Dec 07 2012
We human beings love to spread our seed.
Science teaches us what happens when we do, and science fiction revels in the idea of mankind inevitably going from Point A to Point B. Whether its space travel, time travel, genetic engineering, or teleportation, sci fi fans are smart – arguably the smartest on the planet, as I consider myself one of them and in good company. And there’s always something noble at the core of our most successful programs. Star Wars shows us classic tales of good vs. evil. Star Trek takes us boldly where no one has gone before. The Terminator movies invoke images of man-becoming-machine as often as they do vice versa. The list goes on and on, as it should, and it probably will so long as humanity puts emphasis on one’s ability to imagine.
While doing research the other day into a side writing project, I came across an open letter from Craig Engler, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Syfy Digital. Specifically, Mr. Engler thought it entirely apropos to respond directly to fans of Stargate SGU regarding the show’s cancelation. So far as I saw it, the long and short of it all was that he mostly wanted to dispel the rumors regarding why the network lost faith in the next spin-off of the Stargate franchise, and he had probably grown tired of having it all blamed on wrestling.
However, it was his defense for greenlighting SGU that I found more troubling.
Paraphrasing, Engler went to great lengths to promote the idea of how much Syfy and MGM had invested financially and creatively in the SGU property. To quote him directly, he said, in Syfy’s defense, “There is literally no one other than MGM who supported it more than we did. We were the only network who gave the show a try and the only ones who committed to making and airing 40 episodes before a script had been written.” There was more – quite a lot more – but it’s these sentiments that really get to the heart of what concerned me.
First … who asked you to? Now, I realize that may sound snarky. While I’m a big fan of the snark, I honestly don’t mean it. However, Syfy had already done Stargate: SG-1, which – last I knew – ended up getting the axe. Stargate: Atlantis had already run its course after five seasons. Who in sci-fi fandom was clamoring for yet another adventure in the Stargate Universe? Was it the fans? If ratings were any indication, I’d have to conclude not. Was it MGM? Well, if it was a cash cow, they’d certainly have something to gain from keeping it afloat. Or was it Syfy’s desire to have something with the Stargate name on the air?
Second … who forced you to commit so much time, so much money, so much effort into a property without so much as reading a single script? I mean … isn’t that kind of thing unheard of in this day and age? If you needed a new car, would you go to the dealership and pick out your next one before it was even manufactured or on the drawing board? Would you submit for a dental surgery to a dentist who’s only planning on getting a degree? Clearly, you had to see something from producers of SGU in order to make an effective decision, so projecting your guilt on to an unsuspecting fandom really seems a bit childish (at best) or churlish (at worst).
Third … since you’d already axed two other Stargate shows, at what point were you going to accept that perhaps the Stargate franchise had been currently tapped dry? You’re a media executive. I’m guessing you don’t do that kind of work for free. If you’re paid, that implies you’re paid for your expertise. What about your expertise told you that SGU was destined to be a hit? See, I hadn’t followed the Stargate franchise all that closely. I’m no genius, but it shouldn’t take getting to the point of producing “Stargate: Des Moines” for your eyes to see that maybe – just maybe – fandom could use a break.
Fourth … why wouldn’t you do something a bit different with SGU and, instead of putting out all of that talent and money, maybe air an actual two-part or three-part or four-part mini-series to first establish the demand? Instead of properly building an audience for a new vision in an established franchise, you flush good money down the toilet, as you did with that God-awful Flash Gordon series and countless others? Maybe you need to change the way you do business, and, no, that doesn’t mean put on more wrestling.
What it does mean is that if – IF – you’re going to proliferate the species, then actually start small and let it build into something special, something grand, something audiences can’t miss, and something advertisers will be flocking to throw money at you for. Maybe it means instead of producing your own versions of BBC imports, why not air the originals? I get that, contractually, there may be difficulties in securing the property, but wouldn’t / couldn’t / shouldn’t that be cheaper in the long run? Plus, if you saved the money you spent on producing a new version of Being Human by paying less and airing what critically appears to be a vastly superior product in the form of the BBC original, then you’d have more money to throw into “Battlestar Galactica: Sprockets & Glue” or whatever else sounds like it might be worth proliferating.
I guess what I’m saying is that we, as sci-fi fans, aren’t opposed to programmers going back to the well. We just want to know that the water you’re serving ain’t polluted. Yes, I watched Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I grumbled my way through Star Trek: Voyager, and I probably downed a case of Pepto Bismal suffering through what I could of Enterprise (two seasons, by the way). Yes, even as a fan, I knew at that point the wellwater was rancid, and that’s when I searched for greener pastures.
And, for the record, can you show me another subset of fandom that’s more forgiving than sci-fi fans? All I need to do is cite you Star Trek: Enterprise again and inform you that, yes, I saw the JJ Abrams’ Trek reboot, and I enjoyed it. I sat through seasons of the Sarah Connor Chronicles (as did many others) desperately waiting for something to happen. And Dollhouse. And Jericho. And Flash-Forward. And The Event. And Lost. Even when we’re disappointed, sci-fi fans generally show up IF the product looks good, promises a meager return on our investment, and meets our definition of entertainment. That’s because – like I said – we’re smart. Maybe we shouldn’t be so forgiving.
There’s an old adage from a favorite film: if you build it, people will come. There’s no truer definition of proliferation than that.
Science fiction is about proliferation.
You wanna proliferate the species? Then make the offspring something special. Don’t blame us if you don’t.
And don’t expect us to sit still while you pull out our fingernails.
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