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Syfy is burning off the remaining five episode of Caprica in a mini-marathon today – 6pm through 11pm, in case you didn’t know – and, even though the fate of the show may have already been decided, there’s definitely a draw in the idea of seeing how the series unfolded towards its end. But why are we getting a marathon at all?
Here’s the thing: Syfy is clearly burning off the final five episodes. The marathon hasn’t seen much promotion, and it’s happening in a relatively slow period, ratingswise. The channel had clearly decided to cut its losses when it came to Caprica when it pulled the show from its original slot, so ratings aren’t necessarily a concern with this mini-marathon. That leaves two reasons for Syfy to air the episodes at all: For the fans, and/or for contractual obligations.
We’ll probably never know whether Syfy was under any specific obligation – contractual or implied, so as to keep relationships friendly, considering the in-progress Blood & Chrome spin-off – to air the end of Caprica‘s first and only season, but it wouldn’t be too surprising. It helps that the studio will have already earned the money from the episodes’ early DVD release (They’ve been available as part of the Season 1.5 set since before Christmas), meaning that it gets the best of both worlds from these episodes: Profitability from home release debut and whatever money Syfy pays to air them. Everybody wins! Well, except for those who wanted more than one season, of course.
But the fact that the episodes have been available both legally (through the DVD) and illegally (through torrent; the show wasn’t pulled from Canadian television, and the final episodes aired there in November) for weeks makes me wonder whether the idea of showing the episodes for the hardcore fans isn’t dated thinking that assumes that it is, if not the only, then at least the main source of the show for the fans. That might be true of those who tuned in every now and again, or who were curious enough to check it out if there was nothing else on at the same time, but… If you’re willing to watch five hours of a show in a row, then I think it’s fair to say that you’re into the show enough to be willing to consider the DVD or internet as ways to get it.
(There is, of course, a counter-argument to be made that TiVo and other DVRs make that an invalid argument, because you’re really only devoting five hours of recording to catch up. I think that’s a fair point, but if that was really on Syfy’s mind, then why a marathon at all? Why not just program the remaining episodes in the middle of the night, when they’re there to be recorded and watched when people are awake?)
The mini-marathon, then, feels a bit like a misstep, a throwback to an era where television itself was central to the television experience and networks had more power than they do now. The attempt to make the final episodes into an event by programming them this way seems unsupported by advertising or promotion, and instead an excuse to just write off one evening of programming instead of multiple evenings. It’ll be interesting to see the ratings from tonight, and find out who tuned in, and try to work out why.