Sunday, June 10

Creating Fandom: The Jericho Universe

This piece would have been better served as seven posts, but since my blog is more about business communication than fandom, I felt it would best serve me to fast-track some solutions for Jericho fans and CBS with seven points and hopefully turn the largest show cancellation protest into the beginnings of a long-running series with more mileage than anyone imagined, fans included.

To do it, the primary ingredients are what we do at my firm for dozens of companies and organizations every week: words (message), concepts (imagination), and strategies (business sense). Hold on and enjoy…

Solution One: Organize. The time to operate like a mass protest is over. The time to establish an association for fans is at hand (non-for-profit?). Doing so will create a legitimate governoring body, establish elected leadership, produce by-laws, designate points of contact, and raise funds (a modest membership fee with donation options and major sponsor support) for a variety of projects. Whether the organization operates as a single body or more like a representative organization with various splinter groups is up to the fans. But at the end of the day, someone has to be seen as the lead. The most obvious choice seems to be the Jericho Lives/Jericho Rally Point co-op. It should not be hard. I happen to know that Jericho fans have members with the right skill sets to do it (just don’t overcomplicate the process).

Solution Two: Focus. There are countless side debates on the table, ranging from whether Nielsen Media Research is the best measure for media today (not on its own) to how much support does the fan base want to give to CBS. Sure, for many, it’s difficult to distinguish whether CBS should be praised for bringing the show back so quickly (the fastest cancellation reversal in history) or ridiculed for failing to establish a sense of trust and credibility. There are also a number of rumors being floated (mostly by those who feel slighted because Jericho fans did what others said could not be done) that continue to cause a fuss, including one that wonders if the fans are being set up. I cannot say it more simply: while I find this all fascinating from a corporate communication perspective, it does not matter for fans who want to revive the show. Focus on the goal of building a bigger, trackable fan base.

Solution Three: Consolidate. There is no way you can expect everyone to keep pace with hundreds of fan sites and bases of operation. There needs to be some communication consolidation. While I know Brian Kalinka is doing a fine job looking for links at the Jericho Rally Point, the Jericho Times being put out by the Jericho Armory has already demonstrated real potential as a weekly e-mailed roundup. Along with the interactive newsletter, there are dozens of other communication topics being discussed on the CBS message boards. Net, net, I suggest you conduct business off of the CBS site because potential fans are being buried by the weight of business talk. You have to appreciate that some people might just want to watch and discuss the show. It was a brilliant move to make CBS the front lines of the protest, but I’m unconvinced that fandom business discussions, other than updates, really belong there. Sorry, but the topics are too niche for the general audience.

Solution Four: Add Value. Being co-called “partners” with CBS is a misnomer. There is no question that the fan base, at the moment, is supporting a CBS show (or “half” show, considering CBS only bought seven episodes), but Jericho fans really need to distinguish themselves as an independent group. As such, it is your primary goal is to add value to the organization and not necessarily CBS. If fans can add value to the organization beyond the show and actually engage consumers, you have a much more marketable product for prospects, who will inevitability watch and support the show anyway. Add value and members and you’ll also get your own sponsors (there’s a nut company that might even have interest in this). CBS might even jump in too, but stress your autonomy if it does.

Solution Five: Re-Brand. This tip goes out to CBS as much as Jericho fans. Branding this show as a post-apocalyptic drama was a mistake in season one and would be a travesty in season two. I already wrote a five-second solution that would help the show (a record number of people read it and agreed). While that was a fine but fast solution, the bigger picture beyond the town proves that the post-apocalyptic description is grossly inaccurate. For those who don’t know the context, Jericho is a town set in an alternative universe where some members of our government were able to stage a faux nuclear terrorist attack in order to seize power. While somewhat successful, they have thrust the country into a civil war. Specific to the series, as I said before, Jericho is a story of survival in a small Kansas town that has been mostly cut off from the rest of the United States as these events unfold.

Solution Six: Become Un-Lost. There was certainly an appeal to mimic Lost in season one by not allowing fans to know much more than the characters. That plot ploy has now come and gone. For this show to survive a short season two and live on for season three, four, five, six, etc., it’s time to offer up full disclosure online (if not offline). Lost may have captured fan fancy in being a serial mystery, but it is a mistake to market Jericho the same way. Jericho is an alternate reality, pure and simple. For fans to embrace the concept, they need to know more about the world outside Jericho even if the characters do not. There are, by some accounts, as many as six cities claiming to represent the United States (or perhaps not). If the writers accomplish nothing else this summer beyond some online programs, they might produce a Jericho Gazette that places a face on each region, identifies uncontrolled areas like Jericho, pinpoints any warlord-type strongholds, and provides a picture of the geo-political landscape, one that the fans can understand and use for fan-generated fictional content.

Solution Seven: Open Universe. As an alternate universe with an impressive fan base, CBS would be smart to relinquish some creative rights much like George Lucas, Gene Rodenberry, and even J.R.R. Tolkien in allowing the Jericho universe to unfold in new and amazing ways. (Hey Jon, Stephan, and Carol … want to join those guys?) The possibilities of this storyline go far beyond Jericho. So it only makes sense to let others, perhaps fans, flush out the experience. There are endless consequences, considerations, and storylines that would result from the sudden splintering of a world power well beyond China and Germany conducting air drops around the United States. There is little doubt that some countries might be more inclined to seize the opportunity to further their own gains. And, there is endless speculation on how Canada and Mexico might handle American refugees spilling across the border (a twist if there ever was one). Ergo, much like Star Trek and Star Wars, the series Jericho is one great storyline in an epic adventure with potential fan bases growing up around each splinter, all of which will tune into the show that started it all.

Those are my seven tips for saving Jericho for the long haul, which pre-assumes that the two drivers currently driving the bus will listen to reason. For the fans, it pre-assumes you can get past the “nut war” and move forward without fractioning, be more courteous in discussing which characters are most expendable (after the actors were so good to give you shout outs), and take care NOT to employ a flag that characters of Jericho would be appalled to see as a fan logo. For CBS et al, it pre-assumes you can get past being short-sighted to realize you actually have an asset with tremendous potential, capitalize on unlimited non-television spin-offs (books, film shorts, games, etc.) that touch on relevant issues today, and give the fans an immersive world that they can play with so you can focus on the show.

If anyone is looking for inspiration beyond the obvious television and film epics, I might suggest taking a hard, long look at two: World War Z by Max Brooks, which might have employed zombies but captures how catastrophic events can change the world; and DMZ Vol. 1 by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, a graphic novel that plays with a near-future America torn by civil war. Neither represents a pure Jericho crossover, but they both go a long way in presenting how to shape up an expanded universe.

Well, those are my notes, but since I’m already at risk of writing a business plan for free, I think I’ll end here. Take the ideas or leave them, but the bottom line is that it is time to go out and try to do the right thing. Well, go do it already!



Sweet Tea on 6/10/07, 11:44 AM said...

I do so admire your writing ability & business acumen. You are so kind to help all of us who love Jericho! Thank you for your support.

PlatPat on 6/10/07, 12:07 PM said...

You are so gracious to offer us your valuable advice free! We would be fools to not heed it.

Jericho Rangers need to remember that United we Stand! it is the only way it will work.

Thank you again. Stayed tuned . . .

Unknown on 6/10/07, 12:12 PM said...

Once again, an exceptional article. Thank you Rich for taking the time write about Jericho, and to offer great ideas on how to make the show flourish.

kystorms on 6/10/07, 12:19 PM said...

thank you for so clearly outlining what we need to do, I will be pitching some of these points on the forums......

Unknown on 6/10/07, 1:19 PM said...

Would be honored to have you on my radio show tonight at 7pm PT to talk Jericho the movement and beyond..

Please let me know...

Rich on 6/10/07, 1:53 PM said...

Hey everyone! Thanks so much for your kind comments. Really, it's up to the fans to decide what to do ... so please remember its just direction. You all get to make the decisions. :)

Shaun, you have a great show and, in case you don't know, I'm a fan of BlogTalkRadio. So I just sent you an e-mail to say that I'll plan to be there tonight.

All my best, Rich

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Rich! Thanks for the great advice, once again! Love reading your blog so much that I just sent you some fan email!!! You rock! Lisa/KS

Rich on 6/10/07, 5:23 PM said...

Hey Lisa! Thanks! Hope you make to the shhooowww tonight. Sounds like fun.

For those who don't know, I'm hooking up with Shaun OMac Radio tonight, 7 p.m. PST, to talk about, what else, Jericho. ;)

pberlet on 6/11/07, 10:49 AM said...

Thanks for the article! You've brought up a lot of good points. Hopefully we can continue to work together to make Jericho a show with staying power.

Thank you again.


Rich on 6/11/07, 12:28 PM said...

Thanks Pat. As the fans keep doing interesting things, I'll be looking for more stories. Count on it, especially weekend posts. Of course, you never know when a seemingly non-related post might be useable too. We're all about communication and Jericho fans have a lot of that going on.

In fact, there are several interesting stories that are developing. But I can't say what they are ... shhhh. :)



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