Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eureka – More Science Fiction TV Gone Too Soon.

The news in the last week that SyFy has reversed their earlier decision to order a shortened sixth season of Eureka has people up in arms. I want to talk a little about that decision, the controversy and the show itself. Normally, in this kind of article, I could predictably be expected to play Devil's Advocate, tell the nerds raging on the internet that there's another side to the story. I won't be doing that. It isn't that I don't understand the other side. I get it. A show like Eureka is expensive to produce at the standards of quality its audience expects, and business realities sometimes force decisions such as whether to do the show with a budget that means it can't be done right, or to not do it at all. We've been given this bill of goods before, and this time, I'm not buying it. While I appreciate that it is more complicated than “people like it, ratings are good, so keep it on,” the explanation we've been given does not satisfy me. More on that later.

Group shot of the first season cast of Eureka. (Did I mention the show is streaming on Netflix?)

Eureka is a quirky show about a town in the United States (Eureka, Oregon) where the greatest geniuses the government and corporate sector could find live, work and share ideas. The central character is Sheriff Jack Carter who is neither scientist nor genius, but who was recruited from his work as a U.S. Marshal because his common sense, ability to connect with people and dedication to his work allow him to find the simple solutions that great minds think right past, and the town is safe. Many of the episodes concern a device or other dangerous technology or discovery that threatens at least the town, if not the world, and the investigation and research required to stop it before it is too late. Subplots involving Global Dynamics, the corporation that employs most of the citizens, and threats internal and external tell a larger story arc across the seasons.

The cast has counted among its recurring actors many geek favorites, and the leads are sure to be much loved for years to come for their work on this show. The two principal characters, Sheriff Carter and Dr. Allison Blake, who is first introduced as a Department of Defense liason to the town, are played by Colin Ferguson and Salli Richardson-Whitfield. The supporting cast includes Joe Morton, playing Dr. Henry Deacon, Erica Cerra playing Deputy Jo Lupo, and Neil Grayston playing Dr. Douglas Fargo. Over the years, the show has employed the talents of Matt Frewer, James Callis (played Gaius Baltar in BSG,) Wil Wheaton and geek sweetheart Felicia Day. The cast is able to consistently strike an unusual balance, pivoting between light-hearted comedy and the menacing weirdness of horror-tinged science fiction.

Nothing against the leads (pictured again, below) but the supporting cast
really brings the spark of genius to a show like this.

The cancellation announcement was handled in a particularly cowardly and unprofessional manner, with much of the cast finding out about the decision from fans who had seen the press release. The series will be forced to tie up all loose ends after being assured of an abbreviated sixth season to do so in only a single episode. [UPDATE:  Moments after I hit "publish", I saw a tweet indicating that SyFy would be giving the show's creators one more episode to wrap things up. Not satisfied, but credit where it is due.] The actors and producers are attempting to put the best face possible on the whole situation, attempting to demonstrate that they are more professional than the people who just put them all out of work are. Often, some of the blame for sci-fi TV not making it lays with the fanbase, who stop watching, stop talking about it, the ratings just aren't there. This was not the case for Eureka, as it was consistently one of the highest-rated programs on the SyFy Network. In the end, it came down to price.

We've heard this excuse before, and here is why that explanation does not satisfy me. The valuation for how much a television series should cost has been skewed over the last 15 years by the rise of a TV phenomenon that was interesting at first, but has formed the core of the most vapid and pointless “entertainment” on television. I am, of course, talking about the reality show. Network Executives love "reality" TV, as the shows are cheap to make, requiring no scripts, sets or special effects, and on many of them compensation for the principal “actors” isn't anywhere near what actors in scripted TV make. Is this what we want? Losing original, clever programming for more Jersey Shore, Real Housewives and Ghost Hunters? (By the way, I was a ghost hunter, and those guys are full of shit.) Reality TV, supernatural soap opera clones and professional wrestling now dominate a network that was once a great center for geeky TV. Their "rebranding" shows the lack of respect for their traditional fans, decisions like this add insult to injury.

Our principal stars of the show, Sheriff Carter and Dr. Blake. 

There is an intellectual arrogance among many of us geeks. We consider ourselves better than the unwashed masses that don't know how to fine tune settings on their personal electronics or effectively use Google to answer basic questions. We scoff at American Idol and the Bachelorette, but increasingly, we find the things that we enjoy are in the past. Internet “Save the Show” campaigns haven't worked in years, and I find myself thinking, watching and writing about television that has been cancelled way more often than I write about current shows. The things that we, in our arrogance, consider to be worthy, are going away and being replaced by a douchebag who calls himself “The Situation” making millions for being a tool on national TV. Thing is, I'm mad and I don't have any better ideas than any of the rest of us. I'm here preaching to the choir, and complaining on the internet.

The only way out, as far as I can see, is to stop supporting FOX, SyFy and the major TV networks who pretend to offer what we want, and then take it away. Anyone who, like me, is out of work has heard about “tough decisions” and “fiscal realities” before and we aren't satisfied with that being sufficient reason to lose something valuable. It is short-sighted and destructive, both in the job market and in the entertainment industry. We need to support up and coming projects free of the network and studio systems. Stuff like Felicia Day's webseries The Guild and Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and encourage other writers and performers to make more of that. We need to use our command of the internet and social media to make people aware of these projects, make them wildly successful, support advertisers and companies that get behind making something of quality, even if it costs a little more. That is, unless someone has a better idea. We could use the big brains of a town like Eureka right about now.
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Alpha said...

I barely watch tv anymore, anyway.

Timothy said...

What aren't you buying? There is a small audience for a show that now costs almost 3x as much to produce as when it started and there is a business decision to not thrown money away airing it.
The notion of not watching a show because it may be cancelled is the absolute height of stupidity. It is the thinking that leads to shows being cancelled because, while there is a viewer base for a show, those people refuse to watch it (out of some sense of superiority?).
Furthermore, from what I've read (and the one email I had answered by someone at NBC Universal), the producers of the show were not at all in the dark about the looming cancellation. Whether or not they decided to share that with the actors is another matter.
SyFy (as SciFi) has cancelled better shows with stronger ratings which had fewer episodes air. It is about money, but this specific case is not one of outrage (at least not if one can step aside from some brand of adolescent rage). If you are upset because NBCU is programming where it has found an audience, your problem is with the American viewing public.

DocStout said...

@ Tim - I think you've hit the nail on the head with regard to who bears the lion's share of the blame. The American viewing public will tolerate reality TV. When making business decisions, the cheaper cost of those programs is factored in to determine whether a show is fiscally worth airing or not. I recognize this as reality, but I refuse to accept that just telling a loyal customer base that makes everything okay.

Many of us want it both ways. We want the independent spirit of the small online production companies with the budgets of large studio projects. It doesn't work that way anymore, and outrage at the quality and specific type of entertainment I prefer being replaced by reality television seems an appropriate response.

To clarify, I'm not advocating a boycott of the remaining episodes of Eureka. Online boycotts, if anything, are less effective than "save our show" petitions. I'm fed up with our entertainment being increasingly banal and trivial, and wondering what, if anything, can be done about it.

The Happy Whisk said...

I enjoyed it when I first started watching this show on NetFlix, but then after Stark left the show fell flat for me. The writing, the jabs and even the characters just couldn't hold my interest.

The Happy Whisk said...

So I stopped watching.

Post a Comment