A final word or two on Sanctuary

by Paul William Tenny

I've got lots to write about this evening but while I'm still stuck on the subject of Sanctuary, I'll go ahead and point you towards a post that Alex Epstein wrote back in October after having watched the Sanctuary pilot.

Alex is a pro writer and producer and his opinion on the matter really trumps mine without question. Although it may seem like I'm just trying to pile on to a show that I don't like personally, that's really not the case. I just think that people tend to get wrapped up in a show that they like and tend to ignore or find excuses to dismiss perfectly legitimate observations and criticism even when such things can be a portent of failure.
Watched a bit of the SANCTUARY pilot. Hunter and I turned it off about half an hour in because we were just too frustrated with it. We felt like there was one hour's worth of plot padded out to two hours; many of the complications were there just to make things take longer. We felt like the hero was reactive and passive.

If I were in the mood to defend the show, and actually I think this is an important point to make, I'd remind everyone that the scripts were written for a highly segmented web show. This was not originally a one-hour drama with act breaks for commercials, it was a series of shorts. I can't speak for the producers but I'm sure they took some liberties with their format and broke many of television's writing conventions in order to tell the story the way they wanted to tell it.

Given that kind of freedom I'd have done precisely the same thing.

But going from the web to television is like going from a book to a feature film -- you're going to lose a lot just in the translation between mediums. I actually expected problems like this to be front and center until after the original web-based scripts had been exhausted, and once the writers got around to doing their thing with an eye towards the new (or rather old) format, one for which they were all classically trained, problems like that would simply go away on their own.

Since I haven't been keeping up with the show now any better than I did before Scifi licensed it, I can't really tell you when that point in time might have been. I don't know if they had enough web-based scripts to shoot the entire first season so that the properly broken-down material would have to wait until season two, or if they have already passed that point and this criticism is now moot.

Perhaps some fans of the show who have be very vocal these past few days can step up in the comments and share their thoughts on this point.

The hero is us. If your Chief Monster Hunter pushes herself on him, then he's being passive and reactive. We're not being pulled into the story; we're having exposition pushed on us. Pulling is better than pushing. It's always going to be more fun if the hero figures things out than if someone explains it to him.

Needless to say, having Chief Monster Hunter deliver five minutes of exposition in her Batcave before showing him, and us, the critters in her basement, is a big bore.

Perhaps again, this is more the result of these stories having been written without the constraints of television. You can't waste time on TV like this or you're going to start bleeding viewers really fast. There's no network executive hanging over your shoulder -- for better or for worse -- telling you to speed things up. I think too often we blame the network and studio for interfering with something as critical as timing without giving enough credit for all the times when the suits happen to be right.

It's good to be free but it's also good to have a minder to keep you from getting too eccentric.

The writers didn't have anyone to answer to but themselves when these scripts were written. That kind of creative freedom must be damn near orgasmic, but so goes the saying, it's also more than enough rope to hang yourself with.

That's fine If it didn't really bother you, I wasn't paying close enough attention to even remember it personally. On the other hand, Alex Epstein has been a writer for a long time, has run his own shows, and has written books on how to do exactly this kind of work. If he found rudimentary problems in the pilot, the chances are great these are the problems that are going to grate on viewers as well as pros. Not all of them mind you, but it doesn't have to bother everyone for it to bother enough people each week to cause a slide in the ratings.

And slide it has.

I like the idea of the show and I'll probably check it out again at some point, but based on the ratings problem and some of the above criticism that isn't only coming from me -- Sanctuary got a score of 56/100 on Metacritic -- I think I'll need to see it step up a bit before it earns a place on my DVR.
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Hi, Paul.

Multichannel News had some interesting ratings info on Sanctuary today:


...Including the series premiere, it's averaging more than 2.5 million total viewers per episode, with a 1.7 average household rating of 1.7, a 70% improvement over the network's performance in the 10 p.m. Friday timeslot a year ago...


And the series airing last year at 10pm?

Stargate Atlantis. Which was bringing in ratings of 1.1 (Lifeline), 1.1 (Reunion), 0.9 (Doppelganger) and 1.0 (Travelers) for episodes airing during the same time frame as Sanctuary's episodes this year.

And I love Stargate Atlantis as well.

I think judging a series success by just its ratings in today's media enhanced availability of viewing is an error.

LOL you're still trying to stick it to Sanctuary and dragging out a whole lot of stuff to try and back up your personal bias but a simple review of your articles and comments points to you not having a clue as to how to do any serious analysis.

First you get the ratings wrong and quote a National rating figure as a viewership figure and then try and compare a National rating figure to a Coverage figure. Then when you are challenged on it you come out with even more quotes on how the TV stations do their analysis and spouting off about trends and yet you still fail to actually do a realistic analysis.

First it is impossible to do an analysis on a small sample of 4. Second neither the TV networks nor the advertisers give a bugger about the published figures that idiots on the internet and various so called critics banter about, what they care about is what they negotiate on (the C3 figure) and how a programme's performance will help them achieve success in their business. For the advertisers it's how many people in specific demographics will watch their ads while for the networks it's how the programme will help build on their programme strategy for their station.

Sanctuary has improved the 10pm Friday slot's performance by 70% which is a much more realistic reason for renewal than the oh there wasn't anything else reason you trotted out. If you are going to talk about ratings and trends then PLEASE learn how to do it correctly. Oh and lose the bias.

As for getting someone else's review to back up your stance - pfft for every review you trot out I can find another that contradicts it. Stop mixing opinion and facts, opinions are just that opinions but you need to actually have some skill in trend analysis to interpret the facts and sadly your showing over the last couple of days have proven that you can't even get the basics correct.
You know Paul it's a great pity that you keep ignoring the main thrust of my complaints. Not that someone (namely you) doesn't like a show but that they purport to provide a commentary and review on Entertainment and use faulty analysis of a system that they demonstrate they have little to no understanding of.

So tell me, have you managed to find out what National and Coverage ratings figures are and how to differentiate between the two yet? Or C3 for that matter?
PWT wrote: Any show that drops 37% of its audience over the first four episodes is in trouble.

Both you and Alex Epstein may have really interesting opinions on story structure and valid reasons for not personally liking Sanctuary but none of that means that the show is in trouble. In fact SciFi's opinion is the opposite. You know this. You know that the show has been renewed. Yet you continue to spin your personal problems with, and dislike of, the series as a portent of doom and you continue to predict the imminent failure of the show. You know it has been renewed, right?

As with others who have commented here, my objection is not with any valid and interesting opinions you have regarding problems or weaknesses in the show. My objection is solely with your continued assertion that Sanctuary "is in trouble" based on your opinion of its flaws and because you feel you understand how networks make their programming decisions. You continue to make this assertion despite the fact that you know Sanctuary will not be cancelled part way through it's first season, or at the end of it's first season and, in fact, has been given a second season. Not really in that much trouble. But you don't like it - I get that.
Any show that drops 37% of its audience over the first four episodes is in trouble. It doesn't really matter if the new show is an improvement over last year if the new show is bleeding viewers, since if it doesn't stop, it's not going to be an improvement for very long.

You mean like Stargate: Atlantis? It went from a 3.2 to a 2.5 from its pilot to its second episode. By episode nine, it was down to a 1.7. Going from a 3.2 to a 1.7 was about a 45% decline in viewer numbers back then. It continued to have ratings that went up and down for the rest of the season. And yet, it lasted five seasons. A lot of shows have high premiere numbers that don't hold up in the long run and they don't get canceled. As long as a show is performing well enough for the network to make money, they will keep it around. SGA has been making pretty low ratings for more than two years, and yet SciFi has just now gotten around to canceling it.

Obviously, SciFi has decided that Sanctuary makes them money. It doesn't cost them as much as SGA or Eureka and it has gotten better ratings than both BSG or SGA have in the past year or so. The ratings so far have been very good for the Friday night Fall time slot it is in. Is the decline in ratings a bit worrying? Sure, but it happens to a lot of shows on cable and a lot of those shows still manage to stay on the air. As long as Sanctuary makes more than enough to cover the broadcasting fee that SciFi pays, SciFi will probably keep it around.

By the way, Damien Kindler (exec producer of Sanctuary) has stated that the ratings have gone up from the 1.4 in the past couple of weeks. I would imagine the ratings will go up and down this first season, just as they did with SGA. I am not going to doom the show until I see the rest of this season's ratings and the ratings for Season 2's premiere.

As for your friend’s criticism of the show, I agree with a lot that he said. I have some problems with parts of the show. I guess I am just more willing to give the people behind the show more time to work out the problems before condemning their efforts. I really didn’t like the first season of SGA much, but I thought the next couple of seasons were much better. Fortunately, most cable networks allow shows time to improve and develop over time unless they make abysmal ratings. Sanctuary is not anywhere near that yet and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

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