Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Thing About Eureka

So this past week the internet (well, the part of it that I frequent at any rate) has been all abuzz about the breaking news that Eureka was "cancelled." I put the quotation marks in there because I honestly feel that "cancelled" is not actually an accurate term for what has happened here. The actual situation is this: Syfy officially decided not to renew the series for a sixth season. Currently airing on Syfy right now? The back half of season four. Season five is currently filming and about to wrap up, but will be aired in full next year.

In my mind, a show has been cancelled when it has a season in filming and the plug is pulled in such a way that filming shuts down at that point and/or the network yanks the show from the air, declining to show the remaining episodes (or burning them off in the summer well after the show is pulled from the regular schedule). Alternatively, I would consider a series cancelled when the current season has finished being produced, but not aired, and the series is not allowed any sort of chance to resolve the story of the show. Neither of those situations is the case here.

Now this isn't to say I'm not still upset about the news. It's just a little hard for my nerdrage to get a full head of steam when I know that there is a full season (and then some) left to go before I have to actually say goodbye to these characters and this story. Also, unless Warehouse 13 is also not picked up beyond Eureka's swan song, it isn't as if we won't still have an avenue to revisit these characters. With the crossovers the two shows have been doing of late, the door is wide open for characters from the quirky little town to meander over to the warehouse from time to time.

Do you want to know what really upsets me over this whole thing? It's not that a show I truly love is going away--that happens all the time, I am sadly getting used to it, and I will have the entire series on DVD to watch again whenever I want. It's not even that just last week, Syfy had gone on the record as stating that six episodes had already been ordered for the show's sixth season (said statement having been issued in order to reassure the fans that the show hadn't been cancelled, no less). No, what bugs me is that, justified or not, I think that this is just an idiotic move on Syfy's part.

Lemme 'splain.

The reason that Syfy has given, officially, for choosing not to pick up a sixth season is that right now the cost of producing Eureka can no longer be justified by the ratings it is receiving. Okay. That makes a modicum of sense, until you actually stop to think about it. Because there is still an entire season of this show to be aired after the current season wraps up (and a holiday episode). Has Syfy all of a sudden started employing fortune tellers? Do they already know what Eureka's season five ratings will be? Somehow, I don't think so.

Look, there are a number of factors that can influence a show's ratings. Among them are things that Syfy totally has within its control, such as what time of year to air a show, what day of week, what time of day, etc. Then, there is the show itself. As of yet there is no telling how this season's finale will impact what the viewership looks like when the show returns for its fifth season. In between the fourth and fifth seasons Syfy will have plenty of time to crunch some data and decide if and where to move Eureka on their schedule to attempt maximizing viewership and determine if the series is worth a sixth season pick up or if it is not. Based on why Syfy says it declined to continue the series, this only makes sense if they aren't planning to air the fifth season. That realization makes me nervous. While it would seem a ridiculous waste of their precious money to go that route, the network's track record isn't really reassuring.

I completely one-hundred percent understand their position that right now it doesn't make financial sense to renew the series for another season. The problem with that position is that it technically already has been, they are looking at the season after that. So why does that decision have to be made right now? Granted, I am not a television producer and I have no desire to get into the business. At all. But if it were me? I would have decided to wait and see. I would have held off on ordering/beginning production on anything for season six and given the show the first half of season five to find out what was up. Then I would make my decision. From what I can tell (thanks to my trusty friend, the internet) that is, after all, still the standard procedure for scripted television these days.

My suspicion is that it has to do with the cast. For one thing, there are contracts to consider. Five is a nice round number, and for many shows the goal in order to allow syndication. I don't think syndication is really a concern of Syfy, and Eureka tends to have shorter seasons, so that's likely not a factor. But maybe the actors' contracts were all originally for only five seasons and Syfy doesn't want to undergo the process of renegotiating and renewing them, especially given that doing so would probably mean they would all get a pay bump. Then, there is the matter of availability. Surely the actors need to know if and when they will need to be available to start producing the new season so that they can take that into consideration when offered or seeking other work. This trickles down to the crew as well, I am sure. But it sounds like the internet was informed before any of the cast or crew about the show's denial of a sixth season (another trademark bonehead move on the part of Syfy). Those that I follow seem genuinely surprised and upset about the situation. I think it is more than possible many of them would have accepted that the decision on season six had been delayed as long as they had a date on when they would be told for certain yes or no so they could get on with their lives in the mean time. But I am (more or less) an eternal optimist.

Putting all of that aside, however, this is still a frankly stupid move on Syfy's part, the way this went down. Because this? What this says to me, and to all of the other people out there who pay attention to this kind of stuff:

"Sorry kids, we just have no faith whatsoever in Eureka season five. We think it is crap. Don't even bother watching."

That can't be the message they are trying to send, not with a whole season of the series left to air and viewers to lure to their network, can it? But that is sure as hell how it sounds. Wil Wheaton has been heavily involved in season five, however, and he seems to think it is actually going to be a pretty fun ride. As he is a gentleman of discerning taste, I think I will go with his recommendation, rather than Syfy's mixed messages. They have already (frequently) proved themselves to be of questionable judgement. At the very least, I would like for someone at the network to sit down and reexamine the way they are producing these shows. Short seasons are fine, but call them what they are, don't give us six months (or more) between halves of one season. I would be perfectly fine if you wanted to break up the year into three or four "seasons" with six to ten episodes a season and have a year between full seasons as long as that's what we are admitting is going on. The British model is fine, it actually makes for some much tighter and much more amazing story telling. But the way you are trying to do it, Syfy? You are doing it wrong. Don't produce stuff so far in advance that you have no way of knowing if the expense will be justified. These practices aren't working for you, Syfy. Just stop.

I just feel like this network is on its way out. I am incredibly saddened by this, because Syfy has been the home to many wonderful, innovative shows that I just can't imagine on any other network currently in existence. I don't know where else we can go. But even though they keep trying out new shows, they always seem to be too scared to move much past the trial period, rather than giving the shows time to actually gather some steam--unless that show is not actually science fiction. But in trying to rebrand itself, Syfy has completely lost all sense of identity that it once held. It has consistently alienated the people it orginally (as Sci Fi Channel) set out to cater to. There is something to be said for sticking by the people who have been there with you from the beginning, rather than shoving them out the back door as soon as the general public starts to take notice of you. But Syfy isn't listening any more. Not to us. It is not enough to be financially/business savvy. You also have to build a loyal customer base, and you can't do that without a quality product. But once you have that loyal base? You have to maintain it, folks. Acting like you don't really care about them any more is only going to make them turn away, and that will make it triply hard to get them back once you realize you still need them. Yes, you're a business, but even if all you want is our money? You have to make us feel like we matter to you, too, or we'll go spend our time and money elsewhere.


I totally didn't mean to turn that into a rant. I guess my nerdrage did managed to kick in after all. The whole point of writing about this was to point out that I don't think the ending of Eureka, as much as I love it, is worth a rant. I just think it's stupid. Once it's over will I miss the show? Yes, I think I will. It was fun and silly and interesting and entertaining. I do my best to watch it live. I voted with my wallet and bought it on DVD. Syfy didn't think that was good enough. It is their call to make. I just wish sometimes that I didn't keep getting the message--especially from a network that started its life catering to exactly my kind of crowd--that what I like isn't worth it, you know?

1 comment:

  1. The problem is that SyFy's owners have a long history of not giving a crap. Why else would they run UFC on their station instead of on USA? Why cancel Invisible Man because they say it's "too expensive" to produce only to buy the rights to SG-1 the month after? ::shakes head:: They get things right sometimes, but ultimately they've been failing on all cylinders for years, and it can be damn frustrating.