The Stealth Launch: Lie to Me, Caprica Return
October 4th, 2010
This week marks the return of two series which were supposed to remain on the bench for a bit longer.
FOX’s Lie to Me was originally scheduled to return in November, but its third season will slot behind House (where it was last season) starting tonight at 9/8c.
SyFy’s Caprica, meanwhile, wasn’t going to return until January, but the decision was made to pair the conclusion of the series’ first season (10/9c) with the return of Stargate Universe on Tuesday.
As someone who was compelled by Caprica, and who finds Lie to Me to be a solid procedural, I should be excited by these returns. However, both because of a general lack of promotion in one case and a sheer lack of warning in the other, these series risk being missed by their prospective audience. While there is some value to flying under the radar, and it is possible that reduced awareness could lead to reduced expectation, I can’t help but feel that these series are being put in a position where sooner is not necessarily better.
In the case of Lie to Me, FOX was in a tough place: with Lone Star’s unfortunate failure, they really didn’t have any other option than to move Lie to Me back into the slot before Ride-Along arrives in the new year. They had exactly six days to promote the series’ return, if that, which means that they don’t expect the series to suddenly show a huge gain in new viewers in its third season.
However, they also realize that it’s the kind of show that someone who watches House is likely to enjoy, and so it could benefit from the lead-in support. It’s sort of a show that is just “on” anyways: it aired for a while into the summer, after all, meaning that viewers are used to it popping up in unexpected places. As a last-minute fill-in, there is really no choice but to allow the show to fly under the radar, as there wasn’t enough time (or likely enough money) to launch the series “properly.” FOX was smart to use Lie to Me in this instance, as Human Target (the other option, and taking Lie to Me’s spot in November) is a newer series with less compatibility with House and a greater need for promotional support.
The important thing to remember is that FOX was forced into this position: for better or for worse, FOX’s current metrics of ratings success meant that Lone Star was financially unsustainable, meaning that they needed something to fill its spot. The other stealth return, however, was the choice of the network: SyFy announced on September 9th that the show would be returning on October 5th, giving the promotional team less than a month to get the show to air. They said in the press release that,
“though we initially announced the January return of Caprica, we still had hopes of finding a way to get the series back on the air sooner. We’ve been able to successfully re-work our schedule, and are thrilled to bring the show back during what is traditionally Syfy’s most-watched time of the year. The outcome should also please fans who expressed their wishes for a shorter mid-season hiatus.”
I’m inherently skeptical of much of this, for a number of reasons. First of all, SyFy has limited amounts of original programming, so it is not as if they were unable to adjust their schedule at an earlier date (especially since the episodes have been in the can for quite some time). Secondly, the idea that this is “listening to the fans” seems like a plot: announce a long hiatus to get fans engaged, and then shorten that hiatus to convince them that you’re listening.
This sounds cynical, I’m aware, but I can’t help but see this as slightly suspicious. I’m fine with the idea of bringing it back earlier, pairing it with Stargate in order to give it a solid lead-in, but why not announce this in August? Or July? Considering how long the episodes have been completed, it is not as if SyFy is just seeing something in the series now which necessitated this change in a positive light, which leads me to suspect that they waited this long in an effort to bury the show. Instead of promoting its return throughout its summer/fall lineup (Eureka, Warehouse 13, etc.), the show gets some promo time during the debut of WWE Smackdown and some cursory internet attention, with no time to get any sort of traction.
Now, as Todd VanDerWerff pointed out to me on Twitter, this could be a blessing in disguise. Because there was less time for promotion, and less promotion in general, there will be lower expectations regarding its ratings. Sometimes less promotion actually helps a show: by airing before the Olympics and not after, for example, Chuck’s third season avoided seeming like a disappointment as a result of NBC’s widespread Olympic promotional efforts. If Caprica returns with ratings similar to last season, it could actually be read as more successful as a result of the lack of awareness heading into its return.
And yet, I think the show is still in trouble, and I don’t see why SyFy is throwing the show into this situation. Pairing it with Stargate creates a comparison which is unlikely to work in Caprica’s favour, giving the network plenty of ammunition should the show truly struggle; if it doesn’t hold onto enough of the lead-in, the narrative switches to the show being unable to retain a clear science-fiction-orientated audience that SyFy aims for, and which should be interested in a series like Caprica. As we’re all still recovering from Premiere Week, another premiere just isn’t gaining any traction, and I keep having to remind myself that the series is returning – considering that SyFy chose this particular period, it is unclear what they feel is gained by pitching a returning, highly serialized, philosophical science fiction series to a fatigued public.
What would be gained, of course, is a sure path to failure, which I don’t want to see: I liked Caprica in the first half of the season, outside of some issues with balancing the action and philosophy which marred the finale, and I want to see what it does with a second season. However, it seems to be in a position where the odds are against it, and unlike Lie to Me there isn’t the sense that this was a last minute scramble. Considering that SyFy, unlike FOX, intended on launching a show in just this fashion, it forces me to question the network’s motives in this whole scenario. Launch in October if you’re going to announce it earlier in the year, but a month’s notice just doesn’t seem to be enough time to sell a show like Caprica.
And yet it would be the perfect amount of time to bury it.
- Anybody else completely forget what happened in the first half of Caprica’s season?
- With Shawn Ryan off of Lie to Me, I don’t expect I’ll be tuning in, but as noted the show is just fine, so check it out if you have nothing else to watch in the time slot.
- I am going to try to cover Caprica, but I am not sure how much time I’ll have: for now, it’s got a slot on the DVR as Parenthood moves to Hulu.