by Deborah Harter Williams
It’s a new day in Absaroka County, with the old sheriff still in town but coming from another network.
Television is fickle. The show that is the darling one season gets thrown on the slagheap the next. Even the highly rated are not immune; Murder She Wrote, as many of us remember, was cancelled while still in the top 10. Latest on the chopping block—the A&E mystery/western, Longmire.
It was an unlikely hit to begin with. A throwback kind of western with a sheriff often standing alone for what is right, based on the books by Craig Johnson. Australian actor Robert Taylor inhabits the title role with laconic humor and Eastwood style. The many Native Americans in the cast reveal shades of that culture rarely seen, from the deeply spiritual to the venal. Somehow, over three seasons on A&E (which once stood for Arts & Entertainment), Longmire became the network’s second-highest rated show.
The way was not always smooth. In the middle of season two the audience numbers started to fall, and the renewal for Season 3 had not arrived; by that time the previous year, it had. Sitting at home in Vancouver, Washington, one fan felt that she had to do something.
Pamela Nordick had had a long career in advertising and she knew about ratings. Also, her nephew, Adam Bartley, was one of the cast members (The Ferg), so a little old-fashioned nepotism of the best kind came into play. Determined to get the show renewed, she called on her knowledge of social media.
That was the beginning of the Longmire Posse. Pamela knew that the best way to increase the “key demo” (the key demographic—men 18-49) is via Twitter, because that’s where the younger group can be found. So tweet she did and built up her followers there, as well as taking up the cause on Facebook (see the Longmire Posse official fan site). Lo and behold, the show bounced back up in the ratings.
By the fourth to the last episode there was an unprecedented 325,000 jump in the number of viewers. Someone was paying attention, and on Pamela’s birthday—August 29—the series was renewed for ten more episodes. A year later, almost to the day, a similar scenario was playing out. But this time A&E announced that the show would be cancelled, despite having an audience of more than five million. At the time the reason was given that the audience was too old for their advertisers.
Viewers were irate at losing a favorite show, particularly with no resolution to a cliffhanger season-ending episode. Many viewers were also more than a little pissed off at the idea that they were too old to count. Baby Boomers do not like being called old.
At this point the Posse was still growing in size, and Pamela came up with the idea of “The Stampede.” She urged the faithful to take to their Twitter and Facebook accounts with a vengeance, for one hour on certain days. The most successful Stampede generated 80,000 original tweets for the hour. She made sure that the Posse knew about hashtags and memes, and let them loose. Old dogs learned new tricks and the fans of Longmire made themselves known. Longmire trended.
While producers Greer Shephard, John Coveny, and Hunt Baldwin (Nip/Tuck, The Closer) shopped the show to other networks, the stampedes continued. The faithful rose to the occasion each week through September and October. They made sure that potential buyers knew that they were not fair-weather fans. As the story spun out, online media (Highlight Hollywood and CarterMatt) picked up on the groundswell, followed by traditional Hollywood publications like Variety and even The Wall Street Journal. The Posse had developed its own media presence.
On November 19 the good news arrived: Netflix announced an order for 10 new episodes, giving Longmire a fourth season. The burgeoning subscription network, now becoming recognized for original programming, had already wisely picked up the earlier seasons, so this fit right in with their growth strategy. The added publicity surely didn’t hurt either.
Now new viewers can watch the series from the beginning, starting this month on Netflix. Diehard fans can renew acquaintance with Longmire & Company, and revisit the multi-layered stories and portrayals. To add to the viewing experience, Pamela Nordick also co-hosts podcasts with Zachary Hare as companion pieces for each episode. These are available to from iTunes and Southgate Media Group.
The moral of the story: you can’t discount the power of the boomer audience, or a sheriff with a horse, a truck and a few more stories to tell.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways (Including reviews of the Longmire books) & short stories in our mystery section.