Can Farscape Fans Reinvent TV?

Forums Cult Sci Fi Series Farscape Can Farscape Fans Reinvent TV?

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  • #39013
    bonnee
    Participant

    Salon.com just posted an article regarding the future of the show with the above heading. Unfortutunately, you need to be a premium subscriber to access the article in its entirety (and so, understand what the eff they might be talking about). I post the partial article and link as a teaser. 😉

    http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/feature/2003/03/13/farscape/index_np.html

    Can “Farscape” fans reinvent TV?
    When the Sci Fi Channel canceled “Farscape,” angry fans launched the usual protest movement. Now they’re dreaming of a rebellion that could overthrow TV empires.

    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    By Adrienne Crew

    March 13, 2003 | Like so many stories, this one begins with an ending. Or, rather, the announcement of an ending.

    Early last September, thousands of fans of the science fiction television series “Farscape” logged in to a chat room maintained by the Sci Fi Channel, which distributes the series in the United States. The Jim Henson Co. actually produces the series, mainly with licensing fees paid by Sci Fi, although Henson also syndicates the show in Britain, Germany and other countries.

    “Farscape’s” fans (and I’m among them) consider it one of the most innovative and best-written things on TV. The show follows the adventures of astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), who is marooned in space after an aeronautical accident. Buff, brainy and kinda goofy, John allies himself with a band of outlaw aliens aboard a sentient spaceship that’s being pursued by the military arm of a totalitarian regime.

    When fans logged on in September, Sci Fi had just broadcast the first 11 episodes of the show’s fourth season, with the balance to come in the spring after a short break. “Farscape’s” staffers and actors celebrate the end of each season’s production schedule by communicating online with the fans — from Australia, where the show is produced — to discuss upcoming episodes and drop “spoilers” about the season’s finale.

    The fans received more than spoilers this session. Immediately following a phone conference with Sci Fi programming executives, “Farscape” executive producer David Kemper, along with Browder and co-executive producer Richard Manning, informed the “Farscape” faithful that Sci Fi Channel had just reneged on its commitment to purchase the fifth and final season of the series. Effectively, the show had just been canceled, leaving the audience with a series finale that ends in a cliffhanger.

    (To Be Continued ?)

    #65279
    Anonymous
    Guest

    Actually, if you go directly to salon.com, you can get a “day pass” to read the premium sites by looking at a short ad. It might be worth it to read the article. It presents some interesting ideas, but I don’t think the present initiatives have any realistic way of bringing about a continuation of Farscape or raising funds for a “viewer” sponsored production–not to mention that you can produce anything you want, you also need access to distribution.

    Aside from that though, it’s interesting to see people starting to think about alternatives to the present broadcasting system.

    For me personally, I’ve never been particularly fond of the long running series format anyway. But it’s the most lucrative economically, so I guess we’re always going to have disruptive cancellations.

    elmey

    #65274
    bonnee
    Participant

    Actually, if you go directly to salon.com, you can get a “day pass” to read the premium sites by looking at a short ad. It might be worth it to read the article.

    elmey

    I can never seem to be able to access/enable the ‘day pass’, and assumed the problem was global – possibly even deliberate to encourage subscriptions. I’ll keep trying and reproduce the text (or the main points) within this thread. I don’t expect to be successful though. 😡

    #65284
    Anonymous
    Guest

    If you have trouble, let me know. The article’s probably too long to reproduce on this thread as a whole, but I can send it to you as an e mail attachment and you can pick and choose what you want to post.

    elmey

    #65299
    bonnee
    Participant

    Thanks elmey – I continued to have trouble. I actually contacted Salon, and they assured me that the problem was likely to be my anti-pop up software. When I disabled it, though, the problems not unsurprisingly persisted – it is difficult to see how anti-pop up software prevents a link from even appearing, especially since I can accees the subsription based option if desired. My assumption is that the problem is more global than indicated, so presumably others would have difficulty in accessing the article. Consequently, I would very much appreciate it if you could forward on a copy to

    [email protected] and I’ll attempt an abbreviated version in this thread. 😀

    #65302
    bonnee
    Participant

    Thanks to elmey’s very kind intervention – and graceful persistence – I include an edited version of the article for those (like me) who can’t access it on Salon. This is an edited version (believe it or not) and longer than I intended it to be. Apologies for the length 😕

    Can “Farscape” fans reinvent TV? (cont)

    When the Sci Fi Channel canceled “Farscape,” angry fans launched the usual protest movement. Now they’re dreaming of a rebellion that could overthrow TV empires.

    Early last September, thousands of fans of the science fiction television series “Farscape” logged in to a chat room maintained by the Sci Fi Channel, which distributes the series in the United States. The Jim Henson Co. actually produces the series, mainly with licensing fees paid by Sci Fi, although Henson also syndicates the show in Britain, Germany and other countries.

    What began as a collective of fans bemoaning the loss of their
    favorite show has become the Save “Farscape” campaign, one of the largest and most sophisticated fan campaigns in television history.

    Successive campaign absorb and improve upon lessons learned during previous protests. ‘Scapers have taken the best from all of them; they sent Sci Fi executives packages of crackers, in homage to the title of a favorite “Farscape” episode, “Crackers Don’t Matter.”

    ‘Scapers have launched their own multi-tiered campaign. Desperate to save their show soon after the announcement, fans flooded Sci Fi’s New York offices with e-mails, phone messages and letters. But initial protests have matured into a long-term effort with one specific objective: to increase the show’s ratings by marketing “Farscape” to mainstream America. In a press release
    issued soon after Kemper’s announcement, Sci Fi defended its
    decision to cancel the series, saying that declining ratings no longer justified the show’s expense.

    During another online chat in December, Kemper said that the only way to change Sci Fi’s position would be to improve the ratings for the show’s remaining episodes. Galvanized by this last shred of hope, fans have focused on recruiting new viewers to obtain the six additional “Nielsen families,” or households monitored by Nielsen Media Research, that would pull “Farscape” up to
    a 2.0 in the ratings, a figure the show has not reached this season.

    Six more families might not sound like a lot, but it’s actually a pretty
    daunting task. That’s six households out of the approximately 5,000 Nielsen families, whose identities are a closely held industry secret. And of course they must also be among the 75 million households that receive the Sci Fi Channel either on cable or by satellite dish. To achieve that end, fans have demonstrated as much creativity and resourcefulness as “Farscape’s” creators to bring attention to their struggle. Their efforts included launching a global protest rally in 26 cities in seven countries, funding and producing a 30-second commercial that has aired in 24 major Nielsen markets, and a letter-writing campaign targeting “Farscape’s” sponsors and other broadcasting
    executives.

    By focusing on the ratings, ‘Scapers are playing by the rules of the television industry. The problem is, no one knows whether those rules even apply anymore. There is a growing sense in the broadcasting industry that the governing business model is dysfunctional. Most media executives agree that
    scripted television programs (i.e., sitcoms and dramas) are too expensive to produce and don’t guarantee audiences large enough to justify higher advertising rates and cover costs. To make matters worse, media companies rely on data collected by an outmoded and flawed ratings system, which remains heavily reliant on the paper “viewing diaries” collected by Nielsen.

    Acknowledging the industry dissatisfaction with its system, Nielsen recently introduced its “People Meter,” a semi-Orwellian set-top device that monitors who is in the room and what they’re watching on TV. About 5,000 families currently coexist with a People Meter, and the “overnight ratings” Nielsen accumulates from them have become crucial figures that can make TV careers, or end them.

    Even if ratings were collected with absolute accuracy, it might not be enough for an industry that prefers to chase after elusive demographic segments instead of cultivating advertisers eager to reach the audience that’s already watching. In “Farscape’s” case, Sci Fi wanted the show to perform better with boys. But the show has already attracted a broad audience, including large
    numbers of women attracted to the show’s strong female characters, feminist storylines, and the sexual tension between human John Crichton and his alien flame, Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black).

    According to advertisers, women and sci fi don’t mix. These same broad demographics prompted the producers of the syndicated series “Stargate SG-1” to change the mix of characters and storylines so that show would attract more boys and young men, prompting female viewers to mount their own
    protest campaign last year. Ironically, Sci Fi recently purchased broadcast rights to the retooled “Stargate SG-1” and placed it in “Farscape’s” old slot, Friday at 9 p.m., which may have contributed to Farscape’s audience erosion.

    Financial tensions came into play in the fall of 2002 during
    negotiations over “Farscape’s” fee for its final season. Mindful of its own profit margins, Sci Fi offered an amount lower than expected, arguing that the show’s declining ratings meant lower advertising fees. “Farscape’s” producers argued that they could not make the show with a smaller budget and had no extra
    funds to cover the shortfall in licensing fees. According to industry
    insiders, Sci Fi then exercised a contractual provision that permitted it to opt out of its renewal agreement.

    The most interesting aspect of the Save “Farscape” campaign has been the willingness of the fans to address and remedy the problems of television economics in order to save their show. If scripted television is doomed, these fans may be on the forefront of a collective effort to keep high-quality dramatic serials on the airwaves for all to enjoy, not just those who can afford premium cable or video on demand.

    Using a wide range of e-commerce tools, ‘Scapers have collected money for a variety of purposes. There’s the “Farscape”: Beyond Hope fund, which financially supports the advertising initiatives to promote the show and garner higher ratings. This fund has raised about $9,000 to fund press kits for the media, newspaper ads, and a traveling promotional kit distributed at sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Fan sites devoted to Ben Browder and Claudia
    Black, the actors portraying “Farscape’s” lead characters, collected donations to pay for ads in USA Today, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter to gain public and media attention.

    Other funding drives for the show have been even more innovative. In a radio appearance last Sept. 20 on “Interstellar Transmissions,” a science fiction radio call-in show in Florida, Kemper discussed a radical idea with listeners: Could “Farscape” viewers actually find a way to finance the show themselves? Energized fans formed a task force to formalize the idea and bring
    it to fruition.

    Matt Sampsell, a research scientist at the Fusion Research Center at the University of Texas, was so inspired that he started the “Farscape” Fund and an online “viewer financing” petition on his own, and later joined with other “Farscape” fans to form the Viewer Consortium, a nonprofit advocacy group designed to develop viewer-financed programming.

    Sampsell, now managing director of the Viewer Consortium, says, “I started doing
    some math in my head. “Farscape” attracts at least 2 million to 3
    million people as a regular audience. Even if 1 percent of them were avid enough fans to spend $15 on mailing letters, setting up rallies, and funding advertisements, that adds up to $3 million to $4 million. And it made sense that we would be willing to spend more money for relatively direct participation in the show’s production. Writing letters is a good strategy, but you can never be sure if anyone reads them. There is no interaction.”

    The Viewer Consortium aims to raise more than $750,000, about what Sci Fi pays to broadcast each episode, to fund a new episode of “Farscape”

    “Farscape” supporters admit it’s an ambitious goal. But they also point out that such a sum amounts to less than a dollar from each Farscape viewer in the U.S. alone, and that the consortium has already gathered some $260,000 in pledges. But fans have still greater ambitions. Staffed by about 25 volunteers all over the country who work together via telephone and the
    Internet, the consortium hopes to establish a stronger voice for television viewers by converting viewer passion into financial and marketing assistance for their favorite creators and distributors.

    Industry observers remain skeptical. “The odds for viewer-funded financing are pretty remote,” says the author Jack Lechner. “They’d have to come up with millions” to really make an impression on producers, he argues.

    On the one hand, it’s heartening to see the do-it-yourself ethic of the Internet applied to the sick-unto-death broadcasting industry. It’s also sad to reflect that no one even considers involving government agencies — like the Federal
    Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission — that once upon a time were meant to help safeguard the rights of consumers and the public
    interest in broadcasting.

    Unless ratings dramatically improve, this incarnation of “Farscape” will soon come to an end. Sci Fi will broadcast its last episode on March 21. The sets have been dismantled; cast and crew members have moved on to other projects. But
    the television industry should beware that this is just the beginning of a new level of fan-based direct action. Once they’ve refashioned the broadcasting industry, maybe they’ll move on to politics.

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