When it was announced last week that Syfy would only be ordering a limited run of 6 episodes of EUREKA for its sixth season, there was an immediate outcry from fans and bewildered viewers. Why the limited number of episodes? And was that Syfy’s way of unofficially cancelling the show?
Alas, this week the news was far worse, Syfy had rescinded its offer of a 6-episode 6th season. Instead, it officially announced that EUREKA’s fifth season would be its last. The ‘cancellation ax’ had finally fallen on a beloved sci-fi series. But even as viewers brought their frustrations and anguish to the digital airwaves, critics were scratching their heads for EUREKA had been a consistently high-ranked performer for Syfy for the past 5 years. What could have possibly happened to justify such an abrupt announcement?
Then as those who worked on the show slowly began issuing statements and information began trickling out, it became clear that Syfy was dissatisfied with the cost of such an expensive show. EUREKA with all its fancy imagery of a fictional town where just about anything could happen, just could not sustain itself financially. Its consistent 2 million viewers, while a high number for a Syfy show, was not enough to make the show economically viable any longer. Syfy was cutting ties simply because of the high cost of making such an effects-laden science fiction show.
In the past year, Syfy has been ruthless in cancelling low performing shows, such as CAPRICA and STARGATE UNIVERSE. No matter whether the quality of the shows was stellar, if viewers were not tuning in, it doled out cancellation notices. But in EUREKA’s case, the viewers were tuning in – it was only because Syfy decided it could not afford it anymore.
So what does this say about the remaining scripted dramas on Syfy’s roster? Will shows like WAREHOUSE 13, BEING HUMAN, SANCTUARY, HAVEN and newcomer ALPHAS have to deliver a set number of eyeballs to justify their longevity as well? As can be seen, 2 million viewers is not enough, which bodes badly for shows like SANCTUARY and HAVEN, which consistently pull in just under 2 million viewers. Even ALPHAS, which debuted to 2.7 million viewers on July 11th, found its viewers dipped to 2 million, below even EUREKA, which had 2.2 million viewers this week.
With Syfy slicing-and-dicing shows it deems are under-performing or are not profitable enough, it begs the question of whether Syfy will continue to be a source of science fiction television shows. With its name change 2 years ago from Sci-Fi to Syfy in order to create a more recognizable network brand, it has led to speculation that Syfy does not want to be known as a science fiction network anymore. Plus, the addition of WWE Smackdown on Syfy’s traditional Sci-Fi Fridays and the reallocation of shows like EUREKA, WAREHOUSE 13 to first Tuesday, then Monday nights, does seem to be evidence that Syfy is indeed moving farther and farther away from its sci-fi roots.
But in an era where science fiction is a double-edge sword — as can been seen from the out-of-the-gate series highs of such shows as LOST, HEROES, TERMINATOR: SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, THE EVENT and FLASHFORWARD, only to see them fall to precariously low viewing numbers as each episode/season passed — both viewers and networks have become gun-shy of classic sci-fi shows. Only the more fantasy-based genre shows seem to thrive on the current television landscape – shows like: TRUE BLOOD, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, SUPERNATURAL and BEING HUMAN.
And more classic science fiction like DOCTOR WHO and TORCHWOOD only tend to pull in large number of viewers in the U.K. and other countries. Astoundingly, both have struggled to find a foothold with the American audience.
So what is it about American viewers and science fiction? If looking at the viewing patterns of the past decade, clearly there is a trend of U.S. viewers turning their backs on sci-fi. They may be seduced for an episode or two, but anything more than that and the ratings begin dropping at an alarming rate.
Shows like EUREKA, WAREHOUSE 13 and even ALPHAS hover around the 2.0 to 2.3 million mark and yet shows like JERSEY SHORE pull in over 9 million viewers. Americans are more drawn to procedurals and reality television than any other type of show. It’s not just a preference, it is a fact. From the debut of SURVIVOR, HOW TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, and AMERICAN IDOL, American television has never quite embraced scripted dramas or serialized dramas the same ever since. The American audience will tune-in for shows like NCIS, CSI, even DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and GREY’s ANATOMY, but nothing speaks to the American viewing audience than a good old rousing dose of “reality.” Ratings for DANCING WITH THE STARS, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, and even the abrasive JERSEY SHORE are off-the-charts simply because they are offering what Americans want to watch.
American viewers are not even bothering with science fiction shows. It is horrifying and depressing to those of us who love science fiction — to be in the minority and forced to endure only what the masses will watch. It is a cruel truth. To be in a minority on television means you are plum out of luck. Television is a business and, if not enough people are watching a show or a particular type of show, then no one will want to make it. Syfy is bailing on sci-fi shows simply because they cannot make enough money off sci-fi shows.
Looking out across the television landscape, there is very little true sci-fi left. Fox banished its creative gem FRINGE to Fridays in order to give it a little breathing room, but FRINGE averages about 4 million viewers per week — a low number for any of the major television networks. In fact, the only true science fiction shows on television this Fall will be FRINGE and TERRA NOVA – both on Fox. The other most promising new show but which is being held to the mid-season is ALCATRAZ (also on Fox). (Note: Syfy has not yet announced a premiere date for its BATTLESTAR GALACTICA spin-off series BLOOD AND CHROME.)
Instead , what the upcoming television season will be offering is a multitude of fantasy genre shows, such as GRIMM, ONCE UPON A TIME, BEDLAM, THE SECRET CIRCLE and THE RIVER; all which incorporate spiritual and/or fantasy elements. They will join the ranks of shows like SUPERNATURAL, BEING HUMAN, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and MERLIN. All are fun shows and will undoubtedly succeed in securing a rapt and attentive audience.
But sci-fi? Good luck in finding an actual science fiction show on TV this Fall. Even the Syfy staples of EUREKA, WAREHOUSE 13 and ALPHAS, TNT’s FALLING SKIES, Starz’s TORCHWOOD and BBC America’s DOCTOR WHO will have concluded by mid-October leaving sci-fi fans clinging to the two Fox shows (FRINGE and TERRA NOVA) as the last remnants of sci-fi on TV for the next year.
Two years ago, no less than 16 sci-fi shows were cancelled in one season – but at that time, it at least left 11 remaining sci-fi series. Today, we are clinging to a mere 2 sci-fi series to get us through the 2011-2012 television season. It is the equivalent of a television ‘drought’ for sci-fi viewers.
So when one wonders what the fuss is all about when viewers freak out over the news that a stellar show such as EUREKA has been marked-for-death, you need only look out across the television horizon – sci-fi is a dying genre. We have every right to wail against the impending darkness.
EUREKA airs Mondays at 8PM on Syfy. Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).