CBS's 'Jericho' Could Return Next Month—Or Next Year

TVWeek's James Hibberd: Rated

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"Jericho" fans, get ready to go nuts.

There's a slim chance the CBS cult favorite could return to the air next month.

The seven-episode second season has wrapped production and the network is eyeing the show as a potential replacement for one of several time periods that might open up in the coming weeks. In other words, if freshman efforts "Kid Nation," "Cane," "Moonlight" or the upcoming "Viva Laughlin" tank in the ratings, CBS is considering firing out "Jericho."

CBS' other midseason drama, "Swingtown," is not going to be ready until next year, though network also has "The Amazing Race" and game show "Power of 10" available to fill one-hour slots. CBS scheduling head Kelly Kahl cautioned that the new freshman lineup is performing solidly and that no show is guaranteed the next opening.

"The best thing going for 'Jericho' is it's done and ready to go," Kahl says. "But it's too early to tell what time period is going to be available."

Last season "Jericho" aired Wednesdays at 8 p.m., the time period now held by "Nation." Though the slots occupied by "Nation," "Cane," "Laughlin" and "Moonlight" all have their pros and cons as potential "Jericho" homes, sources said "Jericho" is considered a viable alternate for any of them. (Just what controversy-weary "Nation" producer Tom Forman needs -- nut-flinging "Jericho" fans assailing him to get out of their time slot).

If the current CBS schedule holds through November, "Jericho" will likely return in January.

Last night at the "Jericho" DVD release party at Crimson nightclub in Hollywood, "Jericho" executive producer Carol Barbee said she hopes the show will return soon. The producers and the network are conscious of making fans wait too long to resolve last May's cliffhanger after watching the precarious ratings drops endured by serialized shows that took long hiatuses last winter.

"There's definite concern [about viewer interest waning], which is why we hope to get on the air as soon as possible," she says.

The unique seven-episode "Jericho" order was prompted by fan outrage when CBS moved to cancel the struggling series. "Jericho" ended on a tantalizing cliffhanger, with the show's heroes on the brink of war with neighboring town New Bern. A fan campaign that included sending tens of thousands of pounds of peanuts to CBS famously helped sway network executives to give the show another shot.

Behind the scenes, sources say some competitive leverage was applied as well. While CBS was on the fence, "Jericho" producers met with the Sci Fi Channel, which expressed interest in picking up the series as a potential companion and successor for "Battlestar Galactica." CBS renewed "Jericho" shortly after, though network sources say any cable network interest had nothing to do with their decision.

The season premiere will open after the Jericho vs. New Bern war, but includes flashbacks to the battle itself. For the finale, Barbee has shot multiple endings this time to ensure fans are not left in cliffhanger lurch should CBS axe the show. There's also nothing scripted in the finale like last season's never-surrender "nuts" battle cry that might haunt CBS executives.

"They sort of they let us get away with the cliffhanger last time," Barbee says. "We joked that have to get another food product in new finale. CBS probably combed through the script looking for anything that fans could send to them."

Regardless of which ending is used, she says the short season will satisfy fans.

"We have a story broken so it tells a complete story," she says. "By episode seven you are going to be very satisfied. We packed an entire 22-episode season into seven shows, there's a lot of mythology answered."

Though Barbee wouldn't comment on any past or future cable network interest, she wouldn't rule out shopping around the series if CBS doesn't renew the show.

"There's still going to be a lot more story to tell," Barbee says. "If the fans keep it up, we'll tell it somewhere."