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!