How can fans of a struggling sci-fi show save it from cancelation? It's a question I get a lot, partly because Syfy has from time to time saved shows from cancelation, and partly because like every TV network we cancel our fair share of shows.
The No. 1 method of choice for fans trying to save a show is writing letters/e-mails to the network that airs the show. This worked back in the '60s to keep the original Star Trek on the air for a while, and according to this article it may have had an impact on a few shows since then.
It's not your best bet though, because today EVERY canceled show has a write-in campaign, often accompanied by some clever item…Jericho fans sent peanuts, Lexx fans sent dragonflies, etc. It's so pervasive that it's become background noise. People even start write-in campaigns if we change a show's timeslot, or if an actor leaves a show. Right now there are containers of Fluff in the kitchen of our sibling network USA because fans are protesting the fact that Vincent D'Onofrio is leaving Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I took a picture of the Fluff with my iPhone so you can see. To save a show you need real impact, and you can't get that by doing the same thing everyone else is doing.
Also, by sending us e-mails about our shows, you're preaching to the converted. We WANT to keep the show, we're just not able to because there aren't enough viewers. In TV ratings drive the business, and viewers drive ratings. So what we really need are more viewers.
But we know that every show that gets canceled already has hundreds of thousands or millions of viewers each week, so having a thousand of them send us notes means that…well, a thousand members of the existing audience that's not yet big enough to support the show have taken the time to send us nice notes. We appreciate the notes, but they don't make a series any more viable.
So the biggest way you can have a real, meaningful impact – the way that will work every time if you can pull it off — is to find a way to get NEW viewers to try the show. And a LOT of new viewers. If a show isn't successful with 900,000 viewers, it's not going to start working with 950,000 viewers. It's going to take a few hundred thousand new viewers to make an impact.
The way to do that is to go big. Instead of talking to us, talk to the critics and TV bloggers out there who have the most readers and try to get THEM to talk about the show. Do something so unique that your "save the show" campaign gets covered on the homepage of CNN. Find a way to get Jon Stewart to joke about your campaign on his show. Use tools out there like Twitter and Facebook that let you reach people on a mass scale. If you're sending letters to the network, send them to your friends too. And send them to your friends' friends. You need scale, and you need it quickly because…
By the time a show is officially announced as canceled, the actors and crew are most likely free to find other work and some probably already have. The rest will follow soon, and it's going to be next to impossible to get them back. And once the show's sets have been struck it's going to be a HUGE financial hurdle to start the show up again. On a realistic level, anything you do to try and save the show has to be done before that.
The last piece of advice I can give you is, don't wait till you hear a show is obviously in trouble, or about to be canceled, to start trying to help it. "Save our show" campaigns rarely work in reality, so ideally you don't want to let it get to that point. You want to get in early with "pre-save" campaigns, because once a show is perceived as needing to be saved, viewers become a lot more reluctant to tune in. The best "save the show" campaign I've seen is the one you don't have to use.