Fans are stepping up their fight to save USA Network's La Femme Nikita from cancellation oblivion, mounting an aggressive campaign that not only includes writing letters, but mailing old TV sets to the channel.
The Nikita rescue operation follows a time-honored tradition in television.
In 1955, viewers wielding pens rescued Father Knows Best from an abrupt demise. After CBS pulled the plug, NBC picked up the show and it went on to become a hit.
In the early 1980s, Cagney & Lacey got a reprieve from CBS after being canceled, continuing on after a letter-writing outcry from its audience.
And cult favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 got a new life after it got the hook from Comedy Central, prompting a furor from its fans and its pickup by Sci Fi Channel.
Now, loyal worldwide fans of Nikita-another cable show with a cult following-are trying to resurrect it for a fifth season.
They've taken their old-style letter-writing campaign to the next level, adding new twists such as sending e-mails, dollar bills, sunglasses and even old TV sets and remote controls in protest to both USA and Warner Bros. Television, which produced the series.
"We've gotten 30 TV sets out," said Nicole Esposito, a Pennsylvania Web-page designer who set up a site (www.savelfn.com) that is acting as an Internet command post for the "Save La Femme Nikita Campaign 2000."
The TV sets include notes to USA and Warner Bros. to the effect of, "Without La Femme Nikita, we don't need these," according to Esposito. Each TV that goes to USA has a return address for Warner Bros., while those sent to Warner Bros. have return addresses for USA, she added.
While viewer campaigns on behalf of canceled TV shows have succeeded in keeping some series on the air, the odds of success are usually a long shot, according to Tim Brooks, senior vice president of research at Lifetime Television and co-author of The Complete Directory to Primetime Network and Cable TV Shows.
"It's a minority of these that worked," said Brooks, who is also the former head of research for USA Networks Inc. "No network will reinstate something purely based on letters unless they think it can get ratings."
The last new episodes of Nikita-a quirky hour-long spy drama based on the movie of the same name-will air on USA in August.
USA officials contended that they wanted to keep Nikita-one of the cornerstones of its Sunday-night block of originals-on the air. But they said they couldn't reach an agreement to extend their expiring pact with Warner Bros. for the series.
"Obviously, I dig the show," USA Cable president Stephen Chao said. "I did seek to renew our deal. We had had a complicated four-year contract. But it takes two people to agree to continue a contract."
Chao, perhaps ironically, was one of the executives who opted last year to cancel Mystery Science Theater 3000, which, three years earlier, had moved from Comedy Central to Sci Fi-a network that, like USA, falls under his jurisdiction.
Warner Bros. officials couldn't be reached for comment. But in a response letter to fans, the company has said, "We are extremely proud of our show.Unfortunately, we are only the distribution outlet. Therefore, we are unable to control USA Network's decision to cancel La Femme Nikita."
In response to comments that a disagreement on financial terms had scuttled the show, Nikita fans have been mailing dollar bills to both USA and Warner Bros. USA has received between $500 and $750 in cash so far, according to a network spokesman.
Chao said that at first, USA started mailing the money back to the senders. Now, the company is donating the money it gets from protesting Nikita fans to charity.
Sunglasses-due to the penchant of Nikita's characters to wear them-have also been sent to network officials.
The show's fans range in age from 18 to 70 years old, and they represent all walks of life, even including mayors and lawyers. "It's a very diverse group," Esposito said. "There are so many fans from all over the world."
Speculation that Nikita wasn't going to be renewed for a fifth season started in late 1999 and circulated on the Internet.
The "Save La Femme Nikita" Web site (there are also reportedly hundreds of other similar unofficial Web sites) was created in May after USA confirmed that Nikita wasn't returning for another season.
So far, the site has received more than 6,000 hits, according to Esposito. Its bulletin board has postings not only from the United States, but from the Netherlands, England, Canada, Greece, Argentina, Slovenia and England.
Nikita, which made a celebrity of Australian-born Peta Wilson, was created under the regime of Chao's predecessor, Rod Perth. Its new episodes this year have earned a 1.9 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research data supplied by USA. Including repeats this year, the series has averaged a 1.6 rating-a pretty respectable number for cable.
The Save Nikita campaign stepped up this past weekend, with fans slated to deluge USA and Warner Bros. with letters and e-mails once again.
They are persistent, and they plan to continue the campaign until August, even though Wilson has already signed up for a new series and the crew has been disbanded.
New York Post TV critic Linda Stasi recently wrote a column on the show's demise. Subsequently, she received more than 150 e-mails and letters from fans lobbying to save the show. Multichannel News has been getting similar letters from around the globe.
"USA is blaming Warner Bros. [for Nikita's cancellation], and Warner Bros. is blaming USA," Esposito said.
Esposito is a fan of Nikita because "it's very unpredictable," she said. "There's not a show on TV now that's like it. To me, it's like a little movie every week."
Now that discussions on renewing the series have fallen through, USA has a proposal on the table with Warner Bros. to do a made-for-TV movie based on Nikita, according to Chao.
"We have a proposal for a movie-of-the-week that would continue the franchise," he said.
Despite the odds against them, Nikita fans are still fighting the good fight. They said they were heartened by the successful campaigns of fans of The WB Television Network's Roswell-in which viewers mailed bottles of Tabasco sauce, one character's favorite condiment, to network officials-and Felicity to keep those shows on the air.
Nikita fans recently took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter stating their case. Their Web site lists addresses not only for USA and Warner Bros., but also for various newspaper outlets, as well as including a form letter to use.