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Scott D. Pierce: Twitter deluded rabid fans of 'Community'

Published May 30, 2014 11:56 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Twitter-gasm that exploded recently when NBC canceled "Community" was an echo chamber of self-delusion that, unfortunately, is not unique.

Here's what happened. The news of the cancellation was shared on Twitter. "Community" fans started tweeting at each other about how they had to save the show. False reports (which abound in social media) circulated that this, that or the other network/cable channel/online streaming service was going to step up and save the sitcom.

As all this was happening, some folks on social media took it as a sign that there was a huge groundswell of support and convinced themselves salvation was at hand for the sitcom.

Reports are still circulating, but don't hold your breath.

Don't get me wrong. I liked "Community." But, given its perpetually low ratings, fans should be grateful it lasted 97 episodes over five seasons.

The fact is that when NBC was in the ratings dumper, it could keep a low-rated show like "Community." Now that NBC is doing better, it doesn't need the show anymore.

TV is a cruel business.

Once upon a time, fan campaigns could actually save shows. Fans got a third season of "Star Trek" in 1968; fans saved "Cagney & Lacey" in 1983 and it ran an additional five seasons and 97 episodes.

More recent saves ("Friday Night Lights," "Reaper," "Roswell," "Chuck") were more about corporate deals than fan campaigns.

These days, there seems to be a campaign to save every show. It used to be that the 200 people who liked an awful show could only annoy their friends and neighbors. Now those folks can link up online and convince themselves there are a lot more of them than there really are.

It's the social-media echo-chamber effect.

Here's why these efforts aren't going to work for any show in the foreseeable future. The last time fans saved a series, it was an unmitigated disaster.

When CBS canceled "Jericho" in 2007, a group of fans went nuts. Really. In honor of one character replying "Nuts!" to invaders (an echo of the reply U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe gave the Germans demanding his army's surrender during World War II), they mailed thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler.

She relented, uncanceled the show and ordered seven new episodes. Tassler also warned "Jericho" fans they'd better get a lot more people to tune in.

They didn't. The ratings for Season 1 of "Jericho" were awful. But the highest-rated Season 2 episode did worse than the lowest-rated Season 1 episode.

It was a "Jericho" echo chamber. And programming executives are not going to get caught in something like that again no matter how loud the people inside it think they are.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.