If Star Trek didn’t have the Trimbles, Star Trek wouldn’t have Trekkies and we wouldn’t know what a Trekkie is. Who or what is a Trimble, you ask? The Trimbles are a married couple who could not stand for their favorite television show, Star Trek, to fade into boob tube history.
Bjo and her husband, John Trimble, were pioneers of letter writing to a network to save a show from cancellation. In this case, it was the original Star Trek in the late sixties. The documentary, United We Fan, interviews fandom to discover how they used fan engagement on social media or letter writing campaigns before the internet was ubiquitous to save their shows from cancellation. Shows like Person of Interest, Veronica Mars, Roswell, Chuck, Star Trek, Quantum Leap, Longmire, Cagney and Lacey, Designing Women, and The 4400 had rabid fans represented in the film.
However, the most interesting aspect of this documentary, which could have had its film without the context of the other fandoms, was the creation of the Viewers for Quality Television founded by Dorothy Swanson. The cancellation of Cagney and Lacey sparked Dorothy Swanson to reach out to her friends to write letters to CBS to get the show more viewership. Swanson even developed a close relationship to the executive producer on the show, Barney Rosenzweig, who helped get this organization off the ground.
United We Fan weaves conversations with Barney, Dorothy, and other fans of other TV shows seamlessly but I wanted a more fluid story about this organization. We learn that Dorothy quit her day job to form VQT in 1984, and becomes an influential part in saving shows (and not) from extinction on television. Conflict does arise, which is inevitable when she doesn’t vouch for a show that Barney produces on his own and again, I wish this story could have delved deeper into this organization. It was riveting seeing this story unfold at a time before hashtags were invented, before community boards, and before email to have made such an impact on the television community.
On the tails of this documentary, Netflix announced that the beloved Norman Lear show, One Day at a Time, has been canceled after three seasons. A show like this that has allowed me and many other Latinxs to feel, seen, heard, and treated with care makes me think, “Where’s the fandom here?” We have fans for all these other shows not starring people of color that folks are rallying behind and yet, where are the hashtags and fan engagement that was able to grant Longmire another season? Or to allow the creators of Sense8 a two and a half hour film finale? Where’s the hoopla there? In a period where every marginalized community desperately craves representation, are we just not coming out in droves the way others have for the shows that don’t represent us? Where is everyone?
I also question Netflix’s claims that the show’s production was much too high and was critically acclaimed. They choose to renew Insatiable, a show about an overweight teenager who loses weight and plans her revenge on everyone is ripped to shreds by critics and fans alike for missing the mark across the board about body image and sexual molestation.
The fan communities rally over dramas, science fiction shows, teen shows, and even sitcoms don’t provide the same attention with sitcoms featuring talent that doesn’t necessarily look like White America and reflects American values. Sure, we’ve had Parenthood on the WB, and ABC shows like My Wife and Kids, Fresh Off the Boat, and Black-ish featuring casts of color. While Netflix has been leading the charge with providing dramedies with multi-ethnic casts, like the show On My Block, a sitcom like One Day at a Time should have a more rabid and large fan base. Like those who are sending items to the production office (Roswell fans sending Tabasco sauce or Jericho fans sending bags of nuts to the CBS office). Where is the uproar here?
In the documentary, a fan of Person of Interest has an online petition to save the show. This fan appreciated the lesbian relationship on the show and saw herself represented. Person of Interest gets an online petition and One Day at a Time receives think pieces on how it’s the best show no one is watching. We need an online petition and a hashtag campaign created like with Friday Night Lights or Community.
United We Fan is a wonderful documentary that anyone with a fandom will enjoy. I hope that it’ll incite more fan campaigns to save shows from cancellation featuring casts that reflect American society.