TV Fans Speak — and Are Heard

Online viewer petitions for television shows aren’t particularly new or trendy, and most of the time they don’t alter TV executives’ decisions to launch or cancel a program.

Occasionally viewer outcry can force a temporary reprieve for a show with a small, vocal cult following. In 2006, for example, fans of CBS’s post-apocalyptic themed drama series Jericho won the series an additional seven episodes after mailing 20 tons of peanuts — a nod to a famous line in the series’ first season finale — to CBS executives.

Viewer protests also temporarily kept afl oat such shows as Star Trek and Friday Night Lights.

But sometimes consumers can aid in cancelling a show that they perceive as being offensive to a group. That’s what happened last week to Oxygen’s proposed series All My Babies’ Mamas.

A December preview video of the series, which spotlighted rapper Shawty Lo and his 11 children by 10 different women, drew protests due to its reinforcement of negative portrayals of African-American women. Petitions from websites and protesting the show drew a reported 80,000 people apparently got Oxygen’s attention.

Oxygen released a statement last week saying that “as part of our development process, we have reviewed casting and decided not to move forward with [the show]. We will continue to develop compelling content that resonates with our young female viewers and drives the cultural conversation.”

Another new series, National Geographic Channel’s Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout? is also the subject of a petition created by a gay Eagle Scout, Will Oliver. He asked that the network place a disclaimer denouncing the Boy Scouts’ refusal to allow gay Scouts. It has already drawn nearly 3,000 signatures, but Nat Geo plans no changes to the series.

“We do not discriminate in any capacity,” Nat Geo said in a statement. “As it relates to our upcoming show with the Boy Scouts, we certainly appreciate all points of view on the topic, but when people see our show they will realize it has nothing to do with this debate, and is in fact a competition series between individual scouts and civilians.”

Given the influence of social media, programmers can expect to see more petitions like this — and should be ready to respond appropriately.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.