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Article about Farscape fans

Discussion in 'Fantasy Worlds' started by Chilly Down, Aug 9, 2003.

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  1. Chilly Down

    Chilly Down Member

    Thought you all might find this interesting...though the well-meaning article writer gets a few things wrong, i.e. "Farscape's ratings didn't improve even after being pared with SG-1," not "Farscape's ratings were just fine till Sci-Fi bumped it from its slot with SG-1." (And that's nothing against SG-1 fans, just the network.)

    Enjoy... (EDIT: This one is so long I'm going to have to post it in 2 parts.)

    Tom

    --------------------------------------------------

    Chicago Tribune

    August 8, 2003

    Science friction
    A TV show is dead and buried yet its fans think they can bring it back. Are they
    nuts?

    Author:
    Maureen Ryan, Tribune staff reporter.

    Edition: Chicago Final
    Section: Tempo
    Page: 1

    Index Terms:
    TELEVISION
    MEETING
    LIST
    ANALYSIS

    Estimated printed pages:
    7

    Article Text:
    If only Dr. Linnea Boyev's patients could see her now. The Northbrook eye
    surgeon -- covered in white body makeup, wearing a platinum wig and dressed in
    the skin-tight outfit of a randy alien -- was roaming the Radisson O'Hare Hotel
    on Saturday as she joined hundreds of others to celebrate "Farscape," a TV show
    that was canceled last year.



    "This is my secret life," she said half-jokingly, after adopting the look of
    the alien Chiana to perform in a musical parody of "Farscape."





    Boyev, however, wasn't there just to praise the former Sci-Fi Channel show, but
    to unbury it. "Farscape" fans have waged a clever, sophisticated and expensive
    campaign to revive the series.



    The problem is that, to an outsider, the effort seems hopeless: The cast
    members have new jobs, the sets are gone and the show never got huge ratings
    anyway.



    So why are they doing it? And why are all these nice people at a convention
    devoted to a show that has been off the air for months?



    "I really feel like ['Farscape'] is art," Boyev said from her Northbrook home a
    few days after the convention. "If the Art Institute of Chicago said, 'We're
    just not going to show that Seurat anymore, we're not making enough money on the
    painting,' people would be outraged. Just because 'Farscape' is on TV doesn't
    mean it's not art."



    Boyev isn't alone. Most of the "Scapers" at the Radisson over the weekend --
    and many of them were women who had never been to any kind of genre-show
    convention before they found "Farscape" -- remain solidly committed to saving
    the program.



    "We're not looking at this like, `If this comes back,' but, `When it comes
    back,'" said Jackie Tanner of San Antonio, who was one of the staffers at the
    table for SaveFarscape.com. And when will that happen? Within a year, she
    predicts.



    So, do they have a chance? Even a tiny one?



    "I never discourage a fan campaign," says TV Guide critic Matt Roush, who
    constantly hears from disgruntled fans of canceled shows. "It's something that
    gives people a sense of engagement -- people feel so out of the loop. There's
    nothing more frustrating than being passionate about a TV show and seeing it
    yanked for what seems like arbitrary reasons."



    Certainly the show, about a contemporary American astronaut shot through a
    wormhole into a dicey part of space, had to be doing something right to engage a
    fan like Jenni Neugebauer, a 23-year old from Philadelphia who says she didn't
    really care that "Farscape" was science fiction -- she just loved the complex
    storytelling.



    "It doesn't insult your intelligence at all," said Neugebauer, a day-care
    worker. "It's more in-depth -- they expect you to be smart enough to follow it,
    and I appreciate that."



    The romance factor



    And the fact that there was an epic Romeo-and-Juliet romance between the two
    lead characters, John Crichton (Ben Browder) and Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black),
    didn't hurt.



    "`Farscape' is a well-rounded drama and it has all these emotional
    undercurrents, in a way that typical sci-fi shows don't have," says Brigitta
    Vesei, co-leader of the Chicago Scapers fan club. " I think women respond to
    that in any show."



    But is it realistic for fans to expect a comeback, now that the sets of the
    show, which was filmed in Australia, were destroyed and the actors have
    dispersed?



    "It's absolutely terrific that people aren't giving up," says executive
    producer Brian Henson. He recently banded together with his siblings to buy back
    the Jim Henson Co., which created the show, and he says this is a positive
    development for "Farscape's" future. "If, early on, [fans] had given up, I might
    have given up too."



    Still, Anthony Simcoe doesn't think he's going to be wearing his "Farscape"
    costume again anytime soon. The 6-foot-6, ebullient Australian played the
    warrior D'Argo on "Farscape," and though he'd love it if the show returned, he's
    not betting on it. "It didn't get the ratings," Simcoe said in a serious moment
    before his convention appearance. "It's a business."



    Indeed it is. "Farscape," which premiered on the SciFi Channel in 1999 and
    cost more than $1 million per episode to make, never managed to get a 2 share in
    the Nielsen ratings (a share equals approximately a million viewers). Its
    ratings usually hovered around 1.5 or so, even after it was paired during its
    final season with the more successful genre show "Stargate SG-1."



    Last September, financial negotiations over a planned fifth season fell apart
    and the show was canceled (the final episode aired in March).



    Astrid Reinhardt (normally a workaholic genome researcher, but made up at the
    convention as the villain Scorpius from the show) might have been speaking about
    the show's demise when she noted that, on "Farscape," "the line between good and
    bad isn't clear and sometimes the good guys make bad decisions."



    Internet makes it easy



    Given that sending an angry note to a television network only takes a few
    mouse clicks these days, campaigns to save cult shows aren't unusual. But they
    can't hurt and they often help a lot, experts say, though usually they're most
    beneficial to shows that are still on the air but in danger of cancellation.



    "With `Roswell,' ... I really believe [the fans] did a great deal to keep
    that show from getting canceled," says Jason Katims, the former executive
    producer of the show about teen aliens. The fan campaign "was a significant part
    of the WB's decision to bring it back [for season two] and UPN's decision to
    pick it up for a third season when the WB let it go."



    "The people who run the networks, in my experience, are . . . not as the
    public imagines them," says Marshall Herskovitz, executive producer of "Once and
    Again" and "My So-Called Life," both shows that fans battled mightily to save.
    "They're not generally calculating and cold and purely analytical. They tend to
    be very personally modest and very emotional themselves about the shows that
    they do -- they are champions of the ones they love."



    What's changed most since Edward Zwick and Herskovitz premiered
    "thirtysomething" in the '80s, he says, is that "advertisers are more and more
    surly about the money that they spend on TV shows. They are very concerned and
    upset about the amount of [audience] share that has been lost to cable."



    But that tough ad environment, which makes networks more inclined to yank a
    show that isn't pulling in decent numbers, isn't limited to the major networks.



    "There's generally less and less [ad] money -- there are so many people
    offering discounted ads and that creates problems," says Brian Henson. "Budgets
    have to go down, and that's hard for everyone to swallow."



    But if a program -- even a cult show such as "Farscape" -- can deliver
    committed viewers, that's good news for advertisers, according to Kathryn
    Thomas, a media buyer for Starcom, a Chicago firm that finds the right TV
    programs for various advertisers.



    "Research shows that more attentive viewers are more likely to pay attention
    to ads and less likely to skip ads," Thomas said. "Nielsen can only give us
    program ratings -- they can't give us commitment ratings. Even a select group of
    [passionate fans] is probably indicative of a larger group of people who are
    interested in a show."



    Though their initial letter/telephone campaign was so big that it merited
    scores of press stories and half a dozen mentions on CNN, "Farscape" fans knew
    that the usual outcry probably wasn't going to be enough to bring back the show.



    BraScape was probably their most creative moment: SciFi execs have said they
    want to expand the channel's viewers beyond the typical male audience, so
    hundreds of female fans sent their bras to the network. Early on in the
    campaign, they also deluged the SciFi Channel with boxes of crackers, in
    reference to an episode called "Crackers Don't Matter" and staged picket lines
    outside the network's corporate office.



    A perhaps more practical initiative was their post-cancellation effort to
    contact advertisers and gauge their support for the program; they even sent big
    batches of KFC receipts to the fast-food chain. Nina Lumpp, one of the
    co-founders of savefarscape.com, says that several advertisers, including UPS,
    Kia and KFC, expressed interest in advertising on "Farscape" if it does comes
    back.
  2. Chilly Down

    Chilly Down Member

    Putting their money where . . .



    Some Scapers even established an independent group called The Viewer
    Consortium to explore various ways in which viewers can directly finance quality
    television shows such as "Farscape."



    Ambitious stuff, but 20 years ago fans brought back CBS' canceled "Cagney and
    Lacey" with a plain old snail-mail campaign; those fans later morphed into the
    influential TV group Viewers for Quality Television, which helped save
    "Designing Women" in its early days and extend the life of "China Beach." Now
    that committed fans have the organizing power of the Internet on their side,
    there's no telling what they can achieve.



    "If anything ever happens, it's a testament to the community -- it's all
    driven by them," says Wayne Pygram, who played Scorpius on "Farscape."



    And that community is going strong.



    "I never went into a chat room or looked at [Internet] bulletin boards before
    this. I bought into the stigma that those people are nerds," says Boyev, who
    first hooked up with the online "Farscape" world when the show premiered four
    years ago. Regardless of whether the show comes back, she says she's gained a
    "sense of validation and a sense of community from the campaign."



    "Whatever happens," says Reinhardt, "I know I've made friends for life."



    Power to the people: a history of fan campaigns



    Other recent campaigns to save TV shows, and what they achieved:



    - "Roswell" (1999-2002): After fans sent hundreds of bottles of Tabasco (a
    favorite of the show's characters), The WB renewed this aliens-in-New Mexico
    show after its shaky first season, but the network canceled it after the second
    season. Another campaign helped the show get picked up by UPN for a final year.



    - "Once and Again" (1999-2002): The campaign fans waged was "a daily topic of
    discussion" among ABC execs and helped extend the life of the show, according to
    co-creator Marshall Herskovitz, but the network finally canceled the show in
    2002 because of declining ratings.



    - "La Femme Nikita" (1997-2001): Fans of USA Network's show flooded the
    office of the network with letters and sunglasses (in honor of the lead
    character's trademark shades) after the series was canceled in 2000; mainly
    because of the campaign, the network made eight more episodes.



    - "The Magnificent Seven" (1998-1999): Debuting in 1998 as a midseason
    replacement, this western was brought back for another half season by CBS after
    fans bought ads in Variety and wrote letters.



    - "The Sentinel" (1996-1999): After UPN canceled the show in 1998, a fan
    campaign garnered the show eight more episodes to resolve a cliffhanger ending.



    - "The Pretender" (1996-2000): This NBC drama was bumped to make way for the
    ill-fated XFL League, but partly to sate fans' desire for resolution of the
    show's plot, TNT aired a few "Pretender" movies in 2001.



    - "My So-Called Life" (1994): After one of the first fan campaigns to be
    partially aided by the digital age, "Life" was almost renewed, but executive
    producer Herskovitz says Claire Danes' desire to move on was a factor in ABC's
    decision to cancel the show.



    - "Cagney and Lacey" (1982-1988): Fan Dorothy Swanson led a campaign to save
    this female cop show when it was canceled after one season.She then founded
    Viewers for Quality Television, which helped out "Designing Women," "China
    Beach" and other shows.



    -- Maureen Ryan



    What if . . .



    So, if "Farscape" does come back, what do fans and cast members want to see?



    Lynne Facer (fan): "D'Argo and his son end up doing a buddy movie, and John
    and Aeryn end up with a mortgage; Chiana opens a brothel on some blue planet."



    Jonathan Hardy (the actor who was the voice of Rygel): "Rygel goes solo and
    becomes 'Rygel, P.I.' and has a glove puppet that [resembles] Tom Selleck. He
    becomes the new sex symbol."



    Jackie Tanner (fan): "We trust the writers to crush our hearts and make us
    laugh, probably within the same five minutes."



    Jacqueline Gannuscio (fan): "I want to see what John Crichton's new source of
    hope is, because that's what drives the show."



    Tomas Howell (fan): "I'd like to see [long-suffering] Captain Braca take
    control -- the rise of the underdog to the top."



    Rebecca Riggs (the actress who played Commandant Grayza): "Grayza [last seen
    having a mental breakdown] is exactly where she wants to be -- the breakdown was
    a ploy. She's going to go on and do her own stuff. The Peacekeepers were
    incredibly limiting to her."



    Linda Moric (fan): "Something completely different from anything I've thought
    of."



    -- Maureen Ryan

    Caption:
    PHOTO: "There is this terrible stigma associated with sci-fi fans -- that they
    sit in the basement hunched over action figures," said Northbrook eye surgeon
    Linnea Boyev, who performed in a musical tribute to the defunct sci-fi show
    "Farscape" at a convention on Saturday; she's among the fans campaigning for the
    program's return. Photo for the Tribune by Michael Walker.
    PHOTO: Jenni Neugebauer, a fan from Philadelphia, says "Farscape" didn't insult
    viewers' intelligence. Photo for the Tribune by Michael Walker.PHOTOS 2
    Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune
    Record Number: CTR0308080061


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