The announcement came that Warehouse 13 will finish out with six more episodes, creating a truncated Season 5. I agree with #RenewWarehouse13 that angry fans don’t get the positive results they desire when posts and pleas are laden with vitriol. I’m not going to do that here - this isn’t a flame post. But I do want to speak to some hindsight observations related to the show and point out how it could have been better handled.
Now that the announcement is out - I’d first say “thanks” - because another six is better than zero (or a sharp stick in the eye).
I also understand the numbers game and I get it that TV is a business. Shows need to make enough money to pay for themselves and make a profit for any number of people in the food chain. That’s the nature of the entertainment business. Pleas that a show should stay on air, just because a handful of fans like it will always fall on deaf ears. Those are the rules, and as a fan I can live with them & understand them even when I don’t always like the results of them.
The issue I have is that, given the rules, it is puzzling why some of the programming decisions were made that seemed to accelerate the viewership decline on the show. I’ll detail these decisions below, and why I think they adversely affected the ratings numbers. But - I really wonder about the politics that played into these choices. The evidence is certainly there to point to a systemic effort to “kill” the show intentionally, rather than a desire to make programming moves to position the show for success. I am not privy to any goings-on at SyFy or NBCUni or Comcast, so this is pure speculation. But my frustration stems from the fact that, had different decisions been made, I think Warehouse 13 would have been able to increase viewership and maybe even get a few more Seasons. This is regardless of whether we should be counting on-line viewers in any calculations.
1. The first hint of trouble was the sudden and confusing switch to a 20 episode split Season. Others have noted that this was the death knell for Eureka, and that proved to be the case for W13. This type of season structure causes several problems from a viewer standpoint. It obviously changes the pacing of the show through the season considerably. And while the writers responded heroically to stretch a season-long arc while keeping the episodes fresh as stand-alones, I can only imagine how difficult that was given the lack of forewarning.
2. The other problem with the 10/10 split is viewing cadence. Ten episodes just isn’t very much to get into a viewing “groove”. By the time you start to get into a viewing routine, it is over at the mid-season break. Programmers need to understand that it is more difficult now to watch TV live. Personal & family schedules must be adjusted, kids activities & work schedules sometimes interfere, we need to plan when to eat dinner, when to be home and when everyone needs to get to bed. Readjusting everyone’s plans for a mere 10 episodes is tough. While thirteen might not seem like that many more, when it is interspersed with 1-2 skipped weeks, it is the difference between 19% of a year (at 10 episodes) versus 29% of a year (at 13 episodes + 2 skipped weeks for a total of 15 weeks). That is pretty significant.
3. The split also eliminated a viewer favorite; the Christmas special. I personally think these were some of W13’s finest. It really struck home with the camaraderie of both the fictional characters as well as the real cast & crew members. It made for a nice reminder that the show was coming back in a few months and gave viewers something to look forward to. Also, during the holidays, families are together more often and this facilitates the live viewing of the show.
4. The gap between 4.0 and 4.5 was too long, and too hastily announced as to when it would be back. Why not tell us when the 4.5 ten would air? Again speaking to point #1, you force fans to be in limbo and we are not able to schedule time to allow for live viewing. There was a cadence of the first three seasons: the start of the year was waiting time; spring/early summer was convention time - when we got to see the stars, show runner and writers and interact - rekindling the excitement for the show before the new season started, show aired late summer into fall, Xmas special gave us a reminder that W13 would be starting a new cycle. This was a great system and could have been exploited with targeted marketing around each of the milestones. Existing fans knew the system, new fans could have been recruited into the cadence. It seems very suspect that this beneficial timing was trashed instead of nurtured.
5. Moving to the 10PM E / 9PM C time slot was devastating. Nothing pointed to cancellation as much as that. W13 is a family show and that time-slot is just too late. If you have kids or if you have to be to work early, it really precludes live viewing. Everyone knew the ratings needed to improve. Okay - we get that, but did the programming team really think this was going to achieve that? If they did they must be a bit daft (which I don’t think they are). So, the only other conclusion was the decision was made in order to push the ratings DOWN, or at least not consider the detrimental effect, thus giving justification for not renewing.
6. The on-line airing of the first 4.5 episode was another move that seems to indicate a desire to REDUCE live viewership, at least for episode 4.11. If that huge gap between 4.0 and 4.5 was supposed to whet our appetite and anticipation for 4.11, then WHY would they release it early? It would be like parents building up anticipation for Christmas morning then on December 20th telling the kids that Santa stopped by with a few gifts early. HUH? Why on earth would they do that?
7. The last item is the markedly smaller presence on advertising and on-line marketing versus other shows. It seems like I cannot avoid seeing an ad for ghost-hunting paranormal faux reality shows, but it was hard to find W13 ads. And if you have the SyFy sync app, the banner for W13 is about 1/2 the size of Defiance. At some points during the mid-season break, W13 was only a 1/4-size banner (Blastr, SyFy app etc…). And the night of the 4.11 premiere the app would not even load (it got stuck on the SyFy logo splash screen).
So, in conclusion, it seems that someone in the “power seat(s)” decided, perhaps more than a year ago, to cap the show at five seasons. (20+6 would be equivalent to two 13 episode seasons, just in a jumbled inconsistent sequence). If that decision was made prior to season four, then the pull back, rescheduling and general lack of support make more sense (disappointing though it is).
If that was the case, I still think SyFy could have maxed out viewership by letting the fan base know that this was the plan. They could have set a five season run, allowing the writers to write a full 13 episode seasons 4 & 5 series arc and end the show the way they wanted. While the six episode extension does help accomplish this - it could not be rolled into the season four arc completely. They could have kept the 13 season format with a Christmas episode last year and this year (still ending with the same number of overall episodes), they could have moved the show to an earlier time slot - still giving the coveted Monday at 9 E /8 C to Defiance, and they could have respected the intelligence and loyalty of the fans that the show was still pulling in (~1.3 million of us live and many more on-line).
Of everything that has happened during the course of growing to love and now lose this show, my questioning of these decisions is what leaves me with a sense of frustration.
I think that until smaller market cable channels learn how to nurture and market to grow viewership, we’ll be caught in an endless cycle of new shows that show great promise, but like untended gardens, they die back after a couple of years and become unsustainable. If there are any lessons to be learned from all of this, they are that entertainment is changing. So the question becomes - how does the business model adapt to the new reality? How do on-line viewers get a voice and how does their viewership get counted when calculating ratings? How do advertisers gain ad-views in an on-line market? Like brick and mortar stores, live viewing is changing. Will the entertainment industry adapt? Only time will tell.
So thank you SyFy for giving us Warehouse 13. Thank you Jane Espenson & D. Brent Mote for “hatching” this show. Thank you Jack Kenny - you are an awesome show runner. Thank you Craig Engler - at least we got 5 seasons. Thank you Benjamin Raab, Deric Hughes, Drew Z. Greenberg, Ian Stokes, Bob Goodman, Nell Scovell, David Simkins, Andrew Kreisberg, Holly Harold, Michael P. Fox, Mike Johnson, John-Paul Nickel & Tom Lieber (and any of the other W13 writers I missed) great writing!
And an especially HUGE THANK YOU to the awesome cast: Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek, Allison Scagliotti, Aaron Ashmore, CCH Pounder, Genelle Williams, Jamie Murray, Faran Tahir and all of the other recurring cast and guest stars who really made these characters come to life. Thanks to this show I will always be on the look out for you in whatever other ventures you move on to. You made this show come to life and these characters mean something. They will live on in our memories and imaginations, long after the show is gone.
Not all wonder is endless…
Location: Huntsville, Alabama
Artifact Attributes: This artifact is a random number generator. It will randomly generate the huge ratings numbers to show whoever makes those number-based decisions about TV show renewals - specifically Warehouse 13.
Shelving suggestions: I had been an on/off viewer of the SyFy channel until this show came on. The concept and execution on the part of the writers, show runner, crew and cast make this show - which flitters just beyond the edge of reality, believable. This show hooked me into SyFy and has driven me to watch other original programming that airs on your channel.