The Syfy channel, via Craig Engler, has just announced that they're ending Stargate Universe after they finish out the next ten episodes of the current season, effectively stopping the franchise on the television. It's a shame, because SGU has rapidly become one of the more interesting and compelling science fiction dramas on television, and it was doing good things for the franchise, taking it in a very interesting direction.
Unfortunately, it's also not a surprise. Going out on a short limb, the ratings for the show have been pretty low, on par with what Caprica was getting, and it seems that unlike in prior years, with a solid block of Stargate SG-1/Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica, the combined efforts of Starate Universe and Caprica on a Tuesday night didn't have the same effect on audiences.
There's a recurring lesson here: the reasons for a show getting cancelled are generally up to audience numbers, and fans, just as much as the channel are on the hook. In every instance of a cancelled science fiction show, low ratings have been generally been a universal factor: Firefly, Life on Mars (US), Stargate SG-1/Atlantis, Kings, Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse are all examples. Off the top of my head, the only shows that haven't been canceled only because of ratings was Babylon 5 (which almost didn't make it) and LOST, (which saw its release altered to lower numbers of episodes per season). The circular logic kicks in as fans don't stick with a show, and the home channels don't do enough to keep them.
In this instance, Stargate Universe had an incredible uphill battle to keep going for even a season. The show as a whole is very much against the grain when it comes to the style of shows that its predecessors were, and opted to go for the darker, edgier route that Battlestar Galactica had gone. It's increasinly appearing that Battlestar was an oddity, which has darker implications in and of itself. Given the dropping ratings and low audience numbers for the show, I can't get too angry at SyFy for cancelling the show. Like any channel, it's a business, and when things get unprofitable, it's impossible to keep them going in that type of environment. For all of the arguments about new media such as Hulu, on demand viewing and the like, Engler has talked a lot on his twitter feed about how there's no model yet for payment, and that a lot of these types of things are still playing out. This is all within an increasing environment where piracy is on the rise, which further impacts a show's audience. (I think that this is a bit of a lesser degree than argued though).
Stargate's long been a favorite franchise of mine, and Universe especially so. They've done some cool things with it: brought on John Scalzi as a creative consultant, brought in a very cool cast, and told some stories that are amongst the best that I've seen in the franchise. There's some great, real-world science things brought in, and a take on military science fiction and characters that makes quite a lot of sense to me. Even the visuals have been fantastic.
The moral of the story comes down to the fans. For all of the rage that's directed at the SyFy channel, it's a bit misguided: they're certainly not going out to cancel major projects that they've sunk a lot of money into. At the same time, as the channel works to put on more and more B-movies for their weekend shows and fairly mindless shows such as Warehouse 13, Sanctuary and Haven, I wish that they would find a way to make some of their investments work better for today's audiences, and use these new means to bring better, compelling and interesting science fiction to the small screen.
The next one on the horizon is Fringe, moved ominously to Friday night (and which moved episode is titled 'Firefly'), which has also seen diminishing numbers. Hopefully, with ten episodes to go, SGU will be able to end on a good note, with a bit of proper closure. Hopefully, they'll get home and remain as brilliant as they've been for the past two years.