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Jericho resurrected

A nutty fan campaign brings CBS’ cult phenomenon back from the dead

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Off an industrial block in the bowels of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley lies the quaint main street of Jericho, the dusty Kansas burg at the center of CBS’ postapocalyptic drama. For weeks, this town was deserted, thanks to the bomb that CBS dropped last May: sudden cancellation. But on July 23, EW was there for an exclusive look as the cast and crew of Jericho — like the citizens of the titular town — reassembled, rebuilt, and…hugged each other, celebrating the headline-grabbing fan campaign that led CBS to bring Jericho back to life. ”I had more butterflies in my stomach than I expected,” says star Skeet Ulrich, who’s covered in dirt as he takes a breather from filming his first scenes back as black sheep-turned-town leader Jake Green. ”And yet it feels like this is how it was supposed to be, in an odd way.” Echoes costar Ashley Scott (Jake’s love interest, Emily), ”It’s nerve-racking. We feel like we have a greater responsibility.”

She’s right: While Jericho premiered to promising ratings last September, it lost 29 percent of its audience after a three-month hiatus and ended its first season with a so-so average of 9.5 million viewers. So Las Vegas radio host and concerned Jericho addict Shaun O’Mac took to the airwaves after the season-ending May 9 cliff-hanger, urging fellow fans to flood CBS with nuts, a nod to a line uttered by Ulrich in the finale. A week later, Jericho was officially canceled, but devoted viewers continued to go nuts, ultimately sending an estimated 20-plus tons of peanuts to the CBS offices. Awed by the response, CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler contacted exec producer Carol Barbee, and in June the network decided that Jericho would return midseason, albeit with a smaller, seven-episode order. Tassler admits to being ”thrilled there is such a level of investment,” but she also warns that the show’s overzealous army of fans needs to broaden its base. ”The ball is in their court now. They have to bring more people to watch to make sure this show will continue.”

Considering the finale ended in a hail of gunshots between Jericho and the neighboring town of New Bern, things are surprisingly calm back on the set. Ulrich, Scott, and costar Lennie James (enigmatic outsider Robert Hawkins) are filming simple dialogue scenes in Jake’s kitchen, and nary an explosion is heard. Esai Morales will soon join them for his season 2 role as an Iraq war vet, but Barbee is mum on what else will transpire, beyond promising that the return episode will be ”huge.” Whatever the sophomore season has to offer, folks at Jericho say their show offers a larger message — one that speaks to the changing TV landscape. Tassler acknowledges that healthy DVR viewership and online participation played a part in the renewal, and James adds that the fans ”won two battles: the battle to bring us back, and the battle to turn that huge tanker that is network TV around to the way that audiences watch television.” Barbee just sees sweet poetic justice. ”The story of Jericho for season 1 [was] Are we going to roll over or stand up and fight?” she says. ”That is exactly what happened to our fans. It’s a perfect coincidence.” — Additional reporting by Lynette Rice

By the Numbers

Number of viewers who watched the Sept. ’06 premiere 11.7 million
Number of viewers who watched the May ’07 finale 7.7 million
Amount of peanuts (in tons) sent to CBS by Jericho fans 20+
Number of episodes greenlit for season 1 22
Number of episodes greenlit for season 2 7
Number of cast members not returning (Gerald McRaney, whose character died) 1