Fandom, meet science. Ohio State University assistant professor Emily Moyer-GusĂ© and former grad student Julie Lather just released a study they conducted in 2008, polling 403 undergrads about how often they watched TV and how the 2007-08 writers’ strike affected them. The results were fascinating: People who watched TV religiously were distraught when their favorite shows and characters went off the air. Considering that the strike lasted only a couple of months, one could assume that fans of canceled shows suffer a much deeper loss.
The results are based on the theory of “parasocial relationships” that people create with the characters on the small screen; they treat these fictional people as real-life friends, set their schedules by the shows, and truly worry about the characters’ fates. We’ve also seen instances where the rallying power of fandom and the shared desire for a canceled show can make fans look as if they’re obsessed, when they want only to prolong this great communal experience. With long-running soaps like All My Children and One Life to Live recently canceled, there will likely be at least one generation feeling adrift from the void in their TV schedule.
There are several caveats to this study. Moyer-GusĂ© acknowledged that because the subjects were all college students, they were able to replace the lost TV time with other media-related activities such as surfing the Internet. They’re less reliant on television to begin with, compared to perhaps elderly people who have fewer opportunities for social interaction. Finally, no matter how distressed people were at shows being canceled, no one rated the feelings as matching those of a break-up. So, a guy can still break your heart more than a TV show can.
For me, the first cut was the deepest: ReBoot got canceled not once, but twice (1998 and 2002), and I was really devastated since it was the first show I had really fallen for. Also in 2002 was Firefly‘s brief season; I remember coming home from my eighth-grade dance to discover it had gotten the axe.
What about you guys — what shows’ cancellations (or characters getting written off) really bummed you out, and why?