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'Jericho': Who -- or what -- is to blame?

March 25, 2008 | 10:25 am

Now that we officially know that tonight's second-season finale of "Jericho" will also be the series finale, it's tempting to try to find someone or something to blame for what went wrong.

How did such a hyped achievement -- CBS' decision to "un-cancel" the series due to overwhelming fan response -- result in a return that faded away so unspectacularly?

Let's look at the prime suspects:

The strike
Conventional wisdom reckoned that the WGA strike and the resulting dearth of scripted shows during the winter would help "Jericho" stand out among weakened competition. But the winter's reality-heavy environment might have made it even more difficult for "Jericho" to connect with audiences. Viewers were tuning out in droves and CBS took one of the biggest ratings hits among all networks, leaving a limited audience to promote the "Jericho" return to. Even freshly written episodes of "Late Show With David Letterman" struggled due to the overall decline in CBS viewership.

The time slot
CBS moved the series out of the family-friendly 8 p.m. hour to 10 p.m. and there's the possibility that many of the original viewers were unwilling to follow. In defense of CBS, part of the plan was to give "Jericho" an established lead-in. Unfortunately (due in no small part to the strike) that established lead-in was the sleaze-tastic reality show "Big Brother 9," which had never before aired outside of the low-expectations summer season. The audiences were, to put it kindly, completely incompatible and for a few weeks "Jericho" wound up with slightly better numbers than "Big Brother" anyway.

The network
Everyone's favorite scapegoat. Clearly everything that went wrong with "Jericho" was entirely CBS' fault! Never mind that they took a big, and welcome, risk by bringing the show back in the first place. Let's face it, a serial drama was always going to have a rough go of things on the network's current schedule. "Jericho" didn't repeat its plotlines every week, or solve a problem within the hour, and that seems to be the only way to find success as a scripted drama on CBS right now. Hopefully the experience doesn't discourage the network from taking similar chances in the future, but stepping back and looking at the whole picture I'd say that both the network and the producers tried their best to make an unlikely marriage work. Some couples just aren't meant to be ...

Alternative means of viewing
Some people will point to how popular "Jericho" is with TiVo users, or how high it ranks among iTunes downloads, or how well the Season 1 DVDs sold on Amazon.com. That's all great as an after-market for a show that draws an audience to its ad-supported broadcast airings. CBS isn't HBO. The amount of people who watch on live TV (and the age and income level of those people) really does matter. And if you downloaded "Jericho" through BitTorrent, it's really not a good idea to go crying to CBS about how much you'll miss the show.

The fans
A controversial argument to be sure. But if only the "Jericho" fans had shown a little bit of passion ... oh forget it, no one's gonna buy this one.

The ratings
Last season, "Jericho" averaged 9.5 million viewers and a 2.8 in the 18-49 demo. This season, the show averaged 6.8 million viewers and a 1.9 in the 18-49 demo. The defense may raise mitigating factors, like the shady way Nielsen measures the audience or everything else mentioned above, but the bottom line is that those numbers are barely acceptable on NBC. On CBS, they'll get you a death sentence. Case closed.

-- Geoff Berkshire

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