Today I’m going to talk about the cancel culture issue that I really care about – the cancellation of excellent science fiction and fantasy shows before their time. I’ve come to the conclusion that the television industry has no darned idea what good science fiction or fantasy is. Or possibly worse, that they know, but don’t care. When The Sci-Fi channel first started, I thought, ‘Finally, a safe place for good shows!’. For a while, it was. But apparently wrestling makes more money than quality programming, and given that modern society seems to care far more about making as much money as possible than producing quality products, those of us who love good science fiction and fantasy just don’t matter.
Now, while I could probably write an entire book on what I believe is wrong with the entertainment industry, or even just on all the good programs that have been cancelled, I’ll keep this article down to just a handful of the cancellations that really bothered me.
This one is obvious, as just about every SF fan I know was quite upset about its cancellation. Now while Star Trek was considered the first space western, that wasn’t really a western, Firefly was undeniably a space western. It was fun, irreverent, unlike any other show I’d seen, and it had space geisha’s. Everyone I know who has seen it, loved it. The problem was, not enough people saw it during the single season it was produced. I myself never saw it until after it was cancelled. Another issue was that the episodes were shown out of order, and fans really do like things to make chronological sense. Also, I’ve read that FOX wasn’t very happy with the show from the beginning.
This cancellation really hacked me off. Sci-Fi had announced that it was continuing for a fourth and fifth season, but the ratings slipped, and while still better than many shows that were maintained, Sci-Fi was moving away from space based shows, so they cut it. Did you catch that? Sci-Fi (or Syfy, which sounds like an abbreviation for syphilis) was moving away from space based shows. What the ever-living heck? I now consider them a worthless channel. And the way they left the show – announcing the cancellation during the filming of the season four finale, with it’s huge cliffhanger… Shameful.
I realize a lot of fans were not fond of Caprica, but I thought it was brilliant. I loved that it explained the evolution of the theology of the Cylons, and I loved its theories on religion and violence. I was not happy that it didn’t involve space, which was part of Sci-fi’s move away from space based shows, but it had enough good ideas that I was quite pleased with it. Apparently not enough fans of BSG gave it a chance, and Sci-Fi’s attempt to draw in non-SF fans failed miserably. Again, I don’t understand why a Science Fiction channel would want to move away from science fiction. Talk about losers.
This is another SyFy (Yes, I’ll finally call them that – they deserve it) show that they cancelled. This cancellation, though, I partially blame on SF fans. Too many of them now expect a show to be absolutely fantastic from the very first episode, while in fact, it often takes a full season for SF shows to get themselves together. TNG, for example. Universe had a lot of drama at first, but if you think of it, in such a situation, people, especially scientists and military, would be at each other’s throats. It made sense. But SyFy was responsible for the other thing that doomed SGU – huge breaks between sets of episodes, and changing time slots.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
I really liked that show! Some were happy with where it ended, but they could have done so much more with it. I didn’t know why it was cancelled until tonight. It turns out it was really intended as a lead-up to the movie Terminator Salvation. The company that owned the rights to the series ended up in bankruptcy, and had to put up the rights as collateral to the hedge fund company they had borrowed money from. That company ended up selling the rights to someone who bought them as a gift for a person who, it turned out, had no interest in continuing the show. So I suppose this one may not belong in this article, but I really liked it, so here it stays.
So far I’ve been covering old shows that the cancelling of still upsets me. There are many, many recent ones as well. Sometimes I start a show, discover it has been cancelled and stop watching, especially if I learn that it ends on a cliffhanger. That happens a lot these days, and I end up reverting to old shows I loved decades ago.
Another big problem is the threat of cancellation. Babylon 5 for instance. It was, and is, one of my favorite shows, but you can really see how the threat of cancellation can mess things up. Season four rushed through the shadow war, because JMS didn’t know if there was going to be a season 5. The Ivanova actress left for another job, because actors have to make a living, just like the rest of us, and a job offer is better than the hope of a continued part. Her leaving destroyed the Marcus story line, for which I was upset for quite a while. Season five was a mixture of filler stuff I could have done well without, and wonderful continuations of existing story lines. I often ponder how the show would have progressed if there hadn’t been so much uncertainty over its future.
Cancellations usually come down to money, even if it isn’t the show’s fault. SyFy, for example, has made conscious choices that have turned it mostly into a common, mundane channel that primarily shows stuff that I consider crap.
Another issue, historically at least, is that continuation/cancellation decisions on network television have been made mostly using outdated data gathering methods. SF fandom tends to be dominated by people who know how to use technology well beyond just turning on their TV, and rating companies just don’t track the ways those individuals watch. If you think of it, why would a tech capable person carve time out of their schedule to watch a show live, when they can record it to watch later? DVR viewing often was only counted for ratings if it is watched soon after airing, and later only if the commercials were allowed to play. After all, the channel doesn’t care about how many people watch the show, but how many people watch the commercials – because to them, that’s what really matters.
I have concluded that the only way to have a truly good science fiction/fantasy television station is to have it owned and run by someone who doesn’t really care about making a lot of money from it. I’d pay for access to a true SF&F channel that put quality above profit. One that allowed fans to provide input on what is good and what isn’t, and made decisions accordingly, while not requiring all fans to like the same kinds of SF&F shows. So, are there any multi-billionaires out there who just want to provide really good programming for SF&F fans with diverse interests?
If any of you have any ideas on how to have a true channel or better yet, a dedicated SF/F service, feel free to share. Feasibility not necessary. My favorite idea right now is to have one billion startup money. (I know, not possible, but it’d be there to ensure that the service never had to borrow money or otherwise place itself at the mercy of needing to turn a profit to survive) Throw at least half of it into the stock market in stable, dividend paying stocks, with a goal of earning at least 2% in dividends alone per year. That would be at least ten million in cash per year to cover expenses not covered by income, as well as serve as a safety net if something goes terribly wrong, or feed money for a really promising, but expensive project. Use what is needed to buy rights to old SF shows and movies, and startup costs for creating the entertainment channel/service, and some original programming. Perhaps even attempt to tap the Indie community for some of the content. Charge $10 to $15 dollars a month, which is high, I admit, but for pure SF/F and a near guarantee that good shows won’t get cancelled just because other stuff would make more money… I’d be willing to pay more. And for those who can’t afford it, possibly do what IMDB does, and offer free access with advertising that can’t be skipped, or charge individually for specific, more expensive shows. I hate that, but if it’s advertising or nothing…
Anyone else have a ‘save good science fiction and fantasy’ pipe dream?