And, well, we all know what happened. Neither Zax would budge in the prairie of Prax, not an inch to the east, not an inch to the west. But the world did not stand still. It grew up around them.
Has the Jericho story turned into a deadlock, with CBS and Jericho fans embraced in an unblinking standoff? Some people might suggest this is the case, but I really don't think so. Not in the least.
If there is any deadlock to be found, it's between the measure of new media and old media, which has put a wrinkle in the compensation model for content creators. Jericho fans just happen to be a large and growing group of people who say the world is more than ready to grow up around this deadlock and remove the TV ratings system.
I won't go so far to say that Nielsen Media Research isn't needed. It is. But what I will point out is that we already know most networks have wanted to expand beyond Nielsen ratings for some time.
Just yesterday in an Associated Press story, Fox executives cautioned against counting American Idol out simply because Nielsen reported that the 30.7 million people who watched Jordin Sparks win last week was a "sharp drop" from the 36.4 million people who watched Taylor Hicks win last year.
Fox said that for the season as a whole, American Idol ratings are about the same when DVR viewing is taken into account. Bravo! That's the same assessment made by Jeff Jensen with Entertainment Weekly, who asked viewers "Are You Killing TV?" His story points out that the way people are watching TV is changing, which is skewing the somewhat flawed and thinly sliced rating system even more.
"Consumers value the ability to manage their time more than ever," said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of NetFlix to Entertainment Weekly. DVDs and DVRs allow fans to "enjoy a show at their own pace."
Kudos to Jensen for pointing out the obvious. No kudos for Chuck Barney of the Contra Costa Times. He knows the numbers are flawed but went right on ahead with a piece that screams "IT WAS NOT a good year to be a television programmer. New hits were hard to come by and several old favorites lost some of their power to enthrall."
Using Nielsen ratings exclusively, he said "serials have no snap, crackle, and pop ... sitcoms are poison." I'll give him a couple of points on asking producers to practice some gun control before killing off major characters weekly. But, overall, his story only reinforces a myth that TV is in trouble. Not trouble; transition.
Sure, the networks are not doing everything right by flooding the next line-up with six new "nerd" shows, countless reality TV spins, and repackaged crime dramas. But they are hardly doing everything wrong when you look beyond Nielsen numbers.
Mark Harris, also writing for Entertainment Weekly this week, comes close to making a similiar case when he suggests that numbers alone don't make quality movies. Paraphrased: If you care about your customers — the 2 or 5 or 10 million who are passionate about Friday Night Lights or Rescue Me or The Office (he lists more) — they will stay with your show as long as it's good. Their enthusiasms and high standards and judgments may even help, indirectly, to make what you have better.
But what about the money? Please! If you think for a minute that a show like Jericho cannot make money with 8-10 million fans, DVD sales, and future syndication (alone), then you're out of sync with the industry. Jericho has already paid off with a pretty good profit margin. The only real hold up is that networks haven't settled on a "measure" for making decisions in the world of new media.
Yet, finding this magical "measure" isn't even the real challenge (that's easy). The real challenge is making it through the transition.
Sure, I know there's a lot of talk about advertisers, but that's just nonsense. I've written more than once on how advertisers are aleady diverting dollars away from mainstream advertising budgets and toward digital media, social media, and the Internet with increasing fervor. They want some changes made too.
That said, it seems to me that CBS Entertainment, Jericho fans, cast, crew, and every other stakeholder all seem to be on the same side. There doesn't need to be a compromise because all sides want the same thing: a hit show in Jericho and more freedom for TV. And, in the process of saving Jericho, these fans might even find a way to save a few other shows as well.
With Jericho, there exists an opportunity to move beyond old media measures. For me, it's an easy choice but not mine to make. It's all up to CBS. And if they pass on it, while waiting for old media Zax and new media Zax to budge, then the world may grow up around them too.