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April 23, 2014

Syfy Closes the 'Stargate' ... For Now

by Mike Moody, posted Dec 17th 2010 6:00PM
syfy stargate universeThe transformation is complete: The SciFi Channel, for better or worse, is now officially Syfy.

The cable network canceled 'Stargate Universe,' its last remaining space-set sci-fi drama yesterday. Luckily, Syfy isn't shelving the remaining 10 episodes of 'SGU's' current season; those will hit the air as scheduled starting next spring. But the cancellation still stings -- hard -- for fans of the show, fans of the long-running 'Stargate' franchise, and fans of science fiction TV.

'Stargate' has been a part of the cable network since 2002, and it represented the last "true" science fiction Syfy had to offer. While 'Stargate SG-1' and 'Stargate Atlantis' delivered fun, action-adventure science fiction, 'SGU' offered a kind of entertainment that's quickly disappearing from TV – serialized sci-fi drama.

All we have left to look forward to on Syfy now are light procedural shows with sci-fi elements, like 'Warehouse 13' and 'Eureka,' reality programming, Z-grade made-for-TV movies and wrestling. It's programming that appeals to a broader audience. (I do have high hopes for the upcoming 'Being Human' remake and 'Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome'.) Granted, 'Warehouse 13' and 'Eureka' are pretty fun shows, but they're not shows I can get lost in or obsessive about; 'SGU' was. It was a dark, ambitious, challenging and stylized slice of sci-fi.

So, the question now is "What went wrong?" Well, the frustrating answer is ... nothing, really.

Simply put, the ratings weren't there. 'SGU' struggled to reach even a million live viewers several times during season 2.

My friend Darren Sumner, editor of the 'Stargate' fan site Gateworld, agreed that the cancellation was a quick and cold business decision from Syfy.

"At the end of the day, it is obviously about the ratings. It's about how many viewers they (Syfy) can show their advertisers they have and how much money they can get from their advertisers to off-set the money that they're spending on the show," Sumner said.

Some blame the ratings failure on Syfy's decision to move the show from Friday nights to Tuesday nights (to make room for wrestling on Friday), but the truth is that 'SGU' rarely nabbed a large audience even when it aired on Fridays. 'SGU' was never really a hit for Syfy.

But why didn't the show become a hit? My pal Michael Hinman, who runs the sci-fi blog Airlock Alpha, blames the network's handling and promotion (or lack thereof) of the show.

"I think it was a mistake, to be honest, for the 'Stargate' people to trust that Syfy knew how to handle this type of programming," Hinman said during a conversation we had last night about the cancellation. "This type of programming (serialized, character driven sci-fi) commonly suffers if you don't handle it well. You don't get this type of audience erosion if you don't plan and promote the DVD releases better, promote the show better or schedule regular marathons."

Hinman had a point. I never thought Syfy's marketing campaigns for 'SGU' were very compelling or effective, and I don't remember the network ever scheduling a marathon during the run of season 2 -- a strategy that's paid off for other shows, like AMC's 'The Walking Dead.'

But what about the content of the show? 'SGU' was a tough show to love, even for 'Stargate' fans. Several fans of the franchise refused to watch it because it represented such a huge departure from what came before with 'SG-1' and 'Atlantis.' Gone were the episodic adventures featuring a friendly team of do-gooders battling disposable baddies. In its place, co-creators Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright offered slower-paced character-centric stories, a darker and more stylized look, and serialized plots that stretched out over two seasons.

You couldn't just jump right in to the show at any point; you had to start from the beginning. And that's not a bad thing, creatively. Ratings-wise, it was a risky move, as evidenced by the fate of 'SGU' and 'Caprica' before it.

I enjoyed 'SGU' for what it was -- an experimental sci-fi series packed with solid actors and a great premise that was trying to find its way. It didn't always achieve what it set out to do -- grab viewers with compelling human drama and fantastic science fiction concepts -- but at least the creators attempted something different after 15 seasons of mostly one-dimensional episodic storytelling with the previous shows. 'SGU' wasn't a great show, but it was getting there.

So where does the 'Stargate' franchise go from here? Will Brad Wright and crew pull a new show together in a few seasons? Will we finally see the production and release of those rumored 'SG-1' and 'Atlantis' DVD movies? Or will the series go dark for a few years and make a splashy return with a new look, and maybe even a new creative team, like 'Star Trek?'

"We know that season 2 is going to leave us on a cliffhanger when it comes back in the spring, so I hope for a movie for 'SGU' to tie up that major story arc, like 'The Ark of Truth' did for 'SG-1' a couple of years ago," Sumner said. "But I think we've reached a point where the franchise is taking a breather. It's been on the air continuously for 14 years ... I think the franchise is going to take a break. How long will that break be? When will it come back? Will the same creatives be behind it? I think only time will tell."

We'll be covering the final episodes of 'SGU' next year, so remember to head back to TV Squad when the show returns to the air next spring.

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Jared

Its such much a more complex problem than being "too dark". The show failed on a more fundamental level.
I had hoped that we'd learn more about the Ancients. Or that we'd see humankind advance from new technology or allies they acquired in their journey. But being on the Destiny did very little to advance the Stargate story. In the end, SGU wasn't about Stargate. That's why it ultimately failed.

June 03 2011 at 1:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jt

The problem was that the show went out on a limb by becoming very different from SG1 and Atlantis shows that were fun and full of adventure, SGU very dark and depressing not fun, thus the fans of the franchise were alienated right from the begining, the old fan base quit (3 million) 1 million new fans bought in, folks who were to young to know what they were watching, this show was doomed from the start, I am glad it is gone. BC

December 23 2010 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
WarpStar

SyFy has lost its way and its programming has lost the serious Science Fiction Geeks. SGU was a love fest in space, and was rejected by the serious StarGate fans. They lost me with the Ghost Hunter phony baloney plastic banana stuff. SyFy has expected too much market share for Science Fiction. I believe that SG1 and Altantis were the best products produced by the StarGate writters. They had a working formula and tired to win over the fan with smute instead of content.

December 20 2010 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to WarpStar's comment
NashVOLcat

Totally agree WarpStar. Untill they wake up and realize what science fiction trully means I have watched the last of the Sigh-Fi channel

December 30 2010 at 12:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
George

Well, this sucks.
I found the previous two Stargate series to be too "casual" for my tastes, so when longtime fans dismissed SG:U as not being Stargate, that was actually a selling point for me.

Of course, there's no question that it was dark and bleak, especially the last few episodes prior to the midseason break, but it also carried on the grand tradition established by Blake's Seven and Firefly -- building tiny islands of warmth and community in the dark emptiness of space.

December 20 2010 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dweeb

"Several fans of the franchise refused to watch it"? More like several hundred thousand at least. Lack of interest in this shakey cam soap killed the show along with arrogant preachy producers.

December 18 2010 at 7:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ian

SyFy channel will thenceforth be known as SyGone.

2 things went wrong with SGU.

1) Lousy producers
2) lousy SyFy managers.

The show had great potential, but the characters portrails were very disjointed and acted out of character from ep to ep. And there was over emphassis on going back to earth for ultra boring stuff using the "stones".

The remedy was for SyFy to order a complete reboot for a season III with new producers, more consistent and identifiable character portails and a good set of one off plots and underlying theme.

Just to cancel w/o any real effort to turn the show around means SyFy should change the name of the channel to NoSyFy. Apart from slightly amusing 13 and Eureka this channel is only home to the worst TV Movies ever created.

The good news is there is now room for a real SciFi Channel to be created elsewhere.

December 18 2010 at 6:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

Stargate ended for me when Stargate Atlantis was canceled.

Stargate Universe was not a Stargate series in my book and I'm not morning its lost.

December 18 2010 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment
Ian

Good point re Atlantis. I heard this show was doing well in the ratings, but was killed off because starting a new StarGate meant cheaper actors. That's how impressive SyFy managers are at managing shows.

December 18 2010 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

SG-U is just another example of the people in charge of the Syfy Channel having no clue as to what really matters to most of its viewers. 3 Ghost Hunters shows, 2 or 3 wrestling shows, countless other idiot reality shows. That's not science fiction. When they do put on valid science fiction, it's an even bet that the show will wander so much that viewers will lose interest within the first season, maybe two.

December 18 2010 at 9:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cap\'n Bludd

They ran Warehouse 13 on every channel they owned over and over when it started to give it exposure, why wasn't that done for SGU and Caprica?

December 18 2010 at 7:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cap\'n Bludd's comment
One_Man_Army

Uhm, by "every channel they owned over and over" I hope you're not serious. SyFy owns ONLY one channel. They could have aired Warehouse 13 on ONLY one channel when it began. What alternate reality were you in?

February 27 2011 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sammy

I am absolutely disgusted with whoever is running Syfy. No wonder they changed the name of the damn channel - it long ago ceased to be sci-fi-centric. Wrestling, for the love of god? On Friday night, which used to be the one time you'd be guaranteed to find me in front of the tv?

I missed whole chunks of BSG because they moved it to different nights at least twice, and I missed a whole bunch of SGU episodes also when they did the same thing. Way to go, screwing over a faithful fandom. People don't show up to things like ComicCon because they're quite happy to watch WRESTLING instead. Or those stupid ghost shows. Or - god forbid - scare tactics (it doesn't even deserve initial caps).

I disagree with the folks that think SGU was doomed to fail; I thought it was well done, and a necessary change & progression from the earlier shows. Darker, meatier, and with longer plot arcs. Yeah, sometimes it was a little turgid, but always watchable.

I guess I won't be watching "Syfy" too much any more.

December 17 2010 at 11:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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