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Jericho

“People would paint this as teenagers in tinfoil hats.  That’s not what this is.  These are educated professionals.”
–Clarke Ingrahm, one of the founders of the movement to save Jericho

Some people on the edges of society become “Survival Nuts”; the type that believe Armageddon is just around the corner.  They have their shelters already outfitted with weaponry and non-perishable food to last through what they perceive is coming, their own idea of “the end of the world”.  Now, while most TV shows have nothing to do with this, at least one well-remembered short-lived series didn’t just portray “the end of the world,” but showed dramatically what actually might happen afterwards.

In the 2006 CBS series Jericho, the residents of a small town in Kansas have to face the unthinkable:  a nuclear detonation has occurred in Denver, and although the explosion is far enough away to preserve the town, their existence is now changed forever.  Slowly, they learn that many other locations in the United States have been devastated as well, and now they must discover how to survive in a place where supplies are limited, and where order has turned into chaos.  They and their fellow residents are suddenly showing, in their reactions to the crisis, whether they are going help each other, or decide it’s now “every man for himself”.

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) has previously been someone who believes in the “every man for himself” principle.  He left the small town of Jericho, Kansas a few years before, leaving his family behind (as well as his troublesome youth).  On the fateful day of the explosion (or is it an attack?), he’s visiting for the first time in ages, but all he seems to want is an advance on his family inheritance and as little “connection” with them as possible.  Of course, the radical events in the country around him suddenly change all that, and now he’s back in Jericho with no other place to go.

Eric and Johnston

He decides, reluctantly, to help rebuild both his family and his town, thanks to his stalwart mom Gail (Pamela Reed) and his stoic father Johnston (Gerald McRainey).  Johnston is the current mayor of Jericho, and recruits his prodigal son into helping organize the town, attempting to provide for their well-being in the aftermath.  Jake is reunited with his brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), and also with an old flame, the newly married Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott).  Emily’s new husband is missing, and possibly dead in the attacks, so Jake has to confront the possibility of rekindled feelings and reconciliation.  Everything is uncertain, as the world has suddenly changed.

Mimi and Stanley, with Jake

The rest of the town is uncertain as well, particularly about how it will survive.  Johnston has a rival in Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), who has different ideas about how the town should be run in this “new world”, and Gray soon opposes him as leader of the community.  At the time of the attack, a visitor from Washington D.C., Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola), was in town to foreclose upon the land belonging to local farmer Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer) and his deaf sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern).  With foreclosure now meaningless and the goal of survival more important, a relationship ultimately develops between the young farmer and his former adversary, much to the dismay of the sister.

Elementary school teacher Heather Lisinski (Sprague Grayden) is most concerned, initially, with the children of Jericho, and she starts to develop feelings for Jake after he saves one of her charges.  But after she herself is injured, she ends up in a military hospital where she finds out about far more of what is going on in the outside world than most of Jericho is aware of.  One of the older students, Dale Turner (Eric Knudsen), decides that “the ends justify the means”, and becomes a valuable (if ethically shady) member of the community, with the resources to gain many of the items needed by the community (such as medicine and food).  But you may not want to know exactly what he did to acquire them, or who you’d have to thank….

Lastly, there’s new resident Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his family, who says they are from St. Louis.  He seems to be an expert in many technical areas, supposedly from training he received as a police officer there after 9/11.  He becomes a friend to Jake, although his background and motives still seem a mystery, even to his family.  Oh, and there’s a few other things…. he’s got hidden military skills, a link to a satellite dish, and a nuclear bomb, like the ones used to blow up Denver, Washington D.C., and assorted other places in the country…..

“We’re trying very hard to create a landscape that the audience can put themselves into and say, ‘Wow, what would I do?  How would I survive?  How would I react in that situation?’  We realize that we’re asking the audience to take a huge leap with us in that there’s this massive attack.”
–Carol Barbee, Executive Producer of Jericho

The stories of these many residents intersect, as each tries to figure out exactly how life will continue in their new situation, and their first problems (after basic survival) concern what is going on in the world around them.  Contact is made with a nearby larger town, New Bern, and while it is initially peaceful and beneficial for both locales, conflict soon ensues.  At the end of the initial season’s worth of shows, a cliffhanger ending presents both cities on the brink of a pitched battle to defend what is left of their way of life.  After the nuclear blast and surviving the imagined “end of the world”, is this new threat going to signal the true final outcome of the town of Jericho?

Well, yes, according to CBS.  Despite a good start, the series was canceled, likely due to a significant scheduled hiatus in the middle of the season.  Many previous viewers thought the series had ALREADY been given a pink slip, and didn’t find it again the following spring when it returned for the second half of its season.  Ratings dipped, and just like the explosion in Denver, Jericho paid the price despite not being at fault.

“We consistently held 8 or 9 million viewers, even going up against [Fox’s American Idol], so everyone was really surprised and shocked that we were canceled.  You have to move on and let go, but you see all this fan support and you keep that tiny bit of hope in your heart.”
–actor Brad Beyer

“Nuts!”
–Jake, responding to New Bern’s demand of surrender

In that final cliffhanger ending episode, Jake is confronted by the leader of the invading town.  Echoing the response of General Anthony McAluffe at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, Jake’s response to the question of surrender was the same as General McAluffe’s:  “Nuts!”  Both were faced with insurmountable odds, and yet believed in their cause so completely that they were willing to make a stand… and succeed.

The resolve of Jericho fans was also hardened upon news of the cancellation, and a campaign was soon mounted to hopefully change the minds of executives at CBS. In this case, as a way to gain the studio’s notice, fans decided to send in something other than letters and e-mails to make their point.  Just as Jake had referred to General McAluffe, they wanted something identifiable as part of the defense of Jericho.  They literally sent in “nuts”.

Packets of peanuts, cans and jars, and boxes and bags of assorted kinds, all containing nuts, were received by CBS over the next few weeks and months.  They were inundated by the stuff, so much that individuals were hired just to help the overloaded staff with them.  In all, it is said that 20 TONS of various types of nuts were sent in support of Jericho‘s renewal.  On one day alone (May 29 of that year), over 10,000 pounds of nuts were received at the CBS New York offices!

While campaigns to save cancelled shows have been tried in the past, most have not been successful.  Television is still a business in the end, and many times a show that had ended simply has too many hurdles to leap in order to return in the first place.  Sets have been dismantled, cast and crew members have scattered to new projects, and a show already has the stigma of “failure” in the television world to fight.  For business reasons alone, it’s harder to effectively “re-mount” a production than it is to start something else fresh.  But this show had the unique combination of fervent audience base, heroes who believed in the show at the network, a large percentage of nearby location shooting (which meant, in this case, that important exterior sets still existed), and a staff, both on-screen and behind the camera, who wanted to continue telling the unique stories only possible on Jericho.

Thanks to quick work on the part of the fans, the network, the production company, and all the rest involved, Jericho did not face yet another ending, but was renewed for seven episodes as a mid-season replacement.  But the renewal didn’t come without a warning to those who were ready to celebrate their success.

“You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard.  In success, there is the potential for more.  But, for there to be more Jericho, we will need more viewers.  A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show.  But that community needs to grow.  It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.  We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity, and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.”
–Nina Tassler,  CBS Entertainment President, announcing the renewal of Jericho

Oh, yeah, and they also asked people to please stop sending nuts.  Fans being fans, they didn’t, but in gratitude, sent care packages of MORE nuts to various food banks and charities instead.  CBS followed suit, and donated what they had received to other organizations, including one which sends various care packages overseas to military men and women stationed far from home.  In a definite win-win situation, fans benefited, charities benefited, CBS got some well-needed good publicity for listening to the fans, and everyone was eager for what was to come.

A seven-episode second season debuted that next February, resolving the cliffhanger ending and, although the critical reviews were generally positive, Jericho still didn’t find enough of an audience for it to survive.  A comic book version followed (commonly referred to as “Season 3”), and rumors of a revival or sequel movie on cable persist, but the televised story of what happens after “the end of the world” finished after two hard-fought seasons for survival.  And 20 TONS of nuts.

SKEET ULRICH (Jake Green) was a regular in Miracles before he landed in Jericho, and was also the star of Law and Order:  LA before the show was rebooted and his character was eliminated.  His stage name “Skeet” comes from his first nickname as a little-league baseball player, when he was known as “Skeeter”.

PAMELA REED (Gail Green) starred in the HBO spoof on elections called Tanner ’88, and in the short-lived comedies Grand and The Home Court.  She has a recurring part on Parks and Recreation as the lead character’s mother, and her best known movie role was as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s partner in Kindergarten Cop.

GERALD McRAINEY (Johnston Green) has been a lead in two very successful series, Simon & Simon and Major Dad.  He’s also had featured roles in Women’s Murder Club, Promised Land, Deadwood, Undercovers, and currently on Fairly Legal.  He also appeared multiple times on Designing Women, playing the ex-husband of Delta Burke’s character, and the two hit it off so well that he later married Burke in real life.

KENNETH MITCHELL (Eric Green) first was seen as a recurring character on Showtime’s quirky series Leap Year, before appearing on many episodes of Odyssey 5.  After Jericho, he had an occasional part on Ghost Whisperer.  Most recently seen in episodes of Castle and The Mentalist, he’s an avid horseman, and he also has a degree in architecture.

ASHLEY SCOTT (Emily Sullivan) is familiar to genre fans, having appeared in Dark Angel and as one of the three leads in the television series adapted from the comic Birds of Prey.  Originally a fashion model before taking up acting, she was featured in both 2005 and 2008 in Maxim Magazine on their annual list of the world’s hottest women.

MICHAEL GASTON (Gray Anderson) is a popular TV actor, and has been a regular in Deadline, Blind Justice, The Mentalist for one season, Terriers, and currently on the CBS hit Unforgettable.  He was also featured in story arcs on The Sopranos and Prison Break.  Prior to his television work, he’s appeared in live theatre both on- and off-Broadway.

ALICIA COPPOLA (Mimi Clark) got a soap opera start on Another World, before moving to prime-time guest spots in shows like Sports Night, Star Trek: Voyager, Crossing Jordan, and CSI.   She portrayed a naval lawyer in multiple episodes of both JAG and NCIS, and was a regular in Cold Feet, Bull, and American Dreams.

BRAD BEYER (Stanley Richmond) originally took an acting class for non-theatre majors in college, before one of his instructors told him he should think about acting as a profession.  He was seen in numerous episodes of Third Watch, and is a regular on the upcoming January 2012 ABC series entitled G.C.B.

SHOSHANNAH STERN (Bonnie Richmond) had to learn English as a second language, as she was born into a deaf family, and the primary language in their home was American Sign Language.  She’s learned English and lip-reading proficiently, and works as an actress with no special interpreter.  Her recurring role on the short-run series Threat Matrix was specifically written for her, and incorporated many of her unique abilities, and she also had a featured part on the Showtime series Weeds.

SPRAGUE GRAYDEN (Heather Lisinski) was a regular on the FOX series John Doe, and also had significant parts on Six Feet Under, Joan of Arcadia, and Over There.  She was the female lead in the recent Paranormal Activity horror franchise, and also had appearances on Sons of Anarchy and 24.

ERIK KNUDSEN (Dale Turner) has appeared in primarily Canadian productions, although audiences in American may have caught him in episodes of Flashpoint or the movies Saw II and horror/parody movie Scream 4.  Genre fans would find him as part of the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (and yes, I’m biased, but this is a fantastic film… go see it!!!!)

LENNIE JAMES (Robert Hawkins) is actually British, although you’d never know it from his speech patterns on Jericho.  Much of his work has been in Britain, including appearances on many BBC dramas and radio plays.  In America, he was featured in the AMC remake of The Prisoner, and also on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  He is also an award-winning playwright, with his works having been featured on the BBC as televised stage productions.

Even after Jericho “ended” the second time, it was still too strong to die.  The CW Network (also owned by CBS) reran the show in place of its quickly canceled series Valentine during the 2008-2009 season, showing the entire 29-episode run.  CBS also tried at one point to work out a deal with the Comcast cable network, similar to the one which kept Friday Night Lights in production with initial airings exclusive to Dish Satellite before their network broadcasts, but that fell through.  Fans can, however, still relive memories of what does exist.

Both seasons one and two of Jericho are available on DVD, with plenty of extras.  The first season is streamable for those with Netflix access, and the entire second season is available with commentary on the CBS.com site.  The “third season” comic has been combined into a trade paperback edition, with a story created by those involved with the series, so it is a genuine continuation of the televised events on the show.  A decent website concerning the thoughts of some involved in the “Nuts” campaign is found here, and there’s a wiki concerning the events, characters, and settings of the show found here.

This was the iconic image of the show, from one of its first scenes.  The idea of a series about what happens after an apocalyptic event like a nuclear bomb explosion was enough to gain the interest of many.  A fervent following for the show wanted to see even more, and although the audience was ultimately too small for Jericho to become a hit, they were active, well-organized, and discovered a way, like the citizens of Jericho they watched each week, to try and save something they believed was important.

Those fans weren’t “tinfoil hat” crazy, they just found a battle they believed worth fighting, even when the odds were terribly against them.  In the case of Jericho, “Survival Nuts” meant something far different from someone barricaded in a fallout shelter with a year’s supply of canned goods and weapons.  It meant a way to keep telling stories of people, both heroic and not, and how they faced what many consider “the end of the world”.  Only those fans refused to see an end.  Just like the residents of Jericho.

Vital Stats

29 episodes — all available on DVD — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 20, 2006
Final aired episode:  March 25, 2008
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, it aired originally on Tuesday nights, and although it got bumped a bit on the schedule, the biggest problem was a three-month hiatus during its first season.  Sadly, on television, there is an “end of the world”.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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