Apparently Syfylus channel has canceled the new Battlestar Galactica prequel, Caprica, and somebody wrote up a long discussion on why it was done. Mostly the post is about the eminent extinction of cable television companies due to competition.
I have a simpler explanation of why Caprica was canceled. It’s the same reason Stargate Universe will probably (hopefully) be canceled in a short while, it’s not very good.
I admit that I’ve watched every episode of Stargate Universe so far and I honestly can’t tell you why. Out of the episodes released so far I think there were two that I enjoyed. I can’t say the same for Caprica because unlike Stargate Universe, I have no prior love for the Battlestar Galactica series. I really liked Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis which is probably why I keep watching Universe (hoping the entire series so far was a big joke and it will revert to a classic Stargate series… a man can dream right?). I tried watching two episodes of Caprica and frankly they were damned boring. Both were great examples of nothing happening.
The ultimate problem these series have is the lack of exploration. Science fiction has always been about exploring new ideas and concepts. If you read any science fiction novel there is generally a huge “what if” scenario going on. What if humans coexisted with aliens? What if time travel was possible? What if humans created sentient robots? The list goes on. The problem with prequel and sequel series is you are already familiar with the universe the series falls in. Once you’re familiar with the universe there is a lot less exploration that will be done as the major rules have already been described.
Stargate Atlantis was able to great a new sense of exploration by moving everything to another galaxy and introducing a new enemy species, the Wraith. The Wraith were completely different and separate from the previous alien bad guys, the Goa’uld. This gave whole new avenues for exploration and discovery. Stargate Universe on other hand just threw a ton of people onto a ship they can’t control and slowly (gruelingly slow) unveil little pieces here and there. Hell in the two and a half seasons they’ve introduced two alien species which we’ve not heard much of since.
Capria is in the same boat. We already know the Cylons are bad guys and there was a war brewing between the humans and the robots. What can you possibly do in a prequel to that? Everybody already knows the outcome is going to be war and thus you really leave little in the form of exploration. There aren’t going to be any real “what ifs.”
Good television shows can survive on network television. Although I never liked it and can’t consider it good we can look a Lost as an example. How long did that series go? How many people tuned in to watch it? It was damned popular. Why? I really have no idea honestly, I found it a confusing mess. But there was a sense of discovery and exploration. Nobody knew what the Hell the island was nor why a fucking polar bear was hanging out on it, but you tuned in hoping to find the answer.
If television producers want to create good science fiction shows they need original ideas and things to explore. Once those two things are accomplished the foundation is ready and a show can be built upon it.