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DoorQ.Com | From Fangirl to Defending TPTB
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From Fangirl to Defending TPTB

For the uninitiated, a Hyphenate, in this instance, is an individual with a dual role in a film production. I am a writer-producer, for example. On most of my shoots I am a writer-producer-wardrobe-caterer-janitor with room for a few more titles depending on how small the crew is.

But there was a time when I was primarily a fan of TV and films. And then, I became a fangirl of many things (some of those things could haunt your dreams). The difference is the degree of intensity. A fan is someone who simply likes a show and enjoys discussing it on the day after an episode ends. A fangirl or fanboy takes that quite a bit further – typically to the point that it annoys and/or frightens family, friends and co-workers. The intensity of the interest is most keenly manifested when a beloved program is canceled. The manifestation is some sadness and lots of rage typically aimed at the unfortunate sot who canceled the program.

I have been among the enraged at the cancellation of a beloved show. Because cancellation of sci-fi shows seems to happen at a swifter rate than any other kind of program, I have been among those who express dismay and disgust at networks failing to nurture such programming simply because they don’t understand it or they hate science fiction or for both reasons. It doesn’t help change that point of view toward the much hated The Powers That Be (TPTB) to find articles in which they actually admit things like The X-Files wouldn’t have been given a chance to find an audience if it debuted today.

The change in my point of view toward TPTB began when we did our first short for a pitch to TV. The Privateers basically cost us $1000 a minute, but that was under an old SAG contract and getting crew for next to nothing and working everyone like a circus monkey using army surplus costumes for the most part and no alien make-up or hairstyles. You can see the results HERE. In writing the business plan, we had to figure out an average budget per episode. We also had to make an argument that we could attract the minimum number of viewers needed to generate enough revenue to cover the costs. I learned a lot about the cost of a sci-fi show then. I know a whole lot more now – well over a decade later. Yes, incredible advances in software have made insanely difficult special FX possible and more cheaply than even five years ago. Yes, they can be done more cheaply. They cannot be done for free. Almost everything in a sci-fi show is more expensive than other programs. If it is a space based show, then everything save for talent and crew is more expensive. Wardrobe cannot be bought off the rack. Sets are show specific. Then, there is hair and make up. The list is long and daunting.

Despite the blockbuster sci-fi films, TV sci-fi programs have a niche audience. They tend to struggle a lot more than a cop show or a sitcom. Even successful shows have to watch their budgets. On Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Trek shows that followed, an episode with lots of guest stars, new sets or locations were off set by shows that may have a couple or no guests and occur on standing sets. They are called bottle shows. I recall that my change in attitude manifested itself during a panel I was speaking on at a convention. Someone wanted to know why the only aliens on Trek or most other shows were humanoids with something strange on their foreheads. I tried to tell them that the cost of inserting a CGI alien into an episode was cost prohibitive – insanely cost prohibitive. No one wanted to hear it. The audience preferred to rage that TPTB were holding back the creative staff. I actually instigated a panel at Dragoncon about the limits of what fan productions would do as a business model. I argued that they work as a labor of love for all involved. Participants are either donating their time and talent or it is steeply discounted because they want to be involved in the show. Once it becomes a licensed, income generating business, union rates for everything would apply. Such projects would live or die not only from the dedication of those participating, but on the income that it can make to cover real-life expenses. As the panel was filled with producers of such fan content, Jon and I were not popular in that room.

I realized that I had really changed in my world view when I found myself defending SyFy’s decision to cancel Caprica. I am not a fan of the SyFy Channel. I have really personal reasons that have nothing to do with being a fangirl. One might even say, I deeply dislike the network. From the fangirl point of view, the network has done little to endear itself to avid viewers. For a number of years, it had a programming director that was widely reported to not like science fiction. I’m sure this dim view of the channels motives was not helped by the inclusion of Professional Wrestling or the sitcom Saved by the Bell in its line up. Saved by the Bell only lasted a short time. The wrestling remains. No love for the network here. And I adored Caprica and everyone involved in the show. I thought it was some of the most sophisticated science fiction ever aired on a weekly basis. I was alarmed that it was on the chopping block. My resentment toward the network didn’t help my view of their reasons for even considering axing the program. And then, I was on a live chat with the current programming director. He stated and I later could confirm that the ratings were in the mere hundreds of thousands – not even close to a million. The show would need at least three times the ratings it was drawing to survive. When I heard those numbers, I knew it was over. And it was justifiably over. At the end of the day, this is show business with a capital B. If fans wanted to be enraged, they should be enraged at the Battlestar Galactica fans that stayed away in droves because Caprica didn’t have enough space ships. Yes, I have been told that was a reason for not watching the show. It simply was not making enough to cover its bills. They gave it a full season’s run and even mounted a Twitter campaign to raise the profile of the final episodes. The fans failed it.

It costs a lot to gamble on producing any new TV program. They take a long time to become profitable. Meanwhile, the money is flowing out. It’s an especially expensive gamble on sci-fi shows. Yes, they should find a way to figure out ratings beyond the current systems. And yes, viewers are looking at more content online. The problem with that is that online viewing is still not generating the revenue that broadcast and cable does – not even close yet. When a show gets canceled, it’s usually to stop the hemorrhaging of money. So, when my fellow fangirls and fanboys, please keep in mind that programming execs aren’t necessarily minions of Satan for canceling a favorite show. It might help the cause to watch it when it airs and on TV.


1 Comment

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  1. Alan says
    June 6, 2011, 1:45 am

    Subscription torrents – let the fans support the show if they want it to keep going. I would have paid to see Caprica keep going…


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