Berg, once a regular on Chicago Hope, turned down a request for an interview, but his friend Paul Feig suggests that ABC panicked when the show's ratings dropped precipitously during the airing of the very first show four weeks ago. About 15 million people tuned in to watch the show when it debuted on March 30. But about 30 minutes in, around the time a pregnant character played by Michelle Forbes was stabbed in the stomach with a hypodermic needle, more than half the audience hit the remote control, never to return.
"The only difference between what happened with us and Wonderland is ABC knew it was going to be a tough show going in," Feig says. "Everybody was so happy with Freaks & Geeks, and good feelings abounded. We skipped merrily into the gates of hell."
Of the four shows, Freaks & Geeks stands the best chance of surviving NBC's short-term thinking. The show may have had a small following, but it's a rabid fan base that maintains several Web sites -- all of which began coordinating an effort last week to petition other networks to pick up the show. The sites are all running the names, addresses, and phone numbers of network bosses. The show's official site, www.freaksandgeeks.com, asks only that callers "be persistent and courteous." One site, www.haverchuck.org (so named for one of the show's geeks), is planning on taking out an ad in Daily Variety, calling for reinstatement. But as Action's Thompson likes to point out, "Death in this business is pretty permanent."
Feig is optimistic that MTV will pick up the show and run it in its entirety, including the six episodes NBC refused to air -- including the amazing season/series finale, "Discos and Dragons," in which the line between freak and geek becomes blurred. Until that happens, the Museum of Broadcasting in New York and Los Angeles will host marathon screenings of the entire series, including the unaired shows. The New York event takes place April 26; the L.A. screenings will occur on May 13.
"MTV wants to make new episodes, but they don't have the budget we need," Feig says. "But other networks are interested. People like our show so much, we're going to get them out there come hell and high water. I vowed as much over the Web site. With our show, we have this underground network of tapes that go around between the fans. They have this whole thing worked out where you contact someone and for the price of the tape, they will dupe it and send it to you. And if we can't get these other episodes out [on a network], we'll get it out that way. That's the power of the Internet, and that's a small indication of how the Internet will change these networks. And we don't take rejection too well."
Berg still hopes ABC will air the remaining six episodes of Wonderland, but Thompson is more realistic: He knows the corpse has grown cold. At the very most, he hopes to release all of Action on DVD -- though trying to figure out who owns the damned thing (Columbia/TriStar, Fox, producer Joel Silver, and, ya know, Chris Thompson) won't make it an easy go.
"I have to say, I give Fox credit for trying to put Action on," says Thompson, smoothing off the rough edges in his voice. "We treated the audience like grown-ups. But it could be wrong for networks to treat the audience like grown-ups. You should drive 40 miles outside of Dallas to a strip mall and look around and say, 'Do I want to treat these people like adults?' Then, maybe, you'll have your answer." The cackle returns.