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7 Television Shows Saved by Their Fans

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Never doubt the power of a devoted audience: Time and again, adoring fan bases have brought television shows back from the brink of cancellation—or actual cancellation. Shows like Family Guy and Futurama were resuscitated long after cancellation by the indirect fan actions of DVD purchases and the ratings of reruns on other networks, but sometimes fans take a much more direct role in rescuing their favorite programs. Here are some of the most fantastic examples of shows saved by their passionate audiences.

1. Chuck


If you ever want to head a campaign to save your favorite show, the one that kept Chuck on the air should be the first place you look for inspiration. The campaign—which was launched after the show received low ratings in its second season—involved a strong three-prong strategy that hit the minds, hearts, and pocket books of network executives.

Petitions and letter-writing campaigns were just the first part of the successful plan. Fans also started a “Have a Heart, Renew Chuck” program, which asked fans to donate money to the American Heart Association on behalf of NBC. By the time the effort ended, over $17,000 was donated to the charity.

Lastly, fans reached out to Subway, one of the show’s biggest sponsors, to help show that their financial support of the show was worth it. Fans organized to head to Subway to buy a footlong sub on the day of the second season finale and to drop comment cards at the restaurant saying they visited to support Chuck. This movement became so big that even the star of the show, Zachary Levi, participated by leading nearly a thousand fans to a Subway in England.

If there is one thing network executives love more than viewers, it’s money, so when Subway announced that it would become an even bigger sponsor of the show, it was pretty hard for the powers-that-be to deny the show a third season. Eventually, the show lasted a total of five seasons and won two Emmy awards and three TV Guide Awards.

2. Star Trek


Photo courtesy of Geek Rest.

After the second season of Star Trek aired in 1967, rumors began to circulate that the show was going to be canceled. Trekkers/Trekkies jumped into action, creating arguably the most successful letter-writing campaign in television history. Young fans even held protests at their schools. The largest was at Caltech, where 200 students marched from campus to NBC’s studio in Burbank carrying signs with such great slogans as “Vulcan Power” and “Draft Spock.”

NBC denied the cancellation rumors. In fact, after the March 1st episode, the network aired the following message: "And now an announcement of interest to all viewers of Star Trek. We are pleased to tell you that Star Trek will continue to be seen on NBC Television. We know you will be looking forward to seeing the weekly adventure in space on Star Trek."

One season later, Star Trek was actually canceled. But the show thrived in syndication, even occasionally attracting more viewers on rerun nights than on the days the original episodes had aired. As the show continued to gain fans, eventually it inspired an animated series, many movies and spin-off television shows, and developed one of the most dedicated fan bases in geekdom.

3. Jericho


Photo courtesy of TV Worth Watching

If you’ve ever wondered how residents of a small town would survive after a nuclear war, then you should definitely check out Jericho. When you get to season two, thank the fans who kept the show on after one of the silliest campaigns to save a program.

When Jericho was canceled after its first season, the show's fans—inspired by the main character shouting “nuts” during an epic battle in the season finale—sent over 20 tons of nuts to CBS studio executives, who then decided to review the show’s ratings. Network researchers looked at the numbers and announced that the show actually had quite a few more viewers than Nielsen reported because the show received so much online streaming and was viewed so often on DVRs.

As a result, Jericho was renewed for one more season, but when ratings still declined, it was canceled for good—even after a second “nuts” campaign. The show’s storyline was continued in a six-part comic book series though, which allowed creators to wrap up the plotlines. In fact, some fans call the comics the “third season” of the show.

4. Friday Night Lights


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If networks actually find use for the things fans send in to help support their shows, then NBC must have really appreciated the campaign to save Friday Night Lights. That’s because fans hoping to save the show after its second season took the program’s name literally and sent the studio light bulbs—something everyone can find a use for (assuming they didn’t break in transit). Fans also sent in eye drops as a reference to the show’s motto "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose," although executives presumably found those less useful.

Fans also created positive PR for their cause with their “Save FNL Campaign,” which raised money to send troops stationed overseas 20,000 footballs and Friday Night Lights DVDs. Despite the show’s low ratings, the efforts proved to be enough to get NBC and DirecTV to work together on a cost-sharing partnership that kept the show on the air for a total of five seasons.

5. Arrested Development


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Arrested Development fans mourned the show when it was canceled in 2006. But its untimely end almost came much sooner. Fox almost canceled the series after its second season, which was cut from 22 episodes to only 18 due to low ratings. Fortunately, fans took to sending letters to the network and even sent executives crates of bananas, a tribute to the Bluth family business. Realizing there had to be some money in this banana stand, the network agreed to renew the show for one short season.

Later this year, Arrested Development will get a new season that will air on Netflix; there might even be a movie coming after that.

6. Firefly


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It’s almost like Fox hated Firefly from the start—the network barely promoted it, changed the time slot constantly, and aired the very linear story out of order. It’s no wonder the show never managed to get enough followers to stay on the air. Ultimately, Fox canceled it without even showing all 13 episodes.

Even though diehard “Browncoats” couldn't save the show from cancellation, they kept writing Fox demanding the network release the show on DVD as soon as possible. When the DVD was finally released, they surprised everyone by buying so many copies that stores had a hard time keeping it in stock.

As a result of those massive sales, Universal Pictures offered Firefly creator Joss Whedon the chance to wrap up the storyline with a movie, Serenity (the name of the ship in the show). While Serenity didn’t do well in the theaters, it again scored high in DVD sales. In fact, it was Amazon’s best selling DVD the year it was released. Rumors of a Serenity sequel still buzz around the net here and there, but 10 years after the show originally aired on TV, it seems unlikely that Serenity will ever fly again.

7. Roswell


Photo courtesy of Early Nerd Special.

After the end of its first season, the fate of this show about teenage aliens disguised as high school students—which debuted favorably but was plagued by low ratings—was up in the air ... at least until fans launched an unusual campaign to save it. They sent the powers that be at the WB bottles of Tabasco sauce—a favorite condiment of the alien characters on the show. Thanks to the fans' spicy support, Roswell was renewed for a second season on the WB, and made the jump to UPN for its third season, after which it was ultimately canceled.

I’m a big fan of many of these shows, but I’ve never actually participated in an effort to bring back a show from the brink of cancellation. If any of you have tried to save your favorite programs this way, please tell us about it. What did you do to help your favorite show? And were your efforts ultimately rewarded?

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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