Opinion: Atlantis fans need to stop punishing Universe

The Stargate franchise needs your support more than ever.

In the wake of Caprica’s cancellation, eyes are turning nervously towards Stargate Universe. The show’s ratings have plummeted this season, with many fearing that it may be next on the chopping block if things don’t improve soon.

There are many factors in this, of course. MGM’s ongoing troubles spark debate on what the status of the show is, exactly, and the move to Tuesday nights appears to have done it far more harm than good, despite initial optimism on the part of the cast. “I think that’ll help,” Alaina Huffman told me in May 2010, when discussing the move. “Yeah, we’re talking about expanding our audience, and Tuesday night isn’t a night where everyone’s out and DVRing – is that what it is? DVRing shows,” added her co-star, Jamil Walker Smith.

It hasn’t worked, that much is obvious. Tuesday nights are notoriously aggressive, with shows such as Dancing With The Stars eating up a huge share of the audience. Perhaps a more seedy, and disappointing aspect of the hits to Universe’s popularity, though, is the fanbase itself. “I don’t think if we for any reason go away, it is an issue necessarily of the quality of the product that we’ve been making,” said executive producer and co-creator Brad Wright. “I think getting moved on the schedule has hurt us. And the fact that some of the fans that liked SG-1 and Atlantis were so angry that they have deliberately hurt us, which is unfortunate.”

Indeed, log on to any message board, and the vociferous level of criticism directed towards Universe for its supposed role in the demise of Stargate Atlantis is obvious, as is the recent, unpleasant schadenfreude in its ratings descent. Websites have even been set up purely for opposition to the show, which seems like a curious move for people who are supposedly avowed fans of the franchise. Simplistic descriptors such as Stargate In Name Only abound, and the feeling of engendered ill wishes can be nauseating.

It’s not hard to see that it does affect the crew, as well. We’ve been interviewing the people involved with Universe since the show was first announced, and those involved with the franchise long before that, and it’s come to the point now where a once-vibrant sense of kindness has been replaced with poignancy. “I definitely feel like it’s a part of that [franchise] world – going into it, it was important for me to do two things,” David Blue told me when the show first started airing. “One, that it’s not isolating any fans from before, but then also two, that it pushes the envelope. I think that’s the idea that Brad [Wright] and Robert [Cooper] had. As much as we love the past shows and as much as we admire the fans of the past shows, we didn’t want to do the exact same thing, because there’s only so many times you can do the same thing again before it gets boring. We wanted to take the world, take the fans, take the story and make them grow. We wanted to bring in more than just 1.6 million fans from Atlantis, we wanted to bring in more than just the problem-of-the-week type stories.”

Now, of course, the effect of fan refusal to come on board has been felt, expressed most candidly by Huffman in a recent interview with SciFiNow. “A lot of people, I think, didn’t want to like it because they wanted Atlantis,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of conventions now and I love them. I love, love, love meeting the fans, and what I hear from a lot of them is they almost feel like they’re cheating on Atlantis by liking us. I know all the people from Atlantis. They’re all doing their own thing and they’re all happy for us. I feel like I want people to understand that if we get cancelled it won’t bring Atlantis back. I kind of wish people would get that and I wish people would understand that we didn’t cancel it.”

I get it. I’m a fan of Stargate SG-1. I’m a fan of Stargate Atlantis. I’m also a fan of Stargate Universe. Atlantis, as sad as it is to say, is over. As Huffman rightly points out, savaging Universe because you’re angry about that won’t bring it back.

As a journalist, I’m happy to have another Stargate show to cover. As a fan, I’m just pleased that Stargate is still on the air, and despite its differences to previous incarnations of the franchise, I love it. But I’m not asking you to like it as much as I’m do, I’m asking those fans of Atlantis who haven’t seen it, or who deride it purely because it’s not Atlantis, to let it go. The franchise needs your support now than ever, because if Universe fails, we might not see another series again.

Universe wasn’t responsible for the demise of Atlantis. Stop punishing it.

Additional reporting by Michael Simpson.