Syfy, Sci-Fi, and Fandom: The “Gauntlet” Has Been Thrown

Tamara Johansen wants her show back!

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So let’s use a dirty word: geek. Now, in my mind, being a geek isn’t a bad thing. More than anything it means that we’re enthusiastic. Some of us are into comics, some of us are into games. Some get their kicks off of technology while others love math. But movies, television, and books are the most common targets of our obsessive collecting and fact-gathering, and science-fiction, with its combination of all of the above, attracts our eye more often than many other genres. Just think about it…when was the last time you met a romance geek? They exist…but they generally don’t have their own T.V. networks and collectible shops.

And all of those T.V. networks and collectible shops, those websites and game manufacturers, they get a lot out of us. We hyperventilate over the latest superhero movie, we stand in line for days in line for a game release. But most importantly, we buy everything related to our newest “favorite”, and between all those graphic novels, DVDs, and season passes, it adds up to a lot of cash.

That’s why there has always existed a special covenant between fandom and science-fiction. More than any other genre, science-fiction writers, actors, illustrators, and directors have come down among the masses and, with humility bordering on befuddlement, accepted our passionate praises. Conventions, signings, openings…they come among us because they are us; most media made for science-fictions is made by science-fiction fans. And we have lifted them up, made them our idols…and made them rich.

Which is what makes what the Syfy Network has been doing puzzling, troubling, and, yes, angering. They have broken the sacred covenant held between the curators of our art and us, the hungry audience. By choosing crass profits and heeding the siren call of wrestling, they have turned away from the very people who built them up. We, the fans, paid their bills and put their kids through school while they were still a fledgling network…and now they are sick of us.

Caprica was a blow. Reviews were mixed, and I understand that not everyone enjoyed the heavily layered and emotional storylines. Compared to Battlestar Galactica, full of robots with machine-gun arms and epic space battles, Caprica’s slow build of each level of intrigue may have seemed tedious. But the depth was there, the story was there, and if there was anything the second half told us, it was that Caprica had no problem providing both the robot-mayhem and the mind-bending metaphysics Battlestar Galactica made us fall in love with.

The recent cancellation of Stargate Universe, putting Stargate off the air for the first time in fourteen years, is yet more troubling, and Syfy’s justifications, remarkably similar to those used to justify Caprica, were put forth in an open letter to Stargate fans from Syfy, which was sent out via Gateworld, a dedicated Stargate fansite. Craig Engler(@syfy himself), Senior Vice President and General Manager of Syfy Digital, goes into details, but it all comes down to the same argument: the ratings weren’t there.

Even if we ignore my argument involving fallacious metrics for gauging a show’s popularity, or the scathing “Dear Syfy: Please Stop Lying” from the Caprica Times, it’s hard to ignore Joseph Mallozzi, writer and executive producer for all three Stargate series, as he addresses the open letter piece by piece:

“The show quickly moved forward and officially launched on October 2, 2009. The debut was watched by a good if not spectacular 2,779,000 viewers. To give that some perspective, Stargate Atlantis debuted with over 4 million viewers, soSGU was more than 25% below that.” – Engler

“File this one under baffling.  Comparing the SGA premiere to the SGU premiere overlooks is grossly unfair.  First – Atlantis premiered during the summer while Universe – originally slated for a fall premiere – premiered in the much more competitive fall.  Second the time between the two premiere has seen a significant increase in DVR usage and internet downloads, and a simultaneous erosion in live viewership.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  Simply put, back when Atlantis aired, fewer viewers were recording or downloading television and many more were watching television live.” – Mallozzi

“With untenably low numbers and no sign of growth on Fridays where it had now lost 1/3 of its initial audience, we decided to move SGU for its second season. We’d had tremendous success on Tuesday’s with our breakout hit Warehouse 13, so we paired SGU with Caprica and moved them to Tuesdays, hoping to introduce both shows to a new audience.” – Engler

“Sigh.  Okay, look – while I understood (and supported) the move to Tuesday night and the pairing with Caprica, I nevertheless take exception to the assertion that the network had enjoyed “tremendous success on Tuesday’s with [their] breakout hit Warehouse 13″.  While Warehouse 13 certainly aired on Tuesdays, it did so in the summer (where, I’d like to reiterate, SGU was originally scheduled to air).” – Mallozi

“We moved the final 10 episodes of SGU to Monday nights where we’d just had success with a new show called Being Human, but the ratings remained flat.” -Engler

“Okay but, realistically, the series had already been canceled so I’m not sure how much reasonable audience growth could be expected at that point.” – Mallozzi

In any case, Engler’s response signals one thing: they have heard us, and now they are trying to play reputation control. But this is the internet, and reputation control is our playground.

Don’t forget to join the SaveSGU Campaign on Facebook, learn the Plan, and make your voice be heard!

(Thanks to Justin Zimmer for the awesome banner!

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25 thoughts on “Syfy, Sci-Fi, and Fandom: The “Gauntlet” Has Been Thrown

  1. AramZS

    I don’t know. It does suck that there is no longer a Stargate on TV, but I think that you are underestimating what a radical change in style and narrative, as was performed on SGU compared to previous SG shows, can do to an audience.

    Nobody wants more wrestling, but SGU’s presentation was unlike any previous Stargate show. In fact, if you wanted to argue that SyFy betrayed its fandom, you should really start at the beginning of SGU, not the end.

    Stargate’s portfolio of shows maintained a consistent tone and style previous to SGU, quirky, sort of campy, self-aware and with a touch of humor. SGU dropped all of that in an attempt to catch wider appeal by building a one-dimensionally dark universe in the style of their BSG reboot. The result was really a loss of the soul of the franchise. With the exception of the stargates and the US Military, there was little similarity with the previous 15 seasons of Stargate material.

    The humor, warmth and even core concepts that were the main part of previous SG properties (the dynamic of a team, humor, scientific discovery, need for freedom, a love and focus on importance of science, an interest in exploring traditional SF themes, etc…) were thrown out the window as part of a blatant appeal to the same folks who tuned in to watch WWE. This is despite the fact that those themes were present in SyFy’s most successful shows in the past.

    Just because a franchise name like Stargate or Star Trek is tacked to something shouldn’t automatically bequeath it our loyalty. SyFy’s real crime isn’t the cancellation of SGU, but how the show was written to begin with.

    I was a fan of Caprica and it was a real shame that it was canceled. SG-1 was great and arguably my entrance into the SciFi channel’s programming. Atlantis was also a good show. I agree that SyFy’s re-branding is just silly.

    That being said, SGU just played all the wrong chords for a Stargate show. I might have liked it more if they didn’t try and shoehorn Stargate into it, but I just didn’t like it as it was.

    1. Manny

      I don’t think I could disagree more with everything you just neatly typed with great grammar and prose.

      For one, I HATE the comparison between BSG and SGU, I don’t see it. If you mean the “dark serious, life in danger” theme, then dear god yes, they’re exactly the same, look at that! And so is Caprica and hundred other shows out there. Making things darker doesn’t equal BSG.

      Second, I’m a hard core SG1 fan, was meh about SGA, and loved SGU. I’m not sure how far you got into the series, but everything you ever loved about SG1 and SGA are right there in SGU. The humour, the discoveries (I hesitate to call them scientific), the goofyness. They’re portrayed very differently, but if you can’t see those aspects of the show, I think you need to begin by yourself if you want a full story of why SGU was cancelled.

      Did it do everything perfectly? No, of course not. There were these typical SG moments where omg, everyone is ok and we really don’t need to tell you what actually happened cause look! They’re alive!

      But hey, it’s SG. And this show was really an evolution of the SG universe. (lots of pun intended)

      1. Justin Zimmer

        I have to agree with Manny and disagree with anyone who whines about how different SGU was from the original two series. I have to admit that I was less than enthusiastic with the premise upon first reading about it, but I watched it anyways, and it worked. So I kept watching it, and kept watching it and couldn’t stop watching it! Yes, it was a bit different; WHO CARES! Who really wanted five or even ten more seasons of jumping through a stargate, shooting at bad-guy reboots, and delivering witty one-liners. I’ve got fifteen seasons of SG1 and SGA I can watch for that!

        It’s true, SGU didn’t begin to hit it’s stride until season 2, but please, go back and watch season 1 of SG1 compared to its later seasons and tell me that it was perfect! In fact, if I remember correctly, the SciFi network RESCUED SG1 from the same fate SyFy delivered upon SGU. I actually thought SG1 had been cancelled until I actually got cable and turned on the SciFi channel only to realize I had missed several seasons.

        In addition, SyFy didn’t decide the story arc for SGU, it was the writers and producers from the Stargate franchise who pitched the show. They wanted to do something different. Yes, it was probably inspired by more dramatic science fiction series, but it is NOT BSG. BSG was more socio-political, without much of an attempt at science. SGU was an attempt at close-quarter human dynamics. 100 people vs 45,897 people. 1 ship versus a fleet. Anyone who argues that SGU didn’t have enough Stargate in it either needs to watch the whole SGU series and judge it for what it is, or stick to SG1 reruns. SGU brought a human depth to the franchise that was only rarely seen in the other two series. It showed that the Stargate universe could elicit tears as well as laughter, and should not become a pariah for the simple fact that some fans only watch for the special effects, one-liners, and space battles. Those are cool, but science fiction, as with any genre, is merely an environment in which characters grow and a story unfolds. Fail that, and the rest is merely fluff. Which is the direction SyFy is heading. To make the statement that SGU was an appeal to WWE fans simply shows that AramZS doesn’t have a clue about which he speaks. Nice try, but everything you claim was lacking in SGU was there in spades, you just never made it past the premiere.

        1. Neal Jansons Post author

          Whoah, kids, now play nice.

          @Aram You have some points, which I did acknowledge in another post, about the comparisons with BSG. But this is about a larger issue, here. This is about Syfy rejecting sci-fi…from their name change to their programming change. How about Caprica? Or Sanctuary, for that matter? We are already seeing the symptoms…change in time-slot, rumblings about the obsolete “ratings” system; you know they are the next one on the block, even though they are one of the more interesting and original shows around right now (and they have Amanda Tapping…I <3 Amanda Tapping!). This is about a larger issue than SGU. Also, Aram, there is more that went along with the cancellation of SGU than I think you realize…the cancellation of the plans for the next two Stargate movies, one of which was to be an Atlantis movie and the other was to be an all-team crossover. They would have been awesome, and not at all about the “feel” of SGU which you dislike.

          That said, I have to say that, while I see the obvious inspiration, that inspiration ends at the camera-work. BSG was essentially a political and religious tale, while SGU is about survival and the conflict between simple, human values like love and survival with lofty and abstract goals like “Destiny’s Mission”. From a writing POV as well, the style of story-delivery is very different. But this is all a matter of opinion, and I feel it is the larger issue of Syfy turning away from science fiction, turning away from geeks, that is far more important.

          Manny and Justin, I appreciate the support on an issue that is obviously important to me…I am a Stargate nerd, so is my wife, and when I was approached about getting involved in these campaigns I leapt at the chance. However, I must insist on no flame-wars or direct attacks on people. Attack arguments, not people. For the most part you both do a good job at that, but Aram is somebody I have known online for a while and I would prefer if he were treated with more respect on my site.

          I also feel we will all benefit from the discussion more if we keep things nice and friendly. So please…argue the post, not the poster.

          1. Justin Zimmer

            Neal –

            I’m sorry if I got a little rough on my last post, and I extend that apology to Aram as well. You are right, the fight is for science fiction as a genre. SGU, love it or hate it as a Stargate series, was still one of if not the last series of serious science fiction on the air, and simply the last in a long series of premature cancellations by a network supposedly dedicated to the genre as a whole.

          2. AramZS

            Thanks Neal, no worries Justin.

            Are they really rumbling about cancelling Sanctuary? That would be a real mistake, as it has significant online viewers and is really well put together. I do wish they’d stop pulling that 24-style multi-viewpoint stuff though, it can get irritating.

            @Justin – I see your point, and I always appreciate shows that focus on characters. Arguably, that is what DS9 did for Star Trek.

            I did see the series through, but not to the end of the 2nd season, perhaps it picked up something I missed, if so, I didn’t see it. However, though a show can survive a bad season, it can’t (or rarely can) survive a bad first season. If there are significant numbers of people who couldn’t make it past the first season, from a purely administrative viewpoint, that’s going to be really hard to recover from, especially when it is trying to change the way we look at the universe like SGU did.

            @Steven – Heh, I liked that episode. I agree that, on principle, a show should stand on its own. However, in reality, setting a show in a preexisting franchise means that there are certain expectations that fans go into the viewing with. To fail those expectations will likely not result in a positive response from all fans. As an example, going from campy fake Egyptian gods to marital infidelity is a pretty big shift.

            @Anyone – The main comparison to BSG is, as Neal mentions, the shots and the darker take. Frankly, I thought it went a bit over the edge with the darker tones. This is a pretty personal judgement, but I feel that considering what SG did previously, one that is likely shared by other SG fans.

            If there was any humor, I really didn’t see it or it was so little within the whole that it didn’t make a real impact. As a result, watching the show became an almost oppressive experience for me, like an endurance test of overly serious and dark content, which is why I stopped watching during the 2nd season. My objections are based, perhaps, less on objective measures of quality, and more on a mindset that I suspect (but of course, have no proof) many other potential viewers of SGU share. But it’s entertainment and that’s something that does count.

            I don’t disagree with SyFy’s decision to cancel SGU. I think it was constructed as part of a bid to bring in a certain audience while keeping all the viewers from the previous series and I wouldn’t be surprised if it couldn’t do either. I think it was foolish that they canceled the movies. SyFy didn’t help by doing a fairly bad job publicizing the previous SG films.

            As Neal notes, I don’t think the same can be said about Caprica. I think it was succeeding at keeping the old audience while bringing in the new one. Judging purely on people I know, it seemed to me that their somewhat transparent attempt to increase female viewership was actually working and it was pretty interesting stuff.

            That being said, you are correct, SyFy’s behavior as of late is a mistake, especially considering the increasing success and popularity of other niche programming. SyFy’s behavior is pretty shameful and does need to be addressed. I just think that (no matter how much I’ve loved previous iterations of SG) a petition to bring back SGU is not the way to go.

            In general, I’d say that SyFy’s writing of existing shows, including the nominal reboot of Eureka a little while back, tends to move towards capturing that larger, less SF, audience. I don’t like it either. Dilution rarely works well.

            I think there is a silver lining as well. This change is likely a result of the increase in Fantasy/SF programming across all networks, spreading SyFy’s traditional viewership much wider than in previous years. Just look at programming like Fringe, Heroes, No Ordinary Family, The Human Target, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Breaking In and Legend of the Seeker to see the genres and properties we love finding increasingly wider acceptance on mainstream TV. Not all have been successful or are still on, but Sci-Fi narratives have grown in viewership in both the living room and box office. So at least there’s that.

    2. Steven

      See there’s the problem. So many fans said “oh this isn’t Stargate, so I’m not watching it and I’m going to whine about it”, yet you say it’d be fine if it wasn’t “Stargate”! So if it was “Wormhole Xtreme Universe” you’d would watch it, be happy, have ten excellent seasons of television and a resolution to the story arc?

      Utterly ridiculous.

      The writers did a fantastic job of giving a fresh coat of paint over that old cartoon mural that was the kids room of SG1. Of course the bairns come home for summer to find their bedroom re-decorated AND rented out to a lodger. Buuut instead of acting like responsible adults and accepting life is progression and not hanging on to stuffed toys and boxes of broken scalextric they sit in the corner and blub until the person who actually helps out the people that’ve been leached off for the past 18 years feels terribly uncomfortable and’s forced to leave.

      That all said, SyFy is screwed and might as well close its doors.

      Viewers are going nowhere but down. Tech savvy sci-fi fans will look to new avenues for entertainment and are not the kind to sit and watch live TV, especially while traditional forms of advertising are what funds that experience.

  2. Manny

    Awesome post!

    typo though: while Universe – originally slated for a fall premiere –

    I think you meant summer though, as you repeat it later.

    You might want to add that changing air time, especially from a Friday, to “introduce to new audience” has rarely worked. Specially with science fiction. Moving it AGAIN to another date killed it. We saw it with firefly, it happened again.

    What we need to do right now is convince sci fi fans in general, particularly Stargate fans of all series, that this is where it must stop! Shall everything turn into Pioneer One to tell its stories?

    Come on!

    wwe…jeez, repuation control that!!

    1. Neal Jansons Post author

      Thanks Manny, and thanks for reading!

      Those aren’t my typos or style issues…those are from the original posts by Engler and Mallozzi. And SGU was originally slotted for a fall launch, then moved to summer because they thought they could “pre-charge” the show by overlapping with SGA.

      And I agree completely…shifting air-times kills live TV shows. Most viewers don’t follow the blogs and such…all they know is their show vanished. Some people probably simply assumed it was cancelled long before it was just for that reason alone.

  3. Lucas

    “But this is the internet, and reputation control is our playground.”
    Loved that last line!

  4. DataAngel

    Mallozzi hit the nail on the head with his first point regarding viewers not watching TV live as much as the launch of SGA!

    Not all of us especially myself been in the UK watch SG live at all… i have to Download the show and the fact syfy don’t even record those rating yet alone consider recording it is completely stupid..

    after the mess they’ve made of this and the caprica cancellation syfy is gonna fall on it’s face… just hope someone picks up SGU to continue it.. but you can only hope..

    1. Neal Jansons Post author

      Hiya, DataAngel,

      This is exactly my point in a prior post on the SaveSGU Campaign. My wife and I do everything through streamed services…Netflix, Hulu Gold, etc, and through Season Passes. None of this is considered in the “ratings”. The Nielsen rating systems is an archaic and obsolete metric from the 50s…it needs to stop being the end-all, be-all of TV decision-making.

      Thanks so much for reading!

      1. Justin Zimmer

        The Nielsen ratings system worked fairly well for live television of the twentieth century, but is fatally flawed for the direction serial entertainment is headed. 12 thousand homes with 35 thousand “real” people cannot possibly represent the viewing habits of over 75 million cable TV subscribers, let alone the millions of homes now using “connected” televisions with access to more streaming content every day. Live television is in its last decade of relevance as a venue for entertainment and networks like SyFy need to get on the ball. The writing is on the wall, but switching from the scheduled broadcast paradigm to that of on-demand streaming content is a tremendous undertaking for providers whose revenue revolves around advertising. The technology exists to track on-demand viewers to a level that makes the Nielsen system look like Johnny Carson in a turban, but building the infrastructure to utilize that data for regional adverts is going to be the largest struggle for ad supported content providers. Without a centralized transmission medium, many networks must take on this task on their own. Large networks like HBO are already undertaking this endeavor but networks like SyFy would just rather hide behind the old system and play lip service to the changing trends without truly embracing this evolution in entertainment. If they admit their system is broken, they are forced to admit that they have no control over their viewership, and all those advertising contracts go away.

  5. TomKo44

    The thing the get me is that when they moved Sanctuary (which they had already renewed) to the same night as SGU the show had lower ratings than SGU and lost 60% of their Friday night audience. This should have shown SyFy that it was not the content that was the problem, it was when they were showing it. Overall, even after they cancelled SGU it had better ratings than Sanctuary. I suspect that had they run SGU on Friday at 10pm and Sanctuary on Monday or Tuesday we would be mourning the lost of Sanctuary and not SGU! And quite frankly they ruined Sanctuary when they killed Ashley and screwed up the Cabal storyline.

  6. Miles Michalec

    I have to agree with there is no comparision with BSG & SGU. both were dark and yes, so is most laywer. law and order, and some reality shows. The script in SGU was slow at the beginning. but they were made then showed. I think they saw the first episode as being a little off since SGA ppl were a little mad that it was dropped. But they fixed it in the second sesaon (maybe a little late) but it did bring in more viewers ( more NEW viewers!)

    All I have to comment on is SGU was the best show they had on SYFY. now all they have is a bunch of second rate movies, wrestling ( which is as boring as it comes) and reality shows that you need to be sick in the head to watch. SYFY will ride the ghost hunter show and wrestling until they relieze they lost the core viewers – then it will be too late……

    SGU will always have me and my family as loyal viewers. We will buy all the dvds and stay on syfy to reconsider. until then. we have the channel blocked and encourage all we know to do the same..

    SGU ! SAVE SGU!

    Everyone needs to keep the emails flowing to syfy and mgm. if there is no return. give us the dam movie and give it a proper ending……

  7. NateLewis

    Well it’s their own fault they kept taking long breaks mid series. I mean I watched SGU religiously on syfy and then after, I think, six episodes they stopped for a break so I moved on to another show and when SGu came back on it was on a totally different day and time. How do they expect us to stay fixed on the TV when they keep changing the schedule and taking more than long enough breaks. Pick a day and time, keep it, and play the show, and keep playing the show. And they should also take into fact that people just find it easier to watch online, at anytime. I’m just saying Syfy is shifty and a lot of people don’t dig it

    1. Neal Jansons Post author

      Hiya, Nate, nice to meet you.

      Well, the idea behind splitting the seasons up like that is so that there are original shows all year. It used to be that there were no shows during summer, essentially…all reruns and bad FOX “Who want to fight a wildebeest” or some such tripe. By having shows starting at different times and splitting their season up, there is supposed to be good content every night, year round.

      It’s not the best solution, and of course it doesn’t really work that way, but it is an attempt at fixing the problem of barren summers. It also allows for the release of the DVDs as separate packages, which some people prefer and allows the network three possible releases instead of one. It allows them to do Season 1.0, 1.5, and Season 1 Complete instead of just Season 1 Complete.

      Syfy is shifty, though. That much we agree on. And getting shiftier.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. IZZY

    I think alot of people miss the point when they compare BSG and SGU.
    1. The themes of survival, the character study, battles, and the sense of discovery are all there, just seen through a different lens. While BSG has a present enemy in the cylons, in SGU it is the ship that represents their enemy, as much as they know about it they still have much to discover and fix to survive. Furthermore there is some socio political drama particularly in season 1 the whole spat between Camille, and Col. Young, and their respective factions.

    Where I think the shows really differ is in the humour, you see the trademark SG brand of levity, to lighten otherwise dark situations, which makes you care more about these characters. For BSG they pushed their characters from a place of godhood, and perfection(i.e memories of the old show) and dragged them through the darkness to find their souls, so you sympathized with them.
    The fact is that we should be proud that these two shows are lumped together, they both take timeless themes, and motivations, and by virtue of their superior writing and directing, present us with stories of ourselves; at our best, at our darkest, and inbetween.
    This is what SyFy does not understand, this is why I refuse to watch their network, this is why we need a fan network, with a new business model, that will present great programming with the dynamic stories we’ve come to love, and experience, especially over the last 11 years.

  9. c

    I am sorry but I hate SGU so much stupid drama bring back SGA or SG1 and I would be happy. But SG has just gone the same way as star trek the inevitably end when they stick the wrong story lines in

    1. Neal Jansons Post author

      Well, obviously I disagree with that. I’m a huge fan of all things Stargate. But you are certainly entitled to your own opinion and to share it here, so long as it doesn’t turn into insulting the opinions of others

      Thanks for reading!

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