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"Jericho" began last season with a nuclear explosion in nearby Denver.


That's what it took to change the minds of CBS programmers, who canceled and then uncanceled "Jericho" after they were inundated with nuts. Peanuts. Tens of thousands of pounds of peanuts.

And it's not quite as nuts as it sounds. In the first season finale of the post-apocalyptic drama, the town of Jericho was at war with neighboring New Bern. When the enemy called on Jericho to surrender, Jake Green's (Skeet Ulrich) one-word reply was, "Nuts!"

(It was an echo of the reply U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe gave Germans demanding his army's surrender during World War II.)

The amazing thing about the nuts campaign is that it worked. CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler brought "Jericho" back from the dead, ordering seven new episodes that begin airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 2.

The reprieve came as more than a bit of a surprise to the cast.

"I'm shocked," said Ashley Scott, who plays Emily Sullivan on the show.

"It sounded pretty definitive to me," Ulrich said. "'You're canceled. You're fired."'

Lennie James, who plays Robert Hawkins, was "busy dodging raindrops" in London when "one of the members of the cast phoned me up and said, 'Are you aware of what's happening on the 'Net'?

"You're thinking, 'No, it couldn't happen. No, no, it couldn't. It is? Oh, wow, great."'

The outpouring of passion for the show surprised the cast as much as anybody else. It centers on a small town in Kansas after nuclear bombs are detonated in 26 American cities and the U.S. government falls apart.

"The hours are so long, you don't really get a sense that really the show even comes on TV necessarily," Ulrich said. "So, I certainly wasn't aware that (fan support) would affect the decisionmaking process of a network."

It wasn't just the nuts that caught the attention of CBS's top programmer. It wasn't just that the guy from whom Tassler was making a purchase at her local camera store recognized her name and said, "I sent you an e-mail" about "Jericho."

It wasn't just that her doctor, before giving her the results of some tests, handed her a bag of peanuts.

The online campaign, in this case, made a huge difference.

"What was extraordinary is, I went on those message boards. I read many of those e-mails," Tassler said. "And what you saw was a huge segment of the population that really felt they were not being counted. More specifically, that they had a knowledge and awareness of the show that was so detailed and so committed and so passionate, we said, 'Look, this is a rare opportunity for us to really interact with our audience and take another shot."'

In a business that lives and dies by counting millions of viewers, this was a rare instance where the personal touch made a difference.

"The one thing that happened over the fight to save 'Jericho' was that our audience became faces and people and lives, and it became real," James said. "It wasn't just a number that appears in the fast nationals (ratings) or whatever it is the next morning. These are real people kind of going, 'Hold on a minute. This is my show. I enjoyed watching it. Stop treating me like I'm just kind of a part of a number."'

He said it was "incredibly humbling, in a weird way" to discover that so many people had so much passion for "Jericho."

"It reminded all of us in this kind of this rarefied world of television ... of who we make it for and who are the people that it's actually about, really," James said.

For Ulrich, who's starring in his first TV series, it was "an eye-opener."

"I've done a number of movies through the years, and some of them have done really well. And I don't think I've had the kind of reaction ... and the amount of people that come up to you and talk about the show and ask about the show," he said. "It's been interesting to see and to become aware that actually, to many people, the show really mattered in their week and they really were looking forward to seeing it."

"What was just so beautiful for me (was) to see the fans really caring and making a stand and taking back what they want," Scott said.

Cast members have posted online thank-yous to the fans, but Ulrich thinks there's a better way to express their gratitude.

"The best way we could thank them is to continue to make the best show we can make and to push this story forward," he said.

Executive producer Carol Barbee is "very grateful" and more than a bit surprised herself. And she's got a bit of advice for other TV producers.

"I highly recommend inserting the name of some sort of mail-able food product in the season finale," Barbee said.

If you watch ...

What: The second season of "Jericho"

When: Tuesdays at 9 p.m. beginning Feb. 12

Channel: CBS/Ch. 2

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com