When MGM decided to bring Stargate Atlantis to an end after five seasons, they did so knowing they’d transition to a new show in the franchise, Stargate Universe. SGU was a bold new take on Stargate that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper had had in mind for a long time, and one that we’d discussed with them off and on. It first came to us as a pitch many years ago.
Because Stargate SG-1 and had performed so well for us in the past, we felt confident about SGU and committed to a two-season deal for it, as long as the show met certain milestones along the way. Two-season deals are rare in the TV world because they tie up a huge amount of investment (both time and money), but our great track record with MGM and Stargate made this seem like as much of a sure thing as you’ll get in the TV business. That means before any footage was shot or any actors were hired, we knew there’d be 40 episodes.
The show quickly moved forward and officially launched on October 2, 2009. The debut was watched by a good if not spectacular 2,779,000 viewers. To give that some perspective, Stargate Atlantis debuted with over 4 million viewers, so SGU was more than 25% below that. On the plus side, SGU actually grew in week 2 to just about 3 million viewers before falling into the 2.6 million range where it seemed like it was going to settle. That’s a fairly typical pattern for a new series, and at this point the show was doing okay.
In week six viewers dropped to 2.3 million, or 20% off the season high. It’s not unusual for a show to fluctuate a bit, so as long as it bounced back this wouldn’t be too much of a concern. There was indeed a bit of a recovery the next week, but that was followed by another small drop. Then viewership took a further dip to 1,961,000, or 33% down from the season high. Obviously there was concern at this point, but we were headed into the hiatus and shows often see a bump after a break (contrary to popular belief).
Coming back from hiatus the show in fact grew modestly to 2,088,000 viewers and then added more viewers the next week, hitting 2,153,000. It looked like we were regaining momentum. Unfortunately things stalled there and for the next two months SGU hovered between 2,116,000 and a low of 1,708,000 viewers, below where we could sustain it. So despite the brief post-hiatus bump, after two episodes it settled in at a lower number and we ended up averaging 1,982,000 viewers for season 1.5.
With untenably low numbers and no sign of growth on Fridays where it had now lost 1/3 of its initial audience, we decided to move SGU for its second season. We’d had tremendous success on Tuesday’s with our breakout hit Warehouse 13, so we paired SGU with Caprica and moved them to Tuesdays, hoping to introduce both shows to a new audience. As you probably know by now the downward trend continued and ultimately we weren’t able to continue either series.
We moved the final 10 episodes of SGU to Monday nights where we’d just had success with a new show called Being Human, but the ratings remained flat. SGU did finish out its run with a nice spike for the finale, which is something else you also typically see with TV shows (it’s called the “terminal spikeâ€ in ratings parlance).
What you see above is simply Syfy and MGM trying to make a great new Stargate series, seeing some initial success, then when it began to struggle, seeing attempts to find a way to keep it going. You’ve probably read numerous rumors to the contrary. I’ll look at the most prevalent:
The erratic scheduling killed SGU:
We started the show on Fridays where we’ve had the most success and where it initially did well, and we left it there until it started struggling. When it was clear the show had fallen to unsustainable levels and would not survive on Fridays, only then did we move it to the night where our highest rated show of all time had recently aired.
The hiatus killed SGU:
As you can see from the ratings above, the biggest drop in viewers came before the hiatus, not after. In fact, SGU actually grew around 10% after the hiatus between season 1.0 and 1.5 in its first two episodes back.
If you’d left it on Friday nights, it would have done well:
When left on Friday nights SGU lost 1/3 of its audience and dropped to consistently unsustainable ratings levels. The only hope of keeping it was to move it to another night where new viewers could find it.
You canceled SGU because you hate science fiction:
If we didn’t like science fiction we simply wouldn’t have made SGU. It’s because we like science fiction that we tried it. Even though SGU was ultimately unsuccessful, we don’t regret trying it. Science fiction shows are the backbone and lifeblood of our network, and we have many in development. Later this year we’ll be debuting Alphas, the Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome pilot is being worked on as you read this, the movie Red Faction starring Stargate Universe‘s Brian Jacob Smith will air next month, 5 of our original dramas will return with new seasons or new episodes this year, and we’re working on many more behind the scenes.
You never supported SGU:
There is literally no one other than MGM who supported it more than we did. We were the only network who gave the show a try and the only ones who committed to making and airing 40 episodes before a script had been written. We invested tens of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work over many years making and supporting the show.
You canceled SGU in order to make wrestling:
We would have happily kept making SGU regardless of anything else on our schedule if the ratings were sustainable. We don’t discontinue successful shows to make room for other shows … no network does because no network has a full roster of successful series. SGU was judged solely on its own ratings.
You don’t like Stargate:
We love Stargate. Combined we’ve made 12 seasons of 3 separate series and helped support two SG-1 films. It’s been an amazing ride and we’re incredibly proud of the cast and crew of all the shows, and thankful to all the viewers who watched.
Note: The ratings I used above are Live +7 numbers, or the total number of viewers who watched the show live and during the following 7 days via DVR. Although advertisers buy based on just the 18-49 segment of these numbers and thus the 18-49 ratings would be much smaller, I’m using L7 numbers here for convenience as they represent the total audience. The % drops and lows of the 18-49 numbers would be even more significant (i.e. worse) than what the L7s show, but not so much that it’s worth doing all the math for.