May 082011
 

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.

CAUSE OF DEATH, PART 1: THE PITCH

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.

A spaceship lost in space is a good starting point for a series. But in SGU the ship was a prison rather than a vessel of adventure.

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.

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  2 Responses to “Stargate Universe: A Post Mortem”

  1. Late response, but I was looking for an explanation of the whole apple and the worm explanation and ended up here. Decided to read because I was curious about your opinion on why SGU failed, since you watched the show (and I never did). While I didn’t see the show, I’ve read reviews, and your reasons for the show failing making a lot of sense.

    However, I think you forgot one very important thing. Part of the draw of creating a new series using a well known franchise is that you already have an audience that’s willing to watch the show, without even knowing anything about it. But SGU didn’t get the full benefit of being part of the Stargate franchise for two reasons. One you’ve already mentioned, that they basically threw out the stuff that made SG1 and SGA popular, and just kept the name Stargate. The second reason is that (I believe) they alienated many of the SGA fans, myself included, because they basically killed SGA in order to dedicate their time and money to SGU. So the creators threw away a big chunk of their fanbase by ending a proven show so they could play with a new one.

    Unfortunately, none of this really matters now. Stargate is dead; it didn’t die of old age but was smothered with a pillow. But I felt like replying anyway. If this was facebook, I’d mark the article as “Like!”

    • Thanks for your comment. It’s always nice to know someone reads your stuff 🙂

      Being an SGA fan, I’d have to agree with you that killing off SGA did create some ill feeling towards the producers. However, I was prepared to give SGU the benefit of the doubt, and I’d watch it even if it was slightly less good than SGA.
      What I didn’t expect was that SGU would turn out to be so bad.
      I believe that the average SGA fan probably felt the same way as I did, so I don’t think that the SGA vs SGU issue was a significant factor in the cancellation of the show. Which is why I did not mention it in my article.

      By the way, there is a facebook button in the Share menu at the end of the article. Feel free to use it.

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