A Plea to the Television Gods

Joan fans try to keep the faith.

In a television universe revolving around sex, humor and shock value, Joan of Arcadia stood out like a beacon of light. That is, until mid-May, when CBS abruptly cancelled the show after just two seasons. The introspective drama, which aired on Friday evenings, featured a suburban teenaged girl (Amber Tamblyn as Joan) who reluctantly talked to God whenever He appeared to her, usually in the body of a casual acquaintance. The irony is that even though Joan starred a gaggle of teenagers and featured heavy doses of popular music, it was cancelled because its audience was too old (median age 53.9)—a victim of CBS’s desire to become the most popular network among 18- to 49-year-old viewers. 

CBS’s move surprised fans of the program, many of who still cannot believe that a critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated program with such wide crossover appeal could be cancelled so soon. Everyone from teens to grandparents identified with the spiritual issues raised through its diverse collection of characters, including a science geek (Joan’s younger brother), a wheelchair bound former jock crippled in an auto accident (Joan’s older brother), an artist (Joan’s boyfriend), and a tough-talking rebel (female friend). In short, there was something for everyone, especially parents, who used the show as a springboard to begin dialogues with their adolescent children about sensitive issues. 

Among the devoted young followers was Angela Williams, 24, who launched savejoanofarcardia.com on May 19 in an effort to get CBS to either reconsider its decision or sell the program to another network. “Most of the people I know watched the show and it’s popular on the Internet so it was a little hard to believe that CBS decided to cancel it. After I got over the shock I was angry and determined to do what I could to get people together and save the show,” asserts Williams. To that end, Williams (as well as Webmasters of other fan sites like joanofarcadia.com) have been encouraging loyalists to make contact with CBS and its competitors and make their feelings known. 

Before and after the cancellation many observers contended that if CBS wanted to attract younger viewers it should have simply moved Joan to another night of the week, an opinion with which Williams concurs. “Teens go out on Friday nights,” she says. “It’s going to be difficult to convince them to stay home and watch television when they're in the peak of their adolescence and want to be with their friends.”

Marie Maurer, 32, who has operated joanofarcadia.com since July of last year, also believes that Joan’s audience would be “larger and younger” on a more TV-friendly night. “This is a show my nieces would love, but Fridays are for football games, dances and shopping at the mall. Kids want to get out on the weekends,” she says. 

Yet, the public’s perception of CBS may have played a disproportionately large role in the network’s recent programming decisions, with Judging Amy and 60 Minutes II also cut from the prime time lineup. “CBS has always been considered the Geritol network and I can understand why they would want to be perceived as being more hip,” allows Maurer, “but at the expense of eight million loyal viewers and television’s most talented cast? I truly believed CBS would see the show’s value and change its time slot before canceling it.” 

While many media insiders now believe that Joan needs a miracle to be saved, it is said that God works in mysterious ways. According to Williams, her site is increasingly galvanizing the masses, with people from as far away as Germany, New Zealand and Northern Ireland inquiring about what they can do to help the crusade. 

“We’re about to launch ‘Save Joan in June’,” begins Williams. “On June 1”—opening day for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a teen-oriented movie that stars Tamblyn—“we’re going to send the other networks letters, postcards, e-mails, faxes, and copies of a poem the character Grace wrote in a first-season episode. We’re hoping that if they see how big a fan base this show has established, they’ll be more inclined to pick it up.” 

Such a campaign would not be without precedent. Several years back, fans of the show Roswell instituted a ‘Save Roswell’ campaign. “The fans bombarded [the network] with mail and bottles of Tabasco sauce and caught their attention. We're hoping to do a similar thing with Joan,” advises Williams. 

Meanwhile, CBS plans to replace Joan with the Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a young woman who communicates with the dead. CBS’s rationale is that “talking to ghosts may skew younger than talking to God,” an already infamous statement that came courtesy of company Chairman Leslie Moonves. “I'm not a religious person by any means, but if I had a chance to speak with Moonves, I'd tell him what a slap in the face it was to hear he thinks young people are more interested in ghosts than in God,” snaps Williams. “That’s what angers me most of all; their willingness to tell Joan fans they aren’t cool enough or young enough to be taken into consideration,” elaborates Maurer. 

In these difficult times, Maurer now encourages fellow loyalists to recall Joan’s message. “The whole premise was that we should have faith and patience and things will work out okay,” reminds Maurer. “If the other networks could see what we see, they’d be engaged in a bidding war as we speak. The network that picks up Joan would have millions of grateful people on their side.” 

Of course, even if things don't work out to the satisfaction of fans they may end up getting the last laugh. “I think Moonves is going to find out that Jennifer Love Hewitt talking to ghosts isn't going to draw near the crowd that Joan did. Joan was the most original television show I've ever watched,” concludes Williams. “There was something there for everyone—young and old alike. It was easy to relate to, well written and well acted. It inspired hope. I can’t say that about any other show on network television.”