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Friday, February 8, 2013

Why Were They Cancelled? Alphas

Last month, Syfy cancelled their superhero series Alphas (after keeping mum about it for several months following the conclusion of its second season) making it the latest casualty among science fiction and fantasy television shows (following ABC's axing of Last Resort and 666 Park Ave last Fall, more on those at this link).  The obvious reason for the cancellation is that Alphas' ratings were low, but then that begs the question of why weren't people tuning in for this series in the first place?  The show was actually quite decent in my opinion as it gave us an interesting storyline about people who possessed special abilities (known as "Alphas") and it was building up to a war between this group and normal humans.  But the show seemed to face an uphill climb when it started because its premise appeared to borrow heavily from other sources (Heroes and The X-Men particularly) and I heard grumblings across the social forums that the show would likely be nothing more than a cheap Syfy retread.  However, the show managed to put a fresh spin on its material and its main cast (led by the always reliable David Strathairn) gelled right away and provided a definite asset for the show.  Alphas actually debuted to decent ratings in its first season and started to garner some positive buzz by word of mouth as it progressed through its initial run.  Still, it apparently wasn't considered a major success by Syfy (despite the many positive press releases that sent out), and apparently the second season took some behind-the-scenes finagling to become a reality which involved bringing in ex-Stargate producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe to make some changes to the show.  Then the second season stumbled in the ratings (a trend across all of Syfy's scripted programming) and the network decided to cut the show loose.

The numbers for the second season of Alphas weren't all that bad compared to the other Syfy scripted shows, but then that network's original programming has really been under-performing of late.  The paranormal series Haven began its third season this last Fall and only averaged a paltry 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demographic (based on the overnights).  And the network's current flagship scripted series, Warehouse 13, did only slightly better last Summer with about a 0.5 rating.  Yet Haven has been renewed for a third season and Warehouse 13 returns for the second part of its fourth season in April.  Alphas had about a 0.4 rating average, but it got cancelled.  Perhaps because it was more expensive than the other two, or perhaps the network was just not as committed to it.

I've seen some conversations around the social networks suggesting that fans are rejecting the Syfy brand, and that could have been an additional factor in the downfall of Alphas.  That network was once known for epic shows like Farscape, the Stargate franchise, Battlestar: Galactica, and even the beloved Eureka, but over the last few years it has moved away from those sorts of series to what I call "sci fi lite": inexpensive, less ambitious shows that strive for broader appeal.  But that actually seems to have worked against Syfy as the core sci fi audience has not embraced their newer shows and the network has not attracted enough non-genre fans to their scripted offerings (their reality shows are doing quite well, though).  Alphas was actually a bit of a return to the more epic scope of the shows mentioned above--but on a budget--yet I believe that people had already started to reject the network and just didn't give this one much of a chance.  And that's unfortunate because even though Alphas could descend into cliche at times, more often than not it managed to explore new ground with its familiar concept (and in my opinion, it had turned into Heroes done right, more on that at this link).

Unfortunately,  I don't see much chance of this one getting an extended lease on life from a "Save My Show" campaign.  I do think it's possible that such a campaign could convince someone like Netflix to pick it up because I'm betting that Alphas is in the budget range of the type of original programming they are looking to add to their lineup.  But I don't see fans energized to mount the type of effort that would convince Netflix or any other possible venue that this show will bring enough viewers with it.  There is a Save Alphas Facebook page, but I haven't seen a lot of activity there, nor have I seen much of a charge elsewhere to champion the show.  And that's a shame because it ended on a rather major cliffhanger and the show had the potential to carry on for several more seasons.  Just consider it yet another genre show cancelled way too soon.


Why Were They Cancelled? 
The Plight of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television in the Face of the Unforgiving Nielsens and Networks

Ever wondered why your favorite science fiction and/or fantasy show disappeared from the television schedule, never to deliver anymore new episodes? The reason why, most likely, is that it was cancelled because its ratings were low. And this book looks at those many cancelled sci fi/fantasy shows as well as the Neilsen ratings and television networks that dictate their fates. Available now for only $2.99 on Kindle from Amazon.com.

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