StarGate Universe was the third incarnation of the hugely successful Stargate TV franchise. Yet it failed to measure up to its predecessors. What went wrong?
First of all, a disclaimer: I only watched the first 10 episodes of season 1 of SGU before I lost interest. The show might have gotten better after that (although from what I’ve read online, I doubt it.) but I can only speak authoritatively about what I’ve seen.
Any analysis of what went wrong with a show based on a franchise that had such success in the past, must start with its birth. In this case, Stargate Universe was probably born when network representatives went to various producers and told them the general show format they wanted for the next TV season. One can deduct what they wanted from observing other shows (or failed pilots) that aired during that period (Caprica, V, Virtuality, Defying Gravity, etc.)
In short, they were all character-driven shows with little or no space opera themes (exploration, space battles, adventure). This is probably due to the fact that networks’ heads simply don’t ‘get’ science fiction, and they only tolerate it in more diluted forms. Or it may be because of the perception of space opera as a niche market, in spite of all evidence to the contrary (Star Wars, Star Trek, and -obviously- Stargate).
Faced with this request for ‘more drama, less little green men’ from the network, The Powers That Be of the Stargate franchise decided that they also wanted a piece of this new pie. So they sat down and fleshed out a show which would meet this new demand. The fact that the Stargate franchise was based on a completely different kind of show was conveniently ignored. After all, who cares what the show is actually about, when it has a brand name as successful as that of the Stargate?
Given the brand name and the fact that it met all of the network’s specifications, it was only natural that Stargate Universe would get the green light. The rest is history.
The problem was that what seems good in theory, does not necessarily mean it will work in real life. The network’s push for less ‘Sci’ in SciFi shows actually resulted in a drop of ratings for most new shows. However, nobody wants to admit that they were wrong in rejecting pure SciFi in favour of shows like SGU. So they will probably draw the opposite conclusion: that the audience is tired of science fiction, and want more fantasy/drama shows with witches, ghosts, zombies, vampires and werewolves (oh my!) How will this play out in the 2012 TV season is unknown, but I don’t expect to see many new space opera shows on TV in the future.