“I was in complete hysterics; completely inconsolable.”
When a favourite TV show is cancelled by a streamer or broadcaster, viewers’ initial reactions can range from annoyance to heartbreak. For fans with a deep connection to a particular series, their response is a kind of grief.
“I went through several stages of death-grief: denial, anger, and depression,” explains one Washington DC-based Sanditon fan (identified here by their initials, MS). “I did not get to the acceptance stage.”
MS formed part of the ‘Sanditon Sisterhood’, a fan-led revival campaign which sprang up after the initial cancellation of ITV’s Jane Austen drama (the show has since been renewed, and filming for Sanditon season two is underway at the time of writing).
A fellow Sisterhood campaigner, identified here as KdK, tells RadioTimes.com they were similarly upset when the period drama was cancelled. “I felt dumped for the second time,” they joke. KdK, who is Dutch, is a self-confessed Anglophile, and loves the English landscape and stately homes. “Period drama brings all that together, with the nostalgia, costumes and romance added to it.”
For Lucifer fan Valentina, the attraction to the fantasy show was deeply personal. She discovered the series when she was going through a difficult time, and it “quickly became a safe place” for her. She was particularly drawn to the character Chloe Decker, a strong, no-nonsense cop and single mother.
Valentina, a 24-year old from Colombia, was “absolutely devastated” when Lucifer was first cancelled by Fox. “I remember reading [series star] Tom Ellis’ tweet first and my heart dropped. I couldn’t help but cry… It just hurt,” she said.
Just like MS and KdK, Valentina mobilised to save her favourite series. But what is it like for fans who fight back against a TV show’s cancellation? What happens when they succeed – and when they don’t?
The cancelled TV shows
Taste in TV viewing is unique and personal. You might prefer your drama buttoned-up in 18th-century attire, or else set in a demonic nightclub run by Satan. And, likewise, there’s no one type of TV show that attracts the type of devotion that inspires revival campaigns.
Manifest is a supernatural drama that follows a group of plane passengers who experience turbulence during one fateful flight, before landing and discovering that they have all been presumed dead for over five years. Alexis, a 20-something fan from the US, says she was “hooked” on Manifest from the pilot episode and “devastated” when Manifest was cancelled earlier this year in June.
“I was in complete hysterics; completely inconsolable,” she tells RadioTimes.com. “I was also angry, blaming NBC for making such a stupid decision.”
The members of fan campaigns can be as different and varied as the shows themselves. Both KdK and MS are in their 50s, but the comparisons end there. They live on different continents and work in different industries (KdK is a designer, while MS is a lawyer working in international development). Their fellow Sanditon Sisters include Hanna, a 30-something from Finland, and Juliet, a UK-based office administrator in her 40s.
Lisa, who founded a campaign group to save Netflix series Anne with an E, told RadioTimes.com her group’s members ranged from teenagers to 30-somethings. But what unites all these fan campaigners is their love for a particular TV show, and their determination to save it.
Lisa was a latecomer to Anne with an E, the Netflix adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved 1908 children’s book, Anne of Green Gables.
“I personally jumped on board after it was cancelled… I watched the show to see what the fuss was about, and understood why people were so upset,” she says. “The show was special and deserved to live out its intended five-season run” (a New York Times Magazine feature previously revealed that season one was the first in a “hoped-for” five-season run).
Lisa, like our other interviewees, couldn’t understand why her favourite series was cancelled (“The reasons given… were completely lacking in any logic.”). But, for fans of cancelled shows Manifest, Sanditon, Lucifer, and Anne with an E, their chosen TV show was “special” enough to warrant mobilising – usually on social media, at least initially – and begin campaigning with like-minded fans from across the globe.
How does a fan campaign work?
“It started on Twitter…”
If you’re planning on starting a fan campaign to save a TV show, it helps if you have a Twitter account and a memorable hashtag. Juliet, one of the members of the Sanditon Sisterhood, confesses she was “a little late to the campaign”, simply because she’d only just set up a Twitter account.
“Although I had avidly watched the UK airing, feeling as passionate as those who were commenting on social media, I didn’t join Twitter until December 2019, shortly before the series was cancelled,” she says. “When you are on social media, especially fandoms, you do start talking to fellow fans because you have a mutual interest, and this is how I got to know some of those who eventually came together as the Strategy Group.”
The Sanditon Sisterhood certainly strategised. The group campaigned across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They organised online re-watches with cast and crew members; a petition that amassed 90,000 signatures; and even fundraised and commissioned a gigantic Sanditon sand portrait on Brean Beach, a key filming location for season one.
Celebrity shout-outs provide a much-needed boost for dedicated fans. The campaign organised by Anne with an E’s fans (collectively known as ‘Anne Nation‘) attracted the attention of A-List celebrities, notably Deadpool’s Ryan Reynolds, who tweeted Netflix with a request for them to renew the series. “Those [celebrity] moments were amazing,” says Canada-based fan Lisa.
You guys might want to renew Anne with an E.— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) January 3, 2020
Unless “final season” is just a fun way of saying “halfway point”.
The hashtags #saveAnneWithanE , #lettersforanne, and #renewAnneWithanE all made (and continue to make) the rounds on social media. A petition urging Netflix to renew Anne with an E for season four has amassed over 1.5 million signatures at the time of writing. And, just like the Sanditon Sisterhood, the Anne Nation fan website organised scheduled letter writing campaigns to broadcasters.
Anne with an E fans also organised billboards in both Toronto and New York City. “Everyone worked so hard on those, and it was hard when we lived in different counties,” explains Lisa. “The girls who did the poster designs were in Europe and the UK, while another couple of girls – who spent countless hours on Instagram trying to get fans involved – live in the States.”
Alexis started the petition to save Manifest “one hour after the news [of its cancellation] broke”, reaching out to fellow fans and sharing the petition across social media. It’s amassed over 91,000 signatures at the time of writing. “I was completely shocked about how fast it grew,” she says.
Not all fan campaigners set up websites or organise billboards. Valentina, who was an active #SaveLucifer campaigner and was retweeted by series star Kevin Alejandro, says that she was one of many in the fandom who “just came together”.
“I simply joined everyone else,” she says. “We just kept tweeting all the time… While some were asleep, the others [in different time zones] tweeted. We all just came together as a fandom to try to save the show; we all had a common goal and we connected through that.”
Several interviewees said the progress of their respective campaigns – whether positive or negative – directly impacted their everyday life outside of TV viewing.
“My morale, personally, felt absurdly low throughout the whole campaign,” says Valentina. “It definitely did impact my mood on my everyday life. More than I would have wanted it to, if I’m being honest.”
However, for Sanditon fan Hanna, the “rollercoaster” campaign provided a refuge of sorts during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Yes, the low moments impacted real life, but our fight also helped me through the pandemic. We always had people to chat with 24/7.”
The fan campaign success stories
Fan campaigns to revive shows can work, changing the TV landscape in the process. Success stories including the likes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (picked up by NBC for season six onwards) are testament to that. Both Sanditon and Lucifer were renewed following intense fan campaigns, to the delight of said fans.
Asked about how she felt when Lucifer was picked up by Netflix, Valentina says she “could not be happier”, adding, “It’s been over three years since the revival and it still feels surreal; not only did it get saved, but it was one of the most important streaming services that saved it”. For Valentina, it’s also important that Netflix commissioned three more seasons, meaning the show’s creatives “got to finish on their own terms” with the final season: “[It] makes me so happy.”
Sanditon was eventually renewed for two more seasons, which will debut on BritBox for UK viewers and PBS Masterpiece in the US, before airing on ITV. However, the news was bittersweet for some members of the Sanditon Sisterhood, following the revelation that Theo James (who played love interest Sidney Parker) would not return.
As Juliet explains, “The happy ending for the two lead characters [will-they-won’t-they couple Sidney and Charlotte Heywood] was the major impetus for the fans to campaign at the beginning.”
Asked if they felt at all cheated following the news of James’ absence, MS said they were “very optimistic about the show’s future,” but added, “I won’t deny that a broken ‘Sidlotte’ was my main motivation at the beginning. But equally important, I wanted a Sanditon that could stand the test of time as an Austen adaptation, true to her spirit and intentions as best as possible. An incomplete story would not hold up over the years.”
KdK adds, “When I first learned that Theo would not return, my heart sank… [but] I have every faith in writer Justin Young.”
Despite their collective success, Juliet, MS and KdK say it’s unlikely that they’ll get involved in another revival campaign in the future; all three separately compare their work on the Sanditon campaign to (at times) having another full-time job.
“This has been a labor of love, but completely draining,” says MS. “I’m not an admin and I still feel like this is another job requiring intense dedication.”
What happens when a revival campaign doesn’t work?
For fan campaigners whose favourite shows have yet to be renewed, it can be difficult to keep up momentum.
Anne with an E was cancelled almost two years ago, and fan Lisa compares the lower points of the revival campaign to “fighting a losing battle”. She continues, “I’m a grown adult so these moments didn’t really affect my everyday life, but I know a lot of the younger fans really took the cancellation hard.”
Asked about the period drama’s future, she says that while some fans “are still fighting”, she thinks that “realistically, it’s clear that the show is done”.
“I would have loved for a wrap-up movie. Maybe one day,” she adds. There’s “no way” she’ll get actively involved in another revival campaign though, “especially since it didn’t work”.
More generally, Lisa thinks fandoms – and fan campaigns – are “only as good as the person or thing” they are supporting. “A lot of fandoms use bully tactics, which we never did or aimed to do… The thing about our fandom is that we all loved a show that was so positive and heartwarming, and we all wanted the renewal, so I think we often felt really united.
“We were from all over the world, and we spanned in age from teens to people in their 70s, and I think that was really special.”