How to REALLY save your favorite sci-fi show from cancelation

cancelledtv.jpg How can fans of a struggling sci-fi show save it from cancelation? It's a question I get a lot, partly because Syfy has from time to time saved shows from cancelation, and partly because like every TV network we cancel our fair share of shows. The No. 1 method of choice for fans trying to save a show is writing letters/e-mails to the network that airs the show. This worked back in the '60s to keep the original Star Trek on the air for a while, and according to this article it may have had an impact on a few shows since then. fluff.jpg It's not your best bet though, because today EVERY canceled show has a write-in campaign, often accompanied by some clever item...Jericho fans sent peanuts, Lexx fans sent dragonflies, etc. It's so pervasive that it's become background noise. People even start write-in campaigns if we change a show's timeslot, or if an actor leaves a show. Right now there are containers of Fluff in the kitchen of our sibling network USA because fans are protesting the fact that Vincent D'Onofrio is leaving Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I took a picture of the Fluff with my iPhone so you can see. To save a show you need real impact, and you can't get that by doing the same thing everyone else is doing. Also, by sending us e-mails about our shows, you're preaching to the converted. We WANT to keep the show, we're just not able to because there aren't enough viewers. In TV ratings drive the business, and viewers drive ratings. So what we really need are more viewers.
But we know that every show that gets canceled already has hundreds of thousands or millions of viewers each week, so having a thousand of them send us notes means that...well, a thousand members of the existing audience that's not yet big enough to support the show have taken the time to send us nice notes. We appreciate the notes, but they don't make a series any more viable. So the biggest way you can have a real, meaningful impact - the way that will work every time if you can pull it off -- is to find a way to get NEW viewers to try the show. And a LOT of new viewers. If a show isn't successful with 900,000 viewers, it's not going to start working with 950,000 viewers. It's going to take a few hundred thousand new viewers to make an impact. The way to do that is to go big. Instead of talking to us, talk to the critics and TV bloggers out there who have the most readers and try to get THEM to talk about the show. Do something so unique that your "save the show" campaign gets covered on the homepage of CNN. Find a way to get Jon Stewart to joke about your campaign on his show. Use tools out there like Twitter and Facebook that let you reach people on a mass scale. If you're sending letters to the network, send them to your friends too. And send them to your friends' friends. You need scale, and you need it quickly because... By the time a show is officially announced as canceled, the actors and crew are most likely free to find other work and some probably already have. The rest will follow soon, and it's going to be next to impossible to get them back. And once the show's sets have been struck it's going to be a HUGE financial hurdle to start the show up again. On a realistic level, anything you do to try and save the show has to be done before that. The last piece of advice I can give you is, don't wait till you hear a show is obviously in trouble, or about to be canceled, to start trying to help it. "Save our show" campaigns rarely work in reality, so ideally you don't want to let it get to that point. You want to get in early with "pre-save" campaigns, because once a show is perceived as needing to be saved, viewers become a lot more reluctant to tune in. The best "save the show" campaign I've seen is the one you don't have to use.


    1. I would agree with you about most shows, but I truly believe the world would be a better place with a few more seasons of Arrested Development and Firefly.

    2. Please don’t condemn the SciFi Channel for its poorly realized dumbed down programs without sharing a little venom for History and Discovery channels as well. The American public has been conditioned to accept these incredibly inane programs (Food Tech, Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men, blah, blah blah..) along with Ghost Hunters and Wrestling. I feel that it might be a good idea to organize viewers through blogs such as this and suggest that they hit the advertisers by informing them that they will not support their (Chinese) products as long as they advertise on those channels. Something needs to be done before our brains are turned to much by hour after hour of mediocre pap. UFO hunters is at best an attempt by Bill Birnes to sell his low grade magazine and Ghost Hunters (IMHO) should never have been aired to begin with. Does anyone remember when the History Channel had well done programs which dealt with uh… history? Discovery used to have good science oriented programming but seems to be pushing the likes of “No Way Out” which encourages brain dead kids to duplicate their dumbness on YouTube. Cheeeez, so run the rants of a codger who will probably be long dead before teevee finally justifies itself. In the meantime please gimme something to watch in my dotage. At my age re-runs are a good deal…. just like brand new.

  1. So true. People need to enjoy their favorite shows for the time they are on. With death, comes room for new life. For those that cannot bear to see the favorite show end…buy it on DVD and watch it over and over, that beats the hell out of never seeing it again.

  2. Craig, as someone who works in the biz, I have to say that all sounds nice and well on paper, but just isn’t true. Case in point, your very own BSG is an example of a show that garnered pretty much as much praise as a tv show can get from both viewers and critics alike, had (and has) incredible continuing netfilx rentals, dvd sales, you name it… I mean, you guys are never going to get a show like that again, because that’s a once-in-a-generation sort of show… and yet the channel still did not deem it popular enough for most of its run; it was forced into early retirement, a season or two too early, which forced the writers to come up with all sorts of contrived story points which ended up taking what was arguably the best sci-fi show in the history of the medium and turning it into a ridiculous piece of crap by the end. Not surprising for tv, but certainly not in accordance with what you just wrote. If you guys couldn’t afford to give your best show more airtime and more seasons, one that grew precisely with what you suggest- pure word of mouth based on the strength of its writing- why should viewers have any faith in what you’re saying? I had no interest in the show, which looked completely moronic at first, was convinced by a rabid fan/friend of mine to watch the pilot, was surprised by how good it was, became a fan, and subsequently pushed the show to a countless number of people who, like me, could not believe “sci-fi” and “good” would ever co-exist. I know I single-handedly brought you several viewers, and I’m far from the model fan- I was simply genuinely moved by a rare display of quality on tv. The fact is, in that world, there is nothing anyone can do about their favorite show, because the system is too backwards, slow, and clunky.

    1. it was forced into early retirement, a season or two too early, which forced the writers to come up with all sorts of contrived story points which ended up taking what was arguably the best sci-fi show in the history of the medium and turning it into a ridiculous piece of crap by the end

      Er, yeah, sure.

      Or, it ran about two seasons over, long after the creators ran out of ideas. It was past time to turn it over to a new team, or kill it when it still had some dignity.

      1. Ditto. It’s hard to believe anyone thinks BSG bombed at the end because of SciFi. I’m fine with the writers feeling whatever hostility they want with the network, but to screw over your fans because of “not caring anymore”? What a lame theory. If it’s anywhere close to true, I would feel LESS sympathy for the writers, not more. People who really cared about their product would give their best even at the very end, because they owed not only themselves but their fans a legacy.

        The series was always meant to finish in a certain number of seasons, and BSG was not the type of set-up that could sustain any more than three or four seasons.

        The writers didn’t have it in them to finish what they started, period. I would have preferred for them to take a few years off to get their shit together before presenting the final season.

  3. The following is both personal opinion and something of an ad, that’s only semi-related to this blog posting, so you have now been forewarned:

    Marshmallow Fluff is manufactured by the Durkee-Mower Corporation of Lynn, MA., which is a really small privately owned food company that’s been around since the 1920s, and which could obviously benefit from a “bump” in sales that good buzz might get them.

    What most people don’t realize is that Fluff is also available in Raspberry and Strawberry flavors (my kids both love the Raspberry, but are pretty “Meh” on the Strawberry). You can order Fluff, including the flavored varieties, from their website at

      1. Much appreciated that you ran my little bit of spam there. I’m a big fan of supporting small companies, and the Fluff folks are nice people.

  4. That’s all very interesting. Now, is there an effective method to ensure that a show gets cancelled? I would like to employ such a technique against virtually everything on the current SyFy lineup, except SGU and Caprica (though Caprica is really just getting a free pass from its BSG lineage).

    Ghost Hunters and pro. wrestling would obviously be first on the chopping block, but maybe you could suggest some additional pointers on how to not only get these shows canceled, but heap such a humiliating mountain of scorn upon the heads of the producers and programming directors that they never again entertain the notion of putting such programs on a channel nominally intended for a “science fiction”-oriented audience.

    1. I’m just spitballing here but it seems that the obvious collary is to just badmouth the show in a big way. Bad shows stay on the air becase they are getting ratings – convince people to stop watching.

      I’m still working on ACCORDING TO JIM.

    2. To get a show canceled, you need to get most of the viewers to stop viewing. Good luck there. To put it in perspective, and to oversimplify things, it took Star Trek fans 5 years to get Enterprise canceled. Enterprise had only 2 years left anyway. Now, using only a fraction of the number of Star Trek fans, and in only a fraction of that time, how do you expect to get enough viewers to stop watching?

      You can’t. It’s why threatening to boycott a station over a cancellation won’t work. Far too many fans who will watch.

  5. I like the comments on this post very much. I agree with the Above posters both of them 100%!

  6. Except..if we don’t know a Nielsen family how the hell is that going to help get more viewers to a show? You are once again contradicting yourself.

  7. I think Das may be wrong on the facts… BSG made a huge difference in scifi’s ranking as a network. I think the BSG may have asked for an early exit lost style.

    and wile I hate Ghost Hunters and Wrestling they are among the highest rated shows on syfy, so they aint going anywhere. sadly…

    1. BSG wasn’t as popular as people seem to think it is. The show had been losing viewers at a steady rate since the third show of the First season. It lost 1 million viewers between the start of season 1 and the end of season 3 and it only had 2.5 million to start with. SyFy usually cancels expensive shows when they drop between 1.5 and 1.3 million and BSG was nearing the cutoff point. The producers didn’t ask for the show to go early. They were told they weren’t getting a 5th season and ended it.
      BTW, the blogger is being just a bit dishonest. SyFy cancels all their popular scripted shows after 5 seasons. Because it’s cheaper drop an “old” show than it is to renegotiate with the show’s cast and producers. BGS is, of course, the exception. I don’t think anything short of getting viewership up to between 2 and 3 million would make them even consider sparing a canceled show. Plus, if a new show is doing poorly by SyFy’s standards there’s most likely a good reason – Anyone else remember their re-imagining of Flash Gordon? So, nobody is going to start watching it whatever you do.

  8. For better and worse, most TV shows just aren’t worth saving anymore. Better – no sense in messing with “save our show” campaigns. Worse – well, sucky TV. (OK, maybe 10 people will holler when that awful V is put to rest.)

    @das memsen: Agree…BSG was such a wonderful show. I told everyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t) that it was MUST SEE. After the way SyFy (I gag just typing that) treated the show, it was obvious the writers just didn’t care anymore when faced with writing the rushed ending. I felt as if I should write apologies to all the people I persuaded to watch. (The BSG Plan DVD / show was just as horrid.)

    As an aside: Dr. Who on SyFy — the episodes were so chopped up (and edited) that it was just unwatchable.

    Produce quality shows, don’t screw the fans…and you will get viewers. And there will be no need for “save my show” shenanigans.

  9. In Heaven there’s a new Firefly on every Friday… and every day is Friday… and the days are ~1 hour long.

  10. I call BS…the reality is that the only viewers who count are the ones with Nielson boxes in their homes. NOBODY else gets counted except them.

    So getting new viewers is certainly correct, you need the right viewers to watch.

    What you really need are the masses to buy the DVD sets and show merchandise. Since I don’t have a Nielson box, the only way for me to have a measurable impact is to spend actual money on stuff the network makes money on.

    1. the reality is that the only viewers who count are the ones with Nielson boxes in their homes.

      I was a Nielsen rater, but kept a diary instead of having a box. And I watched wrestling. Lots and lots of wrestling.

      1. “I watched wrestling. Lots and lots of wrestling.”

        So that’s your fault!

        At least there’s some logical explanation.

    2. I call BS…the reality is that the only viewers who count are the ones with Nielson boxes in their homes. NOBODY else gets counted except them.

      Are Neilson boxes still in use? Can’t the Cable companies simply report numbers back to the networks? I mean, the Cable boxes all have DVRs in them these days.

      I guess that would be my question for Craig: How are TV ratings gathered these days? Are there still “Neilson families” or has the system evolved to something more sophisticated?


  11. First off, I agree with dougr650.

    What I’d really like to see you (or someone) write about (and it fits in at least tangentially with this article) is why cable networks succumb to focus/genre drift in the apparent attempt to get higher ratings and more popular shows.

    MTV is, obviously, the classic example, but you also have the history and science channels running bullshit shows about Nostradamus and “chariots of the gods” type stuff, AMC creating original TV series, BBC America showing Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns (WTF BBCA? show Red Dwarf or Blakes 7 or classic Doctor Who or even Blackadder reruns – not syndicated American shows), and the Cartoon Network showing live action films. And, of course, SciFi/SyFy showing wrestling, Ghost Hunters, and Scare Tactics (and some awful rumor I heard about a cooking show).

    Why bother having niche/genre based networks to start with? Give them all generic numbers and have them all run cheap reality shows, pro-wrestling, and “Ow, My Balls” (AKA, America’s Funniest Home Videos) 24 hours a day.

    If the 500 channel or more cable spectrum can’t truly support niche channels like a science fiction network or a historical documentary network, then either something is really wrong with the model or people who would appreciate such scheduling and focus are just screwed in the long run.

    If a show like Battlestar Galactica can get the critical praise and support it did, but not really bring in enough audience numbers that it has to be subsidized by pro-wrestling, then what did we SF and quality TV fans do to deserve this state of affairs?

  12. The last show to be brought back after its apparent demise was Firefly, which got to do Serenity (the Movie)

    Which, as aesthetically enjoyable as it was for fans, bombed at the box office.

    I would keep going to see more Firefly movies, but the totality of fandom isn’t necessarily enough to make a movie succeed, so there probably never will be any more.

    And fandom may not be able to focus enough to make TV shows which are expensive succeed.

    Perhaps a way to bring show costs down would help more than anything else, but I know that networks and directors aren’t pushing costs up to pad their wallets. Stuff costs money.

  13. If SyFy keeps airing ‘Mega Piranha’ and extremely low-budget, poorly written, acted, and directed genre films of its ilk, I’ll never leave the house again.

    1. If you are going to try to reduce costs and get by with less, here is my order of preference for any movie or TV series (SF or otherwise).

      First, and most important, good writing. I’d rather watch an amateur Shakespeare production than great actors with a ridiculous script.

      Second, good (or at least competent) acting.

      Third, believable action and events (no flying through the air in a refrigerator after a nuclear blast, for example)

      Fourth, decent effects/sets/design. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

      Fifth, spectacular effects and action

      Big budget SF movies usually address these in the reverse order.

      A lot of TV SF series usually skip the first one or two or three.

      Budget-wise, these are almost in order from cheapest to most expensive. Unfortunately, the lower ones require the most talent.

      It think it’s ironic that CGI has given us the tools where just about anything that can be imagined can be filmed, but it is still as (or more) expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive as traditional effects were. Personally, I don’t mind bad CGI as long as it is composed well in a scene, interacted with realistically, and isn’t overused.

  14. If ratings drive the business, how the HELL does this business model work at all on the insanely screwed up Nielson Rating system?

  15. Allow me to pile on! Cheers to comments by dougr650 and cmplamer. As a former avid watcher of SyFy, I, too find it pathetic that you have to run cheap trashy horror flicks, BS ghost hunting reality shows and pro-wrestling to stay in business. How about a post on how we can campaign for the removal of this off-genre drivel? Pro-wrestling was the last straw for me.

  16. “what did we SF and quality TV fans do to deserve this state of affairs?”

    You didn’t have enough sex, basically. There’s less of you and more of them. To answer your other question, when cable appeared, the theory was that all these niche viewer interests would be filled by different channels, and so it was for a while. But the channels were small and humble then. As they grew, more revenue was needed to maintain them. A niche has a glass ceiling, but dumbass LCD entertainment can appeal to everyone; combine that with the fact that cable was started by risk-taking people who came from production but were replaced by businesspeople who haven’t got a clue what makes a good story, and now you have the biz being run by bottom-line number-crunchers. It’s that simple. I deal with networks all the time who want changes in shows that reflect their fears and perceived demographic trends. It sounds like a bad cliche and a lot of bitching and moaning, but it’s just plain fact. TV has nothing to do with telling interesting stories. It’s just fodder to keep itself alive. The answer is really, really simple- don’t watch tv.

  17. Insightful article. Always wondered how much networks cared about receiving trinkets in support of a show. It seems they are just a vehicle to give the media something to write about.

    With regards to commenter #1 I was under the impression that the production team behind BSG knew the show was expensive to produce and wanted to go out on their terms. I remember reading that it was a very expensive show and were worried about it being cancelled leaving the story hanging. I could be mistaken on this but I’m sure SyFy would have enjoyed having it on their roster a little while longer as it was a truely great show (evidenced by the amount of tie in shows they’ve since produced).

    Personally I’d rather have a show come to a good conclusion rather than have it flounder along like many shows trying to force-fit their finale in. I use “Lost” as an example. Lost was an amazing show when it launched. Unfortunately in the end it is a completely different show than it was in season one.

    Though we have dozens of specialty networks fans of niche shows such as “Legend of the Seeker”, “Caprica” or even “V” are at a disadvantage. Initially we are at the mercy of the networks to get the word out on the show and trust them to keep it in a consistent and decent time slot. I don’t know how many shows networks, especially Fox, have killed by moving their time slot around to compete against massively popular shows or just to move them.

    I am personally a big fan of “Legend of the Seeker” but that is purely by accident. I caught an episode while traveling and continued to check it out via NetFlix within the past 6 or 7 months. I live in one of the Top 10 markets in the country (Washington DC), which carries the show but it has absolutely no advertising, a floating time slot (Sundays start time anywhere between 10p – 11:30p), and new episodes are mis-flagged in my cable guide so my DVR never catches it automatically.

    I have many friends who I know would love the show but they didn’t know it exists and now that the press is on that it is all but cancelled they have no desire to get sucked in. It is disappointing that it couldn’t find a new home at a network such as SyFy but I honestly don’t know all the business factors behind that decision so I really can’t hold it against them.

    In fact I almost missed Caprica because the inital ads didn’t intrest at all and I was a huge BSG fan. I only tuned in and caught the first episode out of pure curiosity since SyFy was launching an all out barrage of ads. I’m glad I did, it is another great show but many of my friends missed the premier. I personally convinced 4-5 people to check it out and all are fans now. Luckily in this case we caught it in the beginning, not a season and a half later while it was on the verge of cancallation…

  18. I agree with the first two posters as well.

    If we’re at a point where a cable network judges its content based only on how well it contextualizes ads, then why bother getting invested in a show, let alone campaign for it, at all?

    I mean, look at Caprica. Great cast, storylines are only getting better, and the show is actually interested in being intelligent about exploring the genre (unlike most “SF” stuff that’s out there these days), and yet despite its potential to grow (and sell BSG DVDs for years to come), we still can’t take it for granted that it will live to see another season. The exact opposite in fact, as the writers and cast seem to be moving on to different things.

    I guess the question for me isn’t how I can help you sustain the ambitious, outdated business model that major networks still cling to because they don’t have 40%+ of their $$$ coming in from subscribers, but why I should watch anything that airs on your network at all if you’re so bent on “imagining greater” at a time when most businesses are going out of their way to discover niche markets such as the one you already have?

  19. Law & Order is losing Vincent D’Onofrio? Wow. Fluff is a highly appropriate object of protest, in this case. I can see why you’re so dismissive of it. It actually hits home!

    1. Eh. I love the show, really like D’Onofrio’s character, but Jeff Goldblum hits it out of the park. I’d be more prone to start a campaign to bring back Alicia Witt, but then I like redheads.

  20. By the time most viewers get the chance to view a show most are already canceled, yes I’m talking about international viewers. There are way more viewers outside the US then are inside. And when a TV show makes it way through all the licensing, delays and other legal crap no-one cares about and finally makes it on TV somewhere else the shows are often already canceled. And those people who would actually actively watch shows already downloaded them online for, sadly for you guys, free.

    If producers don’t quickly get with the time and understand what www actually means, more and more people will start watching television for free online and less and less people will watch it on TV when it finally after two years makes it to their local TV-station. Which in turn makes selling the show harder since everyone already saw it when it came out.

    Take a look at the biggest atrocity of the 21st century, the cancelation of Firefly. It was canceled mid-season and didn’t even have a chance for people to discover it, let alone the HUGE untapped international market.

    Dear USA, stop ignoring the rest of the world, because the rest of the world is well on it’s way to get TV anyway and not the way that makes you money.

  21. How to really save a show:

    1. Be a Nielsen Family
    2. Watch the show on every TV and VCR that you own. They’re all hard wired to keep track of what you tune in.

    At least one Nielsen family did this during the 4th season of Babylon Five. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure all that having all of “their” TV sets and VCRs tuned in to B5 helped it get renewed for it’s 5th season.

    “They” stopped being a Nielsen Family years ago and do not know how the current monitoring technology works, so don’t bother asking for help saving your show.

    1. While I am totally in favour of that family playing their role in getting B5 sustained a little longer (I can thank them for my getting to enjoy it on DVD years after it ended, because, yet again, I had too much trouble finding it on local TV), doesn’t this just show how flawed the Neilsen system is (or was at that time, anyway?)

      There was some article run on an Australian news site not long after we got a heap of new FTA channels thanks to the rollout of digital TV – “SOME OF THESE SHOWS DIDN’T GET *ONE SINGLE VIEWER*!” it trumpted. Well, no. All it meant was that they didn’t get a single viewer with a Neilsen box.

  22. Here’s another one that could work: abolish Neilsons and get a system that does actually represent the number of viewers watching a show.

    In the world of cable programming, it seems like there’s not a lot fans can do with a merry-go-round of network executives all wanting to make their mark so they can move on to another, bigger network.

    1. “abolish Neilsons and get a system that does actually represent the number of viewers watching a show”

      That’ll happen the same day the MPAA/RIAA starts using evidence-based piracy estimates.

      Using Nielsen allows the network content providers to shape the debate on their terms regardless of the reality of the situation. It’s sort of like the collusion between credit rating agencies and the Big Banks – look how well that turned out!

  23. You make some valid points about the pre-save. However Farscape fans thought we had avoided that when the show was given an unprecedented 2 year renewal.We took out ads in The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and USA Today to attract a home for our show(the trades) and new fans (USA Today). In addition there were charity drives that gave away Farscape dvds for prizes for donations among many other activities to attract awareness to get viewers for the airing of the final episodes. Ratings are always a comfortable excuse as well since data can be manipulated.

    1. So agree. I just finished watching Farscape for the second time, and I’m just as sad to see it go as I was the first time around.

      At least I got the Peacekeeper Wars…well at least it wrapped everything up in a nice way.

      Hell, I branch out a bit here: Gilmore Girls.
      (Alright I’m married, so yeah I sat and watch a lot of it.)

      But that show had a fairly large fan base, good ratings, and a good time slot. Didn’t help that when the network decided it was time, they hastily put an ending together and called it a day.

      I still wonder about Firefly. It was an alright show, but I wonder where it would have gone if given say three seasons…….(either way I got to see Rick Castle dressed up as Mal).

      1. A similar thing happened with the ITV show Primeval. OK, it’s a silly monster-of-the-week romp and it divides opinion among sci-fi fans pretty neatly, but it was apparently pulling excellent ratings – I think it may have been winning its slot. ITV still knocked it on the head, something to do with a rollback at the time of ALL drama and a focus on cheap, trashy TV (reality, game shows, etc). The deal they ended up striking to un-cancel it was fairly clever, and hey, if nothing else, they’ve proved it can be done.

  24. cmpalmer hits it squarely. Niche networks should learn to program to the niche. Otherwise, why not just declare yourself a TNT clone and start down the bottomless rabbit hole of chasing the general public. Be excellent within your niche.

    The issue, of course, lies squarely with our marketing-driven culture and the MBAs that steer it. It’s strictly a one-size-fits all mindset that drive the whole “grow-grow-grow” business model. The problem lies in the very real fact that some areas don’t/can’t grow the way others do. But, again, if you can’t accept this fact, you shouldn’t choose to run a niche network in the first place.

    Oh, and, “Mongolian Death Worm”? Seriously?

  25. I do not like the idea of grassroots television activism. It just seems so tawdry.

    So, basically stations are shifting the burden of promoting a show and winning viewers from the network to the fans. I am supposed to tell all my friends, family, internet casual acquaintances, in lieu of the channel opening their pocketbooks and promoting a show properly.

    Never mind how many people you as a network could reach by running more promos for a good show or by paying for advertising. Never mind valuing an audience which is invested enough in a show to actually reach out to the powers that be. No, instead we’re supposed to commit ourselves to some sort of marketing missionary work on behalf of our favorite programs. Ugh.

  26. Yeah… about that. Gaining more viewers is great, but what if the show already has enough viewers – they’re just not well represented by Nielsen families?

    The problem with science fiction is that it attracts that large group of geeks and nerds, who have no interest in the archaic technology from the ’50s used to measure TV. Where are the Nielsen iPhone and Android apps? Where is the web site that I can register as a Nielsen viewer and indicate my viewing preferences?

    The joke is, as a shareholder in the media companies, I can vote my shares online with any web enabled platform – but I can’t tell them that I like their show and watch it.

    The financial side of the business has embraced technology, while the content side (on which the financials depend) is mired in technology as ancient as the stock ticker-tape.

  27. So you’re saying it’s too late to start a “Please Just One More Season Of LOST” campaign? Awww… what am I going to do with all of these t-shirts?

  28. How to really save a show. Become a CEO of a major corporation. Spend ungodly amounts of money on commercials to be played only on that program. Invite the CEO of that network out to play golf, and buy him/her ungodly drinks at the nineteenth hole. Hire big burly bodyguard dudes to go to the houses of any network executives running shows opposite your favorite show and have their kneecaps ventilated. Sacrifice a goat to Chthulhu. All of these suggestions would be more successful than reading this article. I feel the title of this article is misleading. It doesn’t tell you how to REALLY save your show. Telling friends to watch your favorite show might work IF all your friends were participants in the Nielsens. You’d never know that. When I watched something on my TV no one ever knew about it. I’ve been told when I watch something on Hulu, people know about it, but they don’t care. I stopped watching FOX network around 2003 after it canceled scores of shows I enjoyed. I used to stress over it, but when I stopped watching FOX, a weight was lifted. Then I stopped watching other networks. Then I put off getting an adapter for my old TV so it can watch new broadcasts. Nowadays my TV is gathering dust in a corner and if I can’t stream something on the web, it doesn’t exist for me. Network TV stopped caring what I wanted so I stopped supporting them, and when network TV becomes extinct, I won’t notice. Vamped Out. Mister Diety. The Guild. Mediocre Films. Red Vs Blue. You Tube videos of cats slamming their faces into glass patio doors. Who needs network TV? I have the Internet!

  29. There’s something seriously deranged about the idea that anything that people are willing to invest a million man hours in is a failure. That’s two lifetimes.

    Why not just go smaller? Throw out all those ossified hollywood trade unions that insist all productions must supply the director with a diamond encrusted butt plug. Spend $10,000 to make $50,000. It’s not like there’s a shortage of bandwidth.

  30. Here’s a theory: If we want SyFy to stop canceling good shows in favor of shows that South Park bags on, we should convince SyFy to stop paying so much attention to Nielsen ratings.

    If the current rating system is biased in favor of lower income viewers who opt in to an invasion of privacy, then internet-based campaigns won’t do much to change the skewed ratings.

    Maybe SyFy’s just screwed, because the most hardcore fans are the most likely to use technology that circumvents ads. Their need to distance themselves from the most tech savvy fans could explain the repellent new name.

  31. I hate wrestling and don’t believe in ghosts or listen to people who say they can talk to the dead. I never cared for bug eyed monsters or horror stories. Why would I or any other true fan of science fiction waste their time with the SyFy channel? I mean, really, the nerve of you people!

  32. Robtuse:

    What SyFy listens to is secondary compared to what its advertisers listen to.

    If the Advertisers will take alternate viewership estimates from other methods and other media as credible, then that’s great. If they credit Hulu viewers and Tivo users as zero, then it doesn’t matter how much SyFy believes…

  33. PS I should have mentioned the Chthulhu thing ZachsMind suggests also works, but I don’t recommend it. If you think 3D is bad, try watching TV made with Non-Euclidean geometry…

  34. As one of the millions of fans of Legend of the Seeker. We are pretty much doing anything we can think of to promote the show and the non cancelling of this show. I feel as if this article came out at the right time for us. We are fighting a good fight and hoping ABC hears us. This show is an amazing scifi/fantasy show and with more viewers and a stable time slot I know would take over ratings on the day it was shown.

    We have considered mailing items to abc. Fans have raised money for an ad in Variety, Twitter trending, facebook groups, an official website. Individually trying to get friends and family to watch on netflix/hulu.

    Fans have written sponsors of the show thanking them for their sponsorship, sending in barcodes to the sponsors of products they have bought. You name it it seems we have written, bought, donated, blogged, tweeted and begged. Ive forwarded this article on to Seeker fans.

    Thank you.

  35. I’m sorry… while I’ve been reading these posts about how “programming works”, I’ve been less than thrilled reading what is coming off as spin.

    Sci-Fi Channel was a fun channel to tune into then they introduced Wrestling and Ghost Hunters to its stable of shows.. my intrest began to falter. With BSG off the air, the only things I have to look forward to on Sci-FI are StarGate Universe and the highly entertaining Eureka. The rest of the programming is crap with their low budget movie of the week items on Saturday night and their total lack of commitment to classic Sci-fi series unless of course you never grow tired of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone.

    They really need to get back to their roots and maybe block out Saturday afternoons for runs of LOST IN SPACE, or SPACE: 1999 or run those series that never made it a full season like THE FANTASTIC JOURNEY or OTHERWORLD. Shows that we just don’t have a hope in hell of ever seeing again unless a niche station is running them.

    And for gods sake… a cooking show? What the hell are people thinking over there? At this point you might as well do away with any association with science fiction at all and just become THE SAME AS ALL THE OTHER CABLE CHANNEL STATION. Between wrestling, reality shows and now cooking shows you are slowly loosing your distinction in the market place.

    I stopped subscribing to cable when BSG ended. Now I rent my shows from Netflix. If I like them, then I show my support by making the purchase of the season set. I refuse to have what was once my favorite channel tell me that my genre of choice is going to be filled with wresting, reality and cooking shows.

    I don’t need sci-Fi Channel and neither do most of my friends.

    1. SciFi, you want me to watch you more? Put on more stuff.

      Get rid of the late night paid programming. Stick on stuff that nobody’s seen in years, like OTHERWORLD, or SPACE: 1999, or pretty much any old stuff that’s fun to watch. Us insomniacs will tune in. I won’t parrot any more of chappai’s comment, but it’s pretty spot on.

      The BSG-class original programming is fantastic, but it shouldn’t be your only focus. Replay that stuff from time to time, too. Marathons suck; schedule programming daily or weekly so we can DVR it even though it’s at an inconvenient time.

      The cheesy fun stuff like Eureka is good too; it’s not entirely scifi but it is certainly fun fantasy.

      Even some of us older folks are contemplating why we’re paying big bucks for cable/satellite TV. DirecTV has been jacking rates by $4/year (IIRC) for the ten years we’ve been with them, essentially doubling the cost for basic service. Find a way to let us get your programming over the Internet for, say, $10/month, and that’s a win for both sides, since there’s only a few channels we really watch here.

      It’s time for some change at SciFi, and that can start with dropping “Siffy” as your name. Then put some work into coming up with a scifi lineup. You can mix it up, real scifi along with the fun stuff, no problems there, but see what else you can bring back too. It’s 12:50AM and you’re showing Highlander; the scifi action is over on AMC with The Terminator.

  36. I should add that I stopped watching The SciFi Channel back when it canceled Mystery Science Theater 3000, and canceled my cable subscription soon after. I enjoy Sanctuary & Warehouse 13 but only on Hulu.

  37. I don’t understand why the Nielsen system still exists.

    Consider how many digital cable customers there are in the US (Comcast has over 16mil digital cable customers alone). Consider that there are about 25,000 Nielsen raters. Why not just use the viewer data from digital cable companies? Digital cable boxes communicate 2 ways, I’d assume the cable companies are already collecting that data.

  38. Can we get a ruling on the acuracy of neilson ratings? Does any one know how good their stats are? Plus do we really need to be so judgie of the neilson families? I am pretty sure they are not all poor slash ignorant of privacy issues.

    1. “Can we get a ruling on the acuracy of neilson ratings? Does any one know how good their stats are? Plus do we really need to be so judgie of the neilson families? I am pretty sure they are not all poor slash ignorant of privacy issues.”

      I’d bet their stats are better than the statisticians.

      Actually, that would be an interesting question for somebody over at fivethirtyeight if they were so inclined..

  39. The “SyFy” channel is pure garbage. Who cares what some exec with a putrid pile of D-list shows thinks?

  40. I think it’s all in the hands of the Producers and Directors.

    Step 1: Don’t show it on Fox.

    Step 2: Repeat Step 1

    Step 3: Remember, Smart is bad. So you want to appeal to the least common denominator.

  41. When it comes to Firefly, at this point I’d settle for tales told in that universe on any network that’s NOT FOX. Yes I’d prefer Mal & River but that’s not gonna happen. So a tv series set in the same universe that stayed sincere to the original series but utilized entirely new characters could be fun. I think the fan-oriented send up called “Browncoats Redemption” looks promising. It won’t be AS good as an actual Whedon production, but the important thing is to keep the signal going.

  42. I’d like to second the point that SyFy (*giggle*) turn their sights away from television, because seriously, your target demographic knowns how to use a computer. Fill a channel with your top downloads if you insist on keeping tv around a bit longer, but you should be at the forefront of the transition into making the internet your primary means of content delivery.

    I’d also like to say that a good story trumps all. That’s the thing that makes us go tell our friends, and it’s the story TELLERS we often follow. Witness the way that Joss Wheadon is Joss Wheadon whether on television, movie screen or comic book. You’re pretty much only on my radar at all because you support Ron Moore. You’re just a middleman between us and them, and when you cancel shows before the story can be told, we find a different middle man.

    Thanks for highlighting the pointlessness of the write-in campaigns, though. What you say does make sense. I even agree that fans are in the best position to get other people watching.

    And while I’m writing to you I might as well add, I don’t mind the name change. Well, I do think the name is kind of silly, but I admire the spirit of the change. Though I was hoping it would mean more sci-fi/fantasy fusion (Farscape is a good example); wrestling and Ghost Hunters don’t really count.

  43. I remember being excited to catch Gurren Lagann when it showed up on Sci Fi about a year and a half ago. The first two episodes got me interested, but the commercial breaks and pop-up ads really destroyed the flow, and I resigned myself to catching it somewhere else in the future.

    Now it’s on Hulu and I have ten or so episodes left to get through. And after that: Now And Then, Here And There, which aired in the timeslot after Gurren on Animonday.

    Really I just wanted to bitch about the way Gurren Lagann was handled. My tolerance for ads is reasonable, but I’m still only human.

  44. NBC’s “Chuck” was supposedly renewed this season because of a fan campaign to visibly patronize one of the show’s sponsors, SUBWAY sandwich shops. Viewers would buy a sandwich and fill out a comment form at the shop thanking SUBWAY for their continued support of the program.

  45. The thing that annoys me about this is that this is regional specific. By the time a show is picked up overseas it is in its second season in the states or the uk, and they have already made the decision to pull the show. Despite the fact it is a cult classic and you have thousands and thousands of loyal viewers. Then they replace it with a mediocre substitute.

    The other problem is all the good shows imported seem to be bought by Channel 9 in Australia, who keep playing with the timeslots before pulling it completely.

  46. Sadly, TV is destined to be reduced to the same role movies are – ads for DVDs, where the real money is these days, and, very soon, straight to downloadable versions.

    Like the music industry, and the film industry, the TV industry is sliding backwards as the distribution and delivery systems move forward, and the economics do not favor any medium that imposes on consumers pre-packaged gops of crap to get one thing you want, forces unwanted, poorly targeted ads down consumers throats, and essentially turns consumers into criminals and pursues the same prohibition mentality that worked so poorly to reduce alcohol consumption in America.

    The art will continue. The broadcast TV industry probably will, too, but as a shell of its former self, because, like other old media dinosaurs, it refuses to adapt to new models of production, transaction, distribution and delivery.

    Believe me, I wish it weren’t so. We are in for a long period of cheap crap before we move to quality product with another model.

    BTW, thanks for your posts here Craig, always interesting and provocative.

    1. “before we move to quality product with another model”

      Ah. An optimist.
      When the whole society is insisting on dumbing itself down at all costs, I’m not sure you even can bounce back unless it is under the thumb of our future Chinese overlords. And they might not care.

  47. Let me add to the voices who decry Sci Fi’s (I refuse you use your new fake-word name) reliance on wrestling, ghost stories, and monster movies made by film school washouts.

    But, in truth, since BSG ended, I see no point in watching the network for the simple reason that you’ll never top that show.

  48. I am going to add another bullsh!t on the pile.
    Nice try at using the guest blogging on BB to market. Clearly, when a show gets cancelled, it is OUR FAULT.

    The reality is that network executives including senior programming directors have all the say. The only show they WON’T cancel is an infomercial that pays for its existence with cash money. That’s why wrestling is on SciFi. Oh, and that’s why SciFi is now SyFy.

    The ratings systems is flawed to begin with, and only produces arbitrary numbers. These numbers can be used to prop up or tear down any show that is under consideration. Only the opinion of the executives matters. If you want to get a show to live, become a TV exec, and during your brief tenure, make it your policy to keep that show on. That’s it. Viewer numbers only matter to network shows when they slide them around for timeslot shuffleboard.

    We know how the TV industry works. Right now TV is trying to stay relevant. It is only a matter of time before they pitch their weight fully behind the MPAA RIAA mafia and start prosecuting viewers for not watching enough. They already have people questioning the morality of skipping commercials.

    1. Hey, he didn’t say if a show is canceled it’s our (the veiewers’) fault.

      He’s just offering advice on how viewers might be able to forestall a cancellation, because people always ask him that. Seems reasonable to me.

      And it doesn’t look to me like he’s offering much in the way of false hope, either, and bully for him for that.

      The comments section does raise a lot of new questions, though, and I hope at least some of them are addressed in a future post.

  49. LOL getting massive amounts of new viewers means absolutely squat if none of those new viewers don’t own a Neilsen box.

    Shoot you could get 10 million new viewers and if your sampling from the Neilsen boxs stays the same you aren’t going to see any changes in the ratings at all and your show is still gonna get canned.

    Getting “new viewers” that actually count aka (neilsen viewers) is next to impossible.

  50. An interesting read, particularly having spearheaded the campaign to bring Farscape back from cancellation. Gummed up SciFi’s communications with an onslaught of emails, voice mail, and snail mail. Worked in the end; we Scapers got our show its finale.

  51. All this really proves to me is that the execs at these companies could care less if a show has ‘quality’ and wonderful actors and writing, production et al, they care about $$ and ratings and it has to be instantaneous. They rarely give shows a chance, they are on and just as they are building steam and a following they are canceled only to be replaced by a crappy show that is a carbon copy of one they already have (CSI’s) or that another network has. There is no originality. If you listened to your ‘actual audience’ and promoted and marketed correctly and gave quality shows a chance, you might be surprised.

  52. The only reason that Seeker of the Legend is on the ropes is because the Tribune Company is bankrupt. Unfortunately, the fans don’t have a crystal ball to know that in advance. The Tribune Company isn’t in the habit of sending us updates on their economic situation.

    The numbers are better than a number of shows on Syfy, which makes us wonder why you didn’t push for it all the way. We all know that Syfy had made a bid for it and that you dropped out because of the money. You can say as a gesture of “saving face” that it didn’t fit into your programming, but that’s crap or you wouldn’t have bid on it in the first place.

    It’s true very few shows have been saved by fans, but there have been exceptions. If it’s okay with you, we will continue our efforts. Maybe you should reconsider your position and buy the program. As for me, I’m not planning to watch wrestling on Syfy.

  53. Can someone tell me how to tell their friends to watch a show on a channel that shows stuff ‘MegaShark Vs Giant Octopus’ in a serious manner? Can you imagine not being familiar with SF channel and seeing previews for that stuff?

  54. The vast majority of the tv viewing audience are let’s face it — morons. They are the ones demand shows like American Idol, reality tv and Fox news. To think that the small majority can convince the network heads to start showing intelligent, thought provoking shows like BSG or great docu-dramas like The Pacific is a waste of time. TV does not produce great entertainment to the degree that it really matters. Never has, never will folks. Great literature in books (and even better well produced audio books) is really the only refuge for someone who demands high brow entertainment.

  55. An alternative is Taiwan styled serials. They typically run anywhere from 20 to 50 episodes, sometimes 100 or 200+. Each episode is about 40 to 45 minutes (if you don’t count the commercials).

    They’re shown rapidly, everyday on weekdays at the same time slot, and finish quickly in a couple of months. The number of episodes is pre-planned (though this is not announced to the viewers). You don’t squeeze things to rush an ending if the show is not popular, or drag it out if it has viewers. There is a definite end planned. So they don’t have the problem of the show degenerating over time as the writers runs out of ideas.

    If a show is popular, they have sequels.

  56. In this modern day of instant and easy, fans actually writing and mailing physical letters and using their own money to buy and ship physical items to a network is an amazing act of dedication.

    If the networks aren’t listening to that then, basically they aren’t listening to fans at all! The fans are screwed. It is good to know that there is really nothing you can do when your favorite show is canceled, because you don’t count.

    Popular, quality shows get canceled because the entire system is outdated and relies on hopelessly flawed “technology” that is a completely inaccurate and unrepresentative sampling of data for all but the mainstream.

    Using this system as a basis for their business model, stations have alienated viewers, watered down their content, and doomed themselves to a slow painful death.

    Listen Up SyFy:
    1. Only air shows in your niche genera.
    2. Focus your business model on on-line show distribution and viewing where your tech savvy fans are.
    3. Use alternative data from cable companies, torrent download numbers, website views, hula, google ranks on show related search terms, etc.
    4. Listen to fans that make a physical effort to let you know they are there. For each one of them there are at least 10x more fans that didn’t write, probably more like 100x.
    5. Commit to your shows and fans that they won’t be left hanging as long as a show gains X traction.

    1. 6. Consider international viewers. They may well outnumber your domestic viewers. And they do not watch wrestling, even if their networks were to be stupid enough to buy them.

  57. Are Nielsen ratings the only way to measure home viewings? If yes, then does it even matter if people who aren’t Nielsen families watch?

  58. Network television is not the future.

    The lesson learned here is that television networks are still utilizing archaic measuring methods to determine their audience share and communicating false information to advertisers. I don’t care about advertisers and I don’t care about the middlemen who bring content to me. I care about the content. What has to happen to pay for that content is far too complex for me to comprehend.

    Actually the logical thing would be for people to pay directly for what they want to see. However, if I had to do that I’d never see anything cuz I’m poor. So as I understand it, companies who actually have money give it to networks so they can buy proramming that people with more disposable income than me will watch. I’m not even really in the loop here and never have been.

    Companies pay networks for time to tell me what they want me to buy from them. They will only pay for time that maximizes the odds a lot of people like me (but with more money) will hear what they have to say. So networks are not interested in getting me content I want to see. They are interested in content that advertisers think people with more money than me will want to see.

    This is why currently shows like Dancing With The Stars & American Idol have outrageously high ratings and shows I like such as Lost and Warehouse 13 don’t. People who actually have money and do matter to advertisers and networks have really pathetic tastes in entertainment. I’m shocked that Idol is now losing ratings because Simon Cowell is leaving. That means rich people with Nielsen Boxes actually like that idiot. That is so far removed from my reality it’s not even funny.

    Also, I actively avoid watching commercials, because I don’t like being reminded of all the things out there I can’t afford to buy. I used to like that Hulu had less commercials than conventional TV, but that’s beginning to change. And unlike Tivo, you can’t fast forward thru Hulu commercials. I bet advertisers really like that.

  59. Craig’s main point in everything he’s posted thus far is simple: TV is a business and Syfy needs to make money.

    Nearly every comment ends up being a bitch-fest about wrestling, or how everything on TV these days is junk, or how stupid the name “Syfy” is.

    We can wish for a niche network that only shows stuff that we personally like, but we might be an audience of one. Who’s going to pay the bills? Dr. Horrible doesn’t scale.

    Craig, thanks for being accessible and blunt.

  60. “3. Use alternative data from cable companies, torrent download numbers, website views, hula, google ranks on show related search terms, etc.
    4. Listen to fans that make a physical effort to let you know they are there. For each one of them there are at least 10x more fans that didn’t write, probably more like 100x.
    5. Commit to your shows and fans that they won’t be left hanging as long as a show gains X traction.”


    TV’s bias towards Nielsen ratings are inherently biased against those who don’t subscribe or own Nielsen boxes. Which means the numbers are disproportionate and inaccurate, if you’re not getting numbers of every household watching X or Y program.

    Regardless, I’ve seen too many of my favorite shows suffer at the hands of the shell of what used to be a great Sci-Fi network which showed great and thought provoking programming. Now we have Ghost Hunters.

    If you really don’t trust your viewers who are non-Nielsen why should we trust anything you say or do?

    Sci-Fi has shown it’s contempt and disdain for it’s former audience with it’s recent actions. Then you expect to justify it with this? Nah dude, I’m not buying it and coincidentally won’t be supporting your network again.

    Hey Craig, “OW! My Balls!” any plans of picking it up?

    1. [b]TV’s bias towards Nielsen ratings are inherently biased against those who don’t subscribe or own Nielsen boxes.[/b]

      It’s sampling. Did you distrust Obama-McCain voting projections, even though they were only calling 200 people? The Obama-McCain voting projections were pretty accurate in the end, weren’t they?

      I’m honestly no fan of Nielsen, but pretending that there’s no validity behind their methodology unless they survey 100% of every household is unrealistic.

      1. “It’s sampling…I’m honestly no fan of Nielsen, but pretending that there’s no validity behind their methodology unless they survey 100% of every household is unrealistic.”

        I didn’t hear anyone say they had to sample 100% of households. I heard people say there are a lot better more accurate ways to sample the data, and that Nielson is horribly broken for many reasons.

        Most sources show the number of people watching TV online growing sharply, same with the number of people who only watch TV online.

        Whereas Nielson releases ridiculous statements and statistics that are obviously wrong, like that in 2010 tv subscriptions have reached an all time high at 90 percent of all households paying to receive programming, up from 88 percent in 2009, the previous all time high. They also show dvd sales at an all time high. According to them the tv and movie industry is booming like never before. Guess blowing smoke up their clients a**es is more important then accurate information.

        “Total ad spending on Cable is up 16%” – Nielson 2010

        Guess we don’t have to worry about any of our shows being canceled or switched out for wrestling then…

        1. “Whereas Nielson releases ridiculous statements and statistics that are obviously wrong, like that in 2010 tv subscriptions have reached an all time high at 90 percent of all households paying to receive programming, up from 88 percent in 2009, the previous all time high. They also show dvd sales at an all time high.”

          Do you have counter-statistics to show that Nielsen is wrong? Seems to me that people are consuming more media of all types, including cable, DVDs, and online.

          1. “Do you have counter-statistics to show that Nielsen is wrong? Seems to me that people are consuming more media of all types, including cable, DVDs, and online.”

            Seems? Your statistics?
            (or is this a do as i say not as i do situation?)

            I’m no expert, just pointing out that the Nielson is the *ONLY* group making such claims, everyone else including the WSJ, NYT, Sony, Warrner, Paramount, etc. *ALL* state the exact opposite. Google will give you hundreds of results to choose from, take your pick from any of them, they all essentially say the same thing.

            NYT – Dvd sales fell 23.4%
            WSJ – Dvd sales are falling 5-9% per quarter
            BusinessWeek – Dvd sales tanked in 2009
            Adams Media Research – Dvd sales fell 13% worldwide
            Disney – DVD sales slid 6.3%
            Arstechnica – Dvd sales fell over 13%


            Convergence Consulting Group – over the last two years, 800,000 Americans have cut their cable television and now watch their TV online. That number is expected to double by next year.

            Of course why am I copying links that you could find yourself? All I can do is relay my opinion and findings. What do I know? I encourage you to draw your own conclusions even if they differ from mine.

  61. Craig, you should read this:

    Us, Legend of the Seeker fans, we are doing EVERYTHING we can. But don’t forget a few things:
    – LotS is shown in a crappy time slot
    – that time slot is being switched around because of baseball and whatever else, sometimes without warning
    – the show is on at impossible times, at some places you can watch it in the afternoon, elsewhere it’s on in the evening or late at night. Sometimes the channels won’t even air an episode for some reason and they won’t repeat it either at a later time.
    – finally, the most important thing: the lack of promotion.

    We are against these odds. Someone else listed most of the things we are doing to advertise the show but there is only so much we can do.

    So, take your head out of the sand and think! Put the show on at a fixed, decent time slot, give it a decent promotion, and the show will have more than 3 million viewers.

  62. I dropped cable at the end of BSG too.

    Really. Has the TV industry learned NOTHING from the music industry. Adapt or die.

    The new SyFy panders to all I hate about Science Fiction (i.e. big boobed size 0 bimbos and steroided, chisel-jawed white-boy heroes), and makes me ashamed to be a genre fan.

    Genre fans are the most loyal fans out there. We’ll do anything for those who earn our respect (Joss!). You’re doing everything possible to lose us.

    (If you’re interested in showing things of BSG quality, do your damnest to license the ORIGINAL UK Life on Mars.)

  63. Comparing Nielson to campaign predictions is not entirely accurate. The choice between Obama-McCain was 50/50 (provided the people polled were going to vote) and even then many of those people voted on party lines.

    Now to convert that to television terms you’d have to travel back to the days of two television stations and assume many people had a loyalty to one or the other. I’m too lazy to count but I’m fairly certain I have a choice of at least 200 different programs on at any given time slot and no loyalty to any particular station (other than news coverage), though I realistically tend to only check 15-20 stations. If I don’t see something on I want to watch I’ll switch over to the DVR or stream something.

    The Nielson system is ridiculously outdated but it does one thing that no other system does. That one thing is tie demographics to what’s being watched. Advertisers not only want to know somebody is watching something, they want to know who is watching it.

    That said, it really shouldn’t be that hard to figure out who is watching television shows today by surveying the internet and see who is talking about it. Heck take it a step further, include a “sponsored by” section on the web sites for shows so people can see who is making their favorite show possible.

  64. Look it’s obviously way more in SyFy’s interest to save their own shows than it is in mine. Even if I watch them, what do I care? They’re just shows. To SyFy they are a livelihood. So it’s up to SyFy to save their own shows, not me.

    I recommend cutting costs and firing middlemen as a frequently effective tactic.

  65. So I propose as a solution to cancelled shows that we start a movement to cease all write-in and mail-in campaigns. Then watch the networks jump.

  66. Well, FireFly got the usual treatment Fox gives to good shows: it was put up against FarScape (the best science fiction series EVER IMO). I, for one, never watched it because I was already committed to FarScape.

    FarScape then got canceled because SciFi found that new FarScapes didn’t do as well as RERUNS of Stargate SG-1. The SG-1s were free and the FarScapes cost money, so they dumped FarScape for SG-1 reruns.

    This was a sensible business decision, but karmically, not so much. SciFi began to degenerate from that moment. Crap like Mansquito made them a laughingstock; they appear to have embraced that label, becoming a purveyor of wrestling, ultimate fighting, and (don’t forget) Ghost Hunters, a show so stupid that even one of their own stupid horror movies made fun of it. (By the way, Corin Nemec was in that one, still riding the wave of his success in Mansquito.)

    And now they’ve changed their name to SyFy (the temptation to pronounce this ‘siffy’—you know, infected with syphilis—has proved irresistible, at least for me), ostensibly because it can be trademarked, but I’ve always suspected it was really as the next step in their ongoing process of distancing themselves from science fiction entirely.

    Someday, I hope someone will figure out a way to make a profit with a network that really presents science fiction consistently and well. SyFy is not that network.

    All that said, I’m watching Stargate Universe every Friday. I liked it from the beginning, even though some people dissed it because it was, you know, actual drama with real people instead of square-jawed heroes Saving The Universe, and now it’s getting so good even the space opera fans like it.

  67. The misspelling of Nielsen is getting to me a lot worse than it should.

    One reason I prefer videogames: When they get canceled it’s usually long before I ever get a chance to play them. A bit less of a kick in the balls to not get to finish something that never started.

    Episodic gaming is vulnerable to that, though. Or dumb games with cliffhanger non-endings teasing a sequel or two that never come to fruition.

  68. Most SciFi lovers today are techies that what SYFY shows online. If TV ratings are any indication of viewership you guys are totally wrong.

  69. Save a show from being cancelled? You should be thinking about saving your whole channel from being cancelled.

    Syfy? really? Talk about misadventures in brandland. How is that working out for you?

    Wrestling? Law and Order re-runs? Late night infomercials? This channel is undifferentiated from basic cable variety soup. How long can a 1.0 share survive?

  70. Very interesting thread. If anyone’s got a campaign for cancellation for ‘legend of the seeker’ let me know and i’ll sign on–its horrible

  71. Question–Is it possible to “win” a show back by “Tweeting” things to death on twitter? There is a forum that is organizing only big tweeting things but not anything else. Just wondering if tweeting really accomplishes anything. Thanks

  72. I don’t see how any of the major cable channels (SyFy included) are doing the grassroots marketing that helps sell their shows. When I find out about a show, it is usually due to some dull advertisement claiming that (insert show name) is a hit with critics. The Internet age should be one where these channels should be giving away the first few episodes free on the internet. The channels should encourage us to post these episodes on YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion and even (gasp) Torrent sites. The fans (especially genre fans like SciFi fans) should also be encourage to overdub, recut, remix, and share ideas, praise and distribute these shows to build interest. It seems like it would be a risk, but if you can get the product out to the Internet fans early enough, you could have an eager audience ready to watch your shows when the first episode comes along.

    There again, my suggestion is asking cable networks to give a little… heaven forbid…

    1. This is why I think some shows get “leaked” – the first episode of Dexter normally appears online in a lower-quality format several weeks before it’s aired. The studio wouldn’t be able to admit to having actually made it available deliberately, but tell me that doesn’t generate the treasured “buzz” they’re always after.

  73. Legend of the Seekers sets are in the process of being struck currently… and I know this because there doing it. It’s a sad process, but it is happening.

  74. How about this: Show them the money.

    Set up a website where people can pledge money to a network on the condition that a certain show is renewed. You could add conditions, like “actor X must stay on” or “the budget must be at least Y dollars per episode on average”.

    Such a website could also cater to other types of work (movies, books, music, art).

    Not only would this provide the creators with a direct finacial incentive to create what you want, it should also be a fairly reliable way to measure interest.

  75. Okay Buddy, So one question for you, Is there a mailing list that the fans can access where it will tell them “Network execs are considering cutting this show”?

    Because then we end up with a “Firefly” type of thing where a wrap party turns into a “Pink slip” party.

    And by all means, I’ll be original, I’ll block traffic for a few minutes at rush hour with a bunch of friends dressed as TVs if it were to save a show, I’ll have Chris Gore talk about it, I’ll make the front page of CNN in some way or another, but will it really work?

    In the end, the decision is taken up top and the problem with today’s execs is that they only look at sheer numbers. and especially in the $$Profit$$ column.

    I wish they would remember the first time they made love. It probably wasn’t the best, but their wives gave them a second chance.
    It’s not a perfect analogy, but when I see shows like Defying Gravity getting cut, I’m flabbergasted by the lack of reasons. I mean let’s face it what would have happened if Babylon 5 had been judged on the numbers of the first year alone?

    So what I’m saying is, if you’re signing a show with a story longer than 13 episodes of 1 hour, sign it for at least two years and see where that leads you, you could be surprised by the results.

    And for the future of Television sake, find a way to count online viewings as official ratings.
    Oh and one last thing, get the FCC and the CRTC working together.

  76. Some of this seems to play into the “internet watchers” thing.

    There’s only X hours in a day to watch a TV show. If it’s on at an awkward timeslot, it can’t maximize its viewership on the ol’ vacuum tube box. There’s no prime time anymore, and an “awkward timeslot” could be as simple as being a clever show surrounded by pro wrestling and ghost hunters.

    With the online viewership, you have an audience who gets to control what they watch, and, through things like Netflix’s recommendations, or Hulu’s comments, get to know quite about a show before they decide to watch. Watching is an active choice. It’s time they could be spending doing a million other things on this Distraction Box, but they choose to watch the BOING SHOW because that’s what will give them the most entertainment. And they might decide to watch it at 6:38 am, or at 1:22 pm, or whenever it works for them.

    This also plays into the idea that networks can also sell stuff. A show that only nets 900,000 viewers might sell a LOT of things to zealous trufans that aren’t “commercials in airspace.” Possibly enough to support it without a higher viewership.

    There’s also something of a benefit in the catchet value of good programming. BSG and Farscape and even LEXX brought me in to see what else might be brewing on the network, since those were awesome. But knowing that pro wrestling and ghost hunters live on the same network drives me away. Certain shows are investments.

    I also thing, like BSG and even Dollhouse, networks can benefit from “complete limited runs.” Look at how anime series (which can be INSANELY expensive) are packaged: there’s always an end in mind, and once a story is told (6 episodes or 12 episodes or 42 episodes or whatever), it’s over, not drawn out forever.

    In essence, the idea is that television viewership is not a reliable method to measure the potential income from a given TV show. I understand it’s the only method TV networks currently have, but that’s part of what needs to change. The impact of a show stretches far beyond those who tune in at 7:30 on Saturday nights. Heck, that’s part of what FOX learned with Family Guy and Futurama, which found an audience in reruns, merch, and DVD sales. A given season’s ratings do not accurately forecast the series’ earning potential.

    1. Since this is wandering far and wide around the topic, I have another question about network programming and scheduling that I’ve never understood…

      Let’s say one network has a show called “Matlock, She Wrote” that appeals to an older audience.

      Another has “The Urkel Cyrus Show” that appeals to very young people and families with no taste.

      Another has “Firefly: The Next Generation” which appeals to young(er) SF fans and fans of quality television :-)

      Since these show’s demographics don’t overlap significantly, if they were all shown at the same time, they should maximize their audiences for that timeslot.

      So another network has a hot new SF property and they’re trying to figure out when to air it. What do they do? Apparently they look at the all mighty Nielson ratings and say, “That Firefly series attracts a lot of viewers on Tuesday nights at 9, so that must be when that demographic likes to watch TV. We’ll put our show opposite that one and steal all of their audience.” and the ratings for both shows then drop by half.

      Or, they say, “That Firefly series gets a big audience in our target demographic on Thursdays, but there are no shows on Friday that get that kind of ratings from that demographic. Let’s put our show on Friday nights and we’ll rake in the viewers.” Not realizing, of course, that this demographic DOESN’T SIT HOME ON FRIDAY NIGHT WATCHING TV. If they’re really lucky, people will DVR it (like I always did BSG).

      Does anyone understand this? Is there some revered operations management calculation that makes sense of it that I’m missing?

    2. Look at how anime series (which can be INSANELY expensive) are packaged: there’s always an end in mind, and once a story is told (6 episodes or 12 episodes or 42 episodes or whatever), it’s over, not drawn out forever.

      Well, that’s a nice fantasy, but it’s really not universally true. In point of fact, it’s patently wrong for the most popular series. Take a look at Naruto, Bleach, One Piece and other series….they have ‘filler seasons’ where the TV series catches up to the ongoing manga and the TV producers need to manufacture whole storylines out of thin air (and then ignore them when they return to the core story). It’s so heavy that Dragonball Z ‘Kai’ is being released this summer…it’s the original Dragonall Z re-edited to remove all the filler material and return the pacing to that of the original comic. (And of course there’s shows like Sazae-san, running over 1100 episodes).

      Now, you’re correct, there are plenty of series that DON’T do this, but more often than not it’s one of two things: either the manga artist and the studio decide to wait until more material is done to catch up to create a sequel series (such as Pumpkin Scissors or Natsume’s Book of Friends or Claymore) OR the series is planned with a fixed storyline and conclusion (usually not manga-based) but if it’s super successful, it might get a sequel anyways.

      It’s a better system than some US shows, but worse than others.

  77. It seems strange to me that Neelson ratings are still being used in an era of digital delivery. With more and more people on digital cable or satellite, a broader base of viewing stats should be relatively easy to come by. The communication channel is now bi-directional. Add in legal online viewing stats (again, should be relatively easy to obtain), and you have a much better base than Neilson families. Heck, keep the old rating boxes around for those who still plug the co-ax directly into their TV and add those in too.

  78. If “SciFi” wasn’t defensible as a brand or trademark, wouldn’t something like “SFC” (Science Fiction Channel) or something have been?

    Even the channel managers pretty much admitted that it was an attempt to attract viewers who would be embarrassed to be lumped in with nerdy SF fans and to allow their programming to branch out. Everything since then has been backpedaling and lame attempts to defend the name change.

    All in all, as silly as the SyFy name is, the problem isn’t in the name itself, but in the shift of the channel’s focus and the abandoning of their core audience.

    Obviously, the advertising driven network model based on Nielson ratings is broken and breaking more every day. Shotgunning as many commercials as possible to shows with high Nielson ratings is a particularly horrible way to present ads to dedicated viewers of most SF shows since the target demographic is, by far, the ones most likely to be DVR’ing the shows, skipping commercials, and/or watching the shows online.

    I like the idea of more corporate “sponsorship” of shows, particularly ones with niche audiences. I can handle limited commercials. Heck, when I’m skipping through commercials on recorded shows, I’ll stop for a cool looking commercial or movie trailer.

    I *loved* Fringe’s experiment with very short commercial breaks (no surprise then that it was abandoned after the first season). Not only were the short breaks sometimes not worth trying to skip through, but the commercials tended to be high quality and specifically targeted to the Fringe audience and I actually (gasp) enjoyed watching some of them.

    On the other hand, many basic cable shows (SyFy, USA, AMC, etc.) have more and longer commercial breaks (with shorter episodes of original series and cuts to syndicated shows) which makes me avoid them like the plague.

  79. Hrm.

    … I think this article has convinced me to get Netflix and watch SG:U on Hulu whilst dropping satellite TV.

    If this is truly an example of the… utter lack of vision and narrow mindedness of the executives at any cable/satellite network… mayhap it is time for you all to be out-evolved.

  80. I think it’s important to remember that something like two commercials in a half an hour on an online show is very valuable ad real estate. It’s one of the only times I even notice ads online, and I am very likely to engage the product, especially if it dominates the half hour by being in both commercial brakes (a la Hulu’s model).

    Of course, it makes targeting like AdSense even more important, since selling me a car (I live in NYC — fools, masochists, and egoists own cars here) is a wasted half hour. Selling me a local restaurant, or a local show, or a craft space, or an art gallery, or a book store, however, is a half hour that will get a BIG return on investment. Heck, even a body wash or a gum or something gets some bang for their buck out of it.

    I don’t think most people are against ads, I just think most ads are absolutely irrelevant to most of the people they target.

    One way might be to have the viewer select the types products they want to receive ads for…

    1. I’m against ads, pragmatically AND philosophically, though that’s an entirely different discussion. I’d rather pay to watch or subscribe, but that’ll only work once a LOT of people break away from subscribing to cable and all that crap. It’s tough to pull a baby from its beloved nipple. But micropayments, a little bit here and there sent directly to the people MAKING the stuff, multiplied by millions, is totally sustainable and way more logical.

  81. If you want a show canceled then write down all the commercials that air on the show. Then contact all of those advertisers with a petition signed by a very large number of people (Or individual letter writing campaign) that tells them that you find their support of the show offensive and will stop buying their products. You can offer other shows that you would buy their products if they supported but odds are that would work against your movement.

  82. While I totally support those saying aim programming on niche networks at the niche, and reform the audience calculation method, the best way to avoid shows being cancelled: cut out all the fat.

    Drop all the unnecessary wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if gimmick episodes, all the slowly character-defining monster of the week episodes, focus properly on an overarching plot that actually gets resolved satisfactorily, and make the series only one season long.

  83. Fox has this show, has put it on Football Sundays and Mondays, and plans to shift the shows time slot for other purely arbitrary reasons, including it being successful enough to possibly prop up other shows. Lets PreSave this show, and keep it off of Fox. Or kee[ it away from practically every other TV programmer with exactly the same mindset, and place it directly on YouTube!

    Are you with me? Fellas?

  84. Anyone else remember their re-imagining of Flash Gordon?

    That’s on my “Good Actors in Terrible Shows” list.

  85. SyFy is not a science fiction channel – it hasn’t been that for a very long time now. It doesn’t know WHAT it is anymore.

    Another good approach to saving shows is to hit the networks where they hurt. Contact the advertisers on that network and let them know that you saw their product while watching a particular show. Also contact them and let them know if you think a show is horrible, and indicate how disappointed you are that they are supporting it (right-wing Christians do that sort of thing all the time).

    Come to think of it, I’m going to have to start doing that with SyFy’s “original movies” and wrestling shows.

  86. craig, i want to think about the stuff, but i can’t. the people that are close to it are a number, the people outside of that realm are a number, and my head hurts after that point. what if you went after the train wrecks. there are numbers there. what if you made a whole network of the train wrecks, and by the train wreck, i give the loosest interpretation subject to copyright. i bet, i could make a network of nothing but train wrecks, well, train wrecks in the eye of the beholder (fat cat hollywood walking that runyon canyon for whatever god gives them) and make it interesting. interesting vs. making money has always been the conundrum now hasn’t it?

    1. and i am not even talking about sci-fi.
      i am talking about “tunnelvision”.
      real, live, “tunnelviision”
      that is real, live sci-fi
      on the next level!

    2. and i am not even talking about sci-fi.
      i am talking about “tunnelvision”.
      real, live, “tunnelviision”
      that is real, live sci-fi
      on the next level!

  87. actually, what every show needs these days is a stiff injection of

  88. a little side note: the reason that sci-fi (like others, i refuse to use the new moniker) picked up wrestling is because wrestling tests well with teenaged and 20-something males, which is a big part of sci-fi’s audience… what sci-fi didn’t take into account was that the young males who like science fiction are not the same young males that typically like wrestling (or other forms of machismo– which is why sci-fi’s “lets have a bunch of army dudes fight giant lizards” programming fails).

  89. I agree with a lot that was said. However it is not SYFY’s fault. The system of how networks air and pay for programs in America is broken. I do not hav enough information to speak to the validity of Nielsen’s statistics. However I do know that the recent IPO of Nielsen is disturbing. How much will the pressure of appeasing share holders impact the integrity of their data. Is it possible that the pressure to appease share holders will cause them to fudge the numbers? I do not know but we have significant history were by other company’s have instituted shady, questionable, and sometime illegal policies in order to bump up the share price and dividend to please the share holders. Can we really trust Nielsen’s numbers now that they are beholden to the shareholders?

  90. The “Fluff Campaign” was my idea. Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe are returning for Season 10 of Criminal Intent. Just 8 episodes but we’ll take it. Who’s laughing now?

Comments are closed.