in the site's "Entertainment and Media" section have become obsolete -- even if someone were to revive the WB network's Dawson's Creek, it's unlikely that its biggest star, Katie Holmes, would return, at this point -- but many of the past year's one-season wonders have fans crying out for their returns.

Petitiononline.com doesn't deliver the petitions itself, but acts as a hosting site for people to collect signatures and then e-mail or snail-mail them to the proper recipients.

It isn't the only petition-oriented Web site; a Google search of the phrase "Save Everwood" turns up several sites, including petition spot.com (which has a similar wide reach).

Another search, for campaigns to save ABC's Emily's Reasons Why Not scored a hit for ipetitions. com.

Rare is the case in which a petition has revived a canceled show. A few series, most notably Fox's animated Family Guy, have found new life not just because of fan campaigns, but because they did unexpectedly well in cable reruns or on DVD.

Similar campaigns

E! Online runs a "Save One Show" campaign, and took credit for the teen soap One Tree Hill making the jump from the WB to the CW. USA Today and TV Guide, as well as several newspaper critics, have had similar campaigns. But when those work, they save shows from being canceled -- once they're gone, they're usually really gone.

Invasion aficionado Ernst is aware of that, but that doesn't mean she's going to give up.

"I guess you have to be pretty optimistic," she says. "But we've seen other shows brought back, so we thought we would try, too. I mean, what have we got to lose?"

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