Originally created 02/21/99

Internet gives loyal TV show views a voice to protest



LOS ANGELES -- The Magnificent Seven can be found at the intersection of the Old West and the new frontier -- the Internet.

The CBS series, loosely based on the 1960 movie of the same name, is riding again in part because of viewers who lobbied the network on its behalf. This time it was the mouse, not the gun, that won the Western.

There's a certain irony that one of television's most traditional genres should be rescued by technology. Fan Patti Kleckner, part of the effort to save what she fondly calls Mag-Seven, was grateful for the electronic firepower.

"It's impossible to judge the impact (of the campaign) on CBS' decision to return the show, but from the fans' point of view it gave us a tremendous feeling of accomplishment," said Ms. Kleckner, a systems engineer from suburban Chicago.

"We no longer felt like a single letter to the network was going to go off into never-never land. It was a group effort we couldn't accomplish without the Internet."

The Magnificent Seven stakes out territory familiar to Western buffs. Themes of loyalty, vengeance and honor anchor the plots.

The series features Ron Perlman, Michael Biehn, Eric Close, Andrew Kavovit, Dale Midkiff, Anthony Starke, Rick Worthy and Laurie Holden.

Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen starred in the 1960 film version, based on Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, about seven men hired by a small village for protection against bandits. In the TV adaptation, the gunfighters battle various evil people.

When it debuted in January 1998, the series made a strong showing, ranking 14th. After pre-emptions for the Olympics and other events, however, it had plummeted in the ratings and its future seemed doubtful.

Then an eye-catching ad appeared in May in the trade paper Daily Variety: "Wanted: The Magnificent Seven. Return Winning Show to Viewers."

The $1,000 cost was covered by at least 100 fans from across the nation who had linked up via the Internet, Ms. Kleckner said. They and many others already had flooded CBS with e-mail requests for the show's survival.

"Once we decided to do the ad, everybody jumped up and said, `I can give you $5, I can give $10,"' Ms. Kleckner said. One woman coordinated the money collection. Another used her credit card to secure the ad space, and Ms. Kleckner and a fourth person wrote the ad.

Although The Magnificent Seven didn't make CBS' fall schedule, it returned in January to replace the sinking detective series Buddy Faro at 9 p.m. on Fridays (WRDW-TV, Channel 12). Thirteen new episodes are scheduled to run, the network said; its fate after that is uncertain.

The Magnificent Seven hasn't been able to beat the competition, including ABC's Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch (WJBF-TV, Channel 6). But the Western represents a big improvement over Buddy Faro numbers and is drawing more of the male audience advertisers favor.

Ms. Kleckner received a nice thank you from CBS for helping to lead the save-the-Seven effort: She appeared as an extra in the Jan. 8 episode.

The experience also renewed her faith in broadcast television and confirmed the power of the Net for her.

"As a viewer, I felt I never could make my voice heard. I found this particular show brought me back to network television because I had drifted away to cable and the (satellite) dish. And the Internet let me make my thoughts known to the people who had the power."