So, the other day I was thinking to myself, “Man, it’s really difficult to get people to agree on what makes a good Science-Fiction television property. While some people like the science and tech to be a backdrop for the human drama, some people don’t give a crap about the human drama and just want the exploration of technological and scientific speculation. You know, there haven’t really been many shows that have successfully blended the two perspectives. Hmm. Well, I guess Caprica— SyFy Channel’s spin-off of their Battlestar Galactica reboot— does. Yeah. You know, Caprica‘s got a really great blend of the emotional drama inherent in religious conflict, ambition, grief, betrayal, and the philosophical considerations that flow from those, all balanced and even driven by really amazing tech and science that’s relevant to the concerns of the present day! I sure am glad that Caprica‘s around.”
Which is all to say that Caprica has, of course, been canceled.
Certain trends in television programming really do baffle me. As you may have noticed, I keep talking about an intensive refitting of the model on which television ratings are done. I keep saying things like “Networks need to take DVR viewing into account,” and “How can you have an accurate count of viewership, if you don’t even take network-sponsored downloads into account?!” But as this post on TV By The Numbers points out, networks care about viewers, as a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Less bluntly:
So far as we can tell DVR viewing doesn’t meaningfully add to a networks[sic] ability to make money, and more people watching shows via DVR isn’t good news for the networks.
As you might expect, most people using DVRs usually avoid commercials. . .Which, in terms of a money making scheme, makes perfect sense. If commercial advertisers are your main source of revenue, and they are committed to airing spots between 30 and 60 seconds in length, interspersed after the first and second acts and at the show change-over, then hell No, you won’t want to back those shows which are most often watched via a device which strives to make that revenue stream obsolete. By all the dark gods, networks and advertisers Fear change, people! Because, in TV speak, “change” means “uncertain dividends,” and there is no way in hell they’re going to stand for that.
Sorry. I guess I’m just a little grumpy, but it’s only because this whole thing could be so easily mitigated, with just a little work on both the programming and the advertising side. With the advent of proper timing and marketing, shows can ride high waves of enthusiasm well enough to survive the troughs. To start to see what I mean, take a look at the Caprica airing timeline, over at The Caprica Times (about a third of the way down the page). Looking at that, we can begin to understand where the ball was dropped, and perhaps even see a structure similar to that which precipitated the cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Joss Whedon‘s DollHouse. It breaks down like this: If you wait too long after the cessation of series to start its spin-off show, then the audience loses momentum; that should be pretty obvious. If you stagger the season, and don’t really advertise it as thoroughly as possible when you change the airing night after you come back from the break, people are going to miss the show. Also kind of obvious. If you do both of these things, while simultaneously not taking advantage of the opportunity to market your property across all three of the networks you own, then you’re dooming the show. That’s just Math, people.
And then there’s the commercial advertising side of this equation. Let me ask you: if you have a multi-billion-dollar entertainment/business conglomerate, one relatively small portion of which is a channel supposedly there to champion science-fiction, fantasy, and generally speculative fiction, would it really be so difficult to use this admittedly small portion of your media empire to try a new airing/advertising model? Perhaps you start seeding torrent downloads in addition to hosting episodes on the show’s website; or you make funnier, more attention grabbing commercials; or you support DVR-proof commercials, for your advertisers (cf. Domino’s and Broadview Security); or you more carefully integrate product placements into your shows, where appropriate (Hint: The Degree Deodorant thing, in season 2 of Eureka? Not appropriate); and maybe you hold some kind of sponsored contest tie-ins.
What I’m saying is, whatever you do, you don’t simply rely on the same old 30-second ad spot to be your main source of revenue when you have, at your fingertips, an audience which appreciates it when you A) Innovate and, more importantly, B) Respect Their Intelligence. If you don’t do the latter, they’ll know, and then they’ll start to wonder if maybe… Well…
Come close. I don’t want to say this too loud, but I have a conspiracy theory, one that I’ve been nurturing for a while, and I’m going to share it with you, right now.
I think that NBC/Universal hates nerds.
I know, it’s a shocking idea to have about the company which produced and marketed Serenity, ran Heroes and a half-season of a really smart Bionic Woman reboot, and which runs The Event, Chuck, Eureka, and Warehouse 13, but let’s stop a second and really think about those properties and what I just said. To some degree, those which have survived have all more paid lip-service to the idea of celebrated nerddom, or smart SF, than they actually walk the proverbial walk. Those which didn’t survive were either under-utilised, under-marketed, allowed to fall prey to the Writer’s Strike, or they rode the line of mediocrity so long that eventually people just gave up.
We could get into an argument about the fact that there are geek icons guest-starring in every episode of Chuck this season, but that really just kind of proves my point. It’s a series of pop-culture winks and nudges, and very rarely more. In contrast, Caprica‘s writing is tight, smart, funny, moving, and technologically interesting, celebrating a wide range of characters and investigating a culture with many points of startling difference from our own, but with even more startling similarities. That makes it rare, and something which needed the kind of cultivation and attention its parent company doesn’t seem to have been capable of giving it. Or perhaps they aren’t willing to give it; I don’t know.
Many fans are getting together to address and try to stop the cancellation of Caprica, and in that vein there are a few things going on, spearheaded by people in the fan community, as well as cast members. Over on Twitter, Alessandra Torresani and Sasha Roiz are using the search tags “#apples,” “#operationairlock,” “#savecaprica,” “#syfy,” “#cylonarmy,” and “#capricaarmy” in various combinations, in order to show series support and awareness. These efforts tie in with those of the Save Caprica. This kind of mobilization has changed minds, in the past, for instance, when it came to CBS’ Jericho. But it takes interest and response on the network side, as well.
At this point, it seems to me that there were and most importantly still are many ways for SyFy to fix the situation with Caprica. They can alter and increase the marketing of the property and shift its distribution and commercial advertising models. They can do this in such a way as to serve as a model and an object lesson for the other shows in the parent company, and in the serialised visual media landscape, in general. Syfy, there’s still time to turn this thing around, and become a leader, again, I tell you!
Or you could just make another dozen Forced-Faux-Campy Ridiculous Mutant Animal Vs. Ridiculous Prehistoric Animal movie. Whichever.