Today we have a story of a group of little guys beating the big guy, an example of an entrepreneur seizing an opportunity, and a marketing lesson all tied up in the same tale.
The backstory begins obliquely in December of 1944. General Maxwell Taylor was absent from the 101st Airborne Division at the time the German Army laid siege to Bastogne. General Taylor’s diplomatic and language skills were required in a secret mission to Rome to coordinate maneuvers with Italian forces.
McAuliffe sent back his famous one word reply: “NUTS!” A Colonel Harper, who delivered the typed response to the German delegation had to explain the meaning of the word to the Germans. McAuliffe’s forces were able to hold off the siege until the 4th Armored Division arrived to provide reinforcement.
Network television offers programming to attract viewers, then offers access to the viewers to advertisers for cash, which pays the production costs of the programming (and with the right combination of skill and luck, a profit for the shareholders).
When the network execs determine that a program isn’t garnering the audience they expected, it may be moved to a different day or time. When they determine that they can’t make a profit on the show, they cancel it.
And that’s it.
Or is it.
When CBS cancelled Cagney and Lacey in 1983, producer Barney Rosenzweig encouraged fans of the show to start a letter-writing campaign. CBS brought it back, and the show went on to win 14 Emmy’s. Designing Women did respectably well on Monday nights when it launched in 1986. CBS moved the show several times, finally to Sunday night, where it was dismally received. A viewer campaign saved it from cancellation. CBS returned it to Monday night, where it consistently stayed in the top 20. Touched by an Angel was cancelled during its first season in 1994. Fans staged a letter-writing campaign. CBS brought it back. The show ran for eight more seasons.
And this year, Jericho became the most recent CBS cancellation, followed by a grassroots campaign to save the series. In its final episode before being cancelled, the enemy offered to let one of the main characters surrender. Quoting General Taylor’s reply to the German army, the character said “Nuts!”
But this time, it wasn’t a letter-writing campaign that was organized to bring the show back.
This time an on-line petition gathered together the “signatures” of thousands of fans. CBS wasn’t impressed. Then, one of the fans contacted Nuts Online, and asked them to send a pound of peanuts to CBS programming executives, accompanied by a card with General Taylor’s famous quote. (We can speculate that it was also the fan’s assessment of the quality of thought exhibited by the CBS programming execs).
Word spread. Jeffrey Braverman, owner of Nuts Online offered to take small orders ($5) and package them into larger shipments to be delivered to CBS in New York and Los Angeles.