An Open Letter to Stargate Fans From Syfy

Posted: May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized
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There’s been a lot written about Stargate Universe and Syfy in the weeks leading up to SGU‘s recent finale, and a lot of questions and concerns directed at Syfy about how we handled the series. I wanted to take some time to address the issues that have come up and thought GateWorld, which has been a huge supporter of the entire Stargate franchise, would be a good place to do it. So thanks to them for giving me the space here, and thanks to you for taking the time to read this.

When MGM and Syfy mutually decided to bring Stargate Atlantis to an end after five seasons, they did so knowing they’d transition to a new show in the franchise, Stargate Universe. SGU was a bold new take on Stargate that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had had in mind for a long time, and one that we’d discussed with them off and on. It first came to us as a pitch many years ago.

Because Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis had performed so well for us in the past, we felt confident about SGU and committed to a two-season deal for it, as long as the show met certain milestones along the way. Two-season deals are rare in the TV world because they tie up a huge amount of investment (both time and money), but our great track record with MGM and Stargate made this seem like as much of a sure thing as you’ll get in the TV business. That means before any footage was shot or any actors were hired, we knew there’d be 40 episodes.

The show quickly moved forward and officially launched on October 2, 2009. The debut was watched by a good if not spectacular 2,779,000 viewers. To give that some perspective, Stargate Atlantis debuted with over 4 million viewers, so SGU was more than 25% below that. On the plus side, SGU actually grew in week 2 to just about 3 million viewers before falling into the 2.6 million range where it seemed like it was going to settle. That’s a fairly typical pattern for a new series, and at this point the show was doing okay.

In week six viewers dropped to 2.3 million, or 20% off the season high. It’s not unusual for a show to fluctuate a bit, so as long as it bounced back this wouldn’t be too much of a concern. There was indeed a bit of a recovery the next week, but that was followed by another small drop. Then viewership took a further dip to 1,961,000, or 33% down from the season high. Obviously there was concern at this point, but we were headed into the hiatus and shows often see a bump after a break (contrary to popular belief).

Coming back from hiatus the show in fact grew modestly to 2,088,000 viewers and then added more viewers the next week, hitting 2,153,000. It looked like we were regaining momentum. Unfortunately things stalled there and for the next two months SGU hovered between 2,116,000 and a low of 1,708,000 viewers, below where we could sustain it. So despite the brief post-hiatus bump, after two episodes it settled in at a lower number and we ended up averaging 1,982,000 viewers for season 1.5.

With untenably low numbers and no sign of growth on Fridays where it had now lost 1/3 of its initial audience, we decided to move SGU for its second season. We’d had tremendous success on Tuesday’s with our breakout hit Warehouse 13, so we paired SGU with Caprica and moved them to Tuesdays, hoping to introduce both shows to a new audience. As you probably know by now the downward trend continued and ultimately we weren’t able to continue either series.

We moved the final 10 episodes of SGU to Monday nights where we’d just had success with a new show called Being Human, but the ratings remained flat. SGU did finish out its run with a nice spike for the finale, which is something else you also typically see with TV shows (it’s called the “terminal spike” in ratings parlance).
The erratic scheduling killed SGU:
We started the show on Fridays where we’ve had the most success and where it initially did well, and we left it there until it started struggling. When it was clear the show had fallen to unsustainable levels and would not survive on Fridays, only then did we move it to the night where our highest rated show of all time had recently aired.

The hiatus killed SGU:
As you can see from the ratings above, the biggest drop in viewers came before the hiatus, not after. In fact, SGU actually grew around 10% after the hiatus between season 1.0 and 1.5 in its first two episodes back.

If you’d left it on Friday nights, it would have done well:
When left on Friday nights SGU lost 1/3 of its audience and dropped to consistently unsustainable ratings levels. The only hope of keeping it was to move it to another night where new viewers could find it.

You canceled SGU because you hate science fiction:
If we didn’t like science fiction we simply wouldn’t have made SGU. It’s because we like science fiction that we tried it. Even though SGU was ultimately unsuccessful, we don’t regret trying it. Science fiction shows are the backbone and lifeblood of our network, and we have many in development. Later this year we’ll be debuting Alphas, the Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome pilot is being worked on as you read this, the movie Red Faction starring Stargate Universe‘s Brian Jacob Smith will air next month, 5 of our original dramas will return with new seasons or new episodes this year, and we’re working on many more behind the scenes.

You never supported SGU:
There is literally no one other than MGM who supported it more than we did. We were the only network who gave the show a try and the only ones who committed to making and airing 40 episodes before a script had been written. We invested tens of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work over many years making and supporting the show.

You canceled SGU in order to make wrestling:
We would have happily kept making SGU regardless of anything else on our schedule if the ratings were sustainable. We don’t discontinue successful shows to make room for other shows … no network does because no network has a full roster of successful series. SGU was judged solely on its own ratings.

You don’t like Stargate:
We love Stargate. Combined we’ve made 12 seasons of 3 separate series and helped support two SG-1 films. It’s been an amazing ride and we’re incredibly proud of the cast and crew of all the shows, and thankful to all the viewers who watched.

Note: The ratings I used above are Live +7 numbers, or the total number of viewers who watched the show live and during the following 7 days via DVR. Although advertisers buy based on just the 18-49 segment of these numbers and thus the 18-49 ratings would be much smaller, I’m using L7 numbers here for convenience as they represent the total audience. The % drops and lows of the 18-49 numbers would be even more significant (i.e. worse) than what the L7s show, but not so much that it’s worth doing all the math for.

  1. SAVE SGU says:

    I have to say that this is a bunch of unacceptable excuses, and is in no way shape or form an even plausible reason as to why the show was cancelled. Did you ever think that may of us who watch the show do so online, rather than on the network, since we do not get the highest cable packages, which is where SyFy is now hosted? We watch the show religiously, and we want it back. To that affect, we do not need to watch anything on or from SyFy ever again…all it is now is a bunch of homo-erotic shows like old men in spandex groping each other and other useless uninteresting shows like that…bring back the Stargate Franchise, bring back Stargate Universe! Then, perhaps, you will have some fan base to return to, after we take OUR three month hiatus!

    By the way, you flipping rejects, did you ever hear of holidays and family and work schedules? That is the reason that no one watched the show on the network, and why we all watched it either in reruns on Fox or streaming over the internet! We are geeks, we are the technical age, and we are the ones who made your network a success. We will now destroy your network by any means necessary to save our shows, including, but not limited to, SG1, SGA, SGU, Caprica, Lexx, Farscape, V, Dr Who, and so many more.

    Good bye SyFail…see you and your corporate scum in the unemployment line!

  2. Listen SyFy that is still a lot of people that you ticked off including me and my family. I’m the one who made the suggestion that the show should go to the English at BBC America and still work together with MGM. I will spread this all over the internet unless you bring the show back at a Monday or Friday time slot. Losing the Stargate Fans will be like losing the heart of SyFy tp BBC America and there Supernatural Saturday.

  3. Eric says:

    …fuck you!… No seriously I think what everyone is upset about is you just gave up on the show it had a great new take on statgate and I really wanted to know how it would turn out. I agree with the comment before me it is the heart and soul of sci fi maybe not your syfy but for us there’s nothing else out there that can take the place of the SGC and lets be serious here some of the movies and shows you put out are pretty
    close to a “b”movie with poor scrips, acting, and special effects and there is no way there pulling there wait in the ratings but there still on. All we are asking for is 1 season to wrap up the story line and w will

  4. Friday ~ says:

    Mike Engler said,

    “We moved the final 10 episodes of SGU to Monday nights where we’d just had success with a new show called Being Human, but the ratings remained flat.”

    Point #1 (to Engler): Don’t you think that your concurrent announcement that the series was going to be cancelled had something to do with those flat ratings?

    Point #2: I think that airing the show at 9:00pm Eastern would have improved ratings for the entire tenure of the show. Shows like Being Human and WWE are WAAYY below my intelligence and/or interest level. I WILL NOT view two hours of that crap to finally watch SGU, Caprica, BSG, or any quality science fiction show. I will usually record it and watch the next day. Shades of 1967, when NBC totally underestimated the intelligence of the Star Trek audience.

    Bringing us to…

    Point 3#: How do you count that I have watched the show? How can you make good decisions regarding a big-money show when the ratings system is completely antiquated? The answer… follow your instincts. And I think, given the hoopla following the SGU cancellation/finale, that the instincts at Syfy are roaming off in right field compared to the core here in the infield.

    I’m forty-something and have money to spend. Seems like you’d want me to stick around.

  5. Eli Wood says:

    A graph that shows how many people watched the initial airing of the show on cable TV does not truly represent how many people watch the show. In this day and age, though it may be unfathomable to the number crunchers in charge of evaluating a show’s performance, people actually have social lives, and many of us don’t even have cable anymore. Nobody wants to be tethered down to a specific time slot where they have to be glued to their tv. Have you thought to factor in how many views the show had through the Syfy website, or since the syfy website is perpetually malfunctioning, how many views it had on hulu or netflix? Cancelling this show was a huge mistake, and replacing it with wrestling and cooking shows is a sure fire formula for failure. Why not change the name of the network, since you obviously no longer care about your science fiction followers?

  6. Paul Smith says:

    Actually, I think the information given makes sense. Ultimately every network has to make money – that’s what pays the bills – and if they have a show that is underperforming in documentable viewership, that’s when advertisers bail and revenue drops. It’s unfortunate, but it’s reality.

    Personally, I think the reason SGU ran into trouble is for the same reason that a lot of Star Trek fans never embraced Voyager… it was just too far removed from the ‘world’ that was familiar to dedicated fans. The “Lost in Space” concept would’ve been good as a secondary plot to an ongoing series, but only if the main plot revolved around a more ‘traditional’ Stargate storyline.

    I just think it was too much of a change and that made it hard for loyal Stargate fans to fully embrace it. (Perhaps there should’ve been an SG-1 or Atlantis character or two who were among those on SGU… maybe that would have kept the connection?)

    If SGU is resurrected, I really think it would need to be with more focus on Stargate Command – with ongoing SG teams, updates on what’s up with Atlantis (is it still sitting off the coast of California), and the Odyssy. Yes I know that sounds like a huge cast / broad scope – but it’s the way pull the Stargate fan family back together.

  7. Ed Kryslak says:

    Hey Mike, why don’t you go stick your head up The Hammers ass. We, the fans of Sci/Fi will see to it that all of execs of Syfails careers turn to shit.

  8. Matthew Sprague says:

    This argument lost all conviction when you first mentioned you were using a television ratings system to judge total number of viewers.

    When will you start taking into account the billions of downloads and streaming websites?



    If you start offering live streaming from the moment its aired on TV and start counting numbers, I bet you will see a MASSIVE increase in numbers.


    If you don’t change your ways, ultimately it will be your demise.

  9. arnaud says:

    I’m a french guy and I’m a big fan of stargate and I’m very upset by the end of SGU. I found the show better than Atlantis and I think It’s a shame for creativity and fans that a channel like syfy stops such a serie because of the audience. In france We don’t have the chance to have such shows because it would appear ridiculous but I love science fiction and SGU was one of the last good science fiction TV show. I cried when I saw the end of the show knowing that there won’t be any more episodes. It’s a shame…

  10. Aryan Blaauw says:

    the early demise of the SGU show tells something about the carrier missing the demography of the audience that moved online and not only away from timeslot, but from TV alltogether. Try and recapture that audience, not in *any* timeslot but in *every* timeslot. The demise of the show has got nothing to do with its content that became more interesting and deepened out throughout the 2 seisons. make that film, and sell it [online]

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