It’s not an unusual event to find me periodically scanning the Net for news on the latest Syfy project, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. The reasoning is simplicity itself. Battlestar Galactica, whether you’re a science fiction fan or not, has regularly and rightly been acknowledged as one of the best TV series of the last ten years. Investigating subjects such as terrorism, genocide, religious jihads, parenticide, love, betrayal and beating Star Trek to the punch by having some of its most interesting characters be openly gay (though never making their sexuality the point of an episode or the show), it raised the bar not only for shows of the same genre, but all mainstream dramas. Think Black Hawk Down crossed with 2001 and you’re almost there. It was gritty, brutal, tense, heart-rending and on rare occasion, hilarious.
Its first spin-off, Caprica was littered with flaws, not least among which were the facts that it took far too long to go anywhere, but it showed promise in some intriguing ideas (what if we could achieve ‘immortality’ through technology?) and took liberties in presuming its audience was prepared for a science fiction show that didn’t rely on explosions or aliens to get along – an idea which was firmly rebuked by critics of the show who regularly complained that it didn’t match up to its, quite different predecessor. This was somewhat unfair, akin to complaining that a Tom Hagen centred spin-off of The Godfather would be too concerned with the law, but SyFy took it to heart because shortly after cancelling Caprica, their other work in progress, Blood and Chrome was brought from its initial format of a collection of short webisodes to a fullblown pilot with the option for a series to follow based on ratings.
Blood and Chrome is set in the first Human-Cylon war and if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s enough to know that in Galactica’s alternate universe, Mankind created machines to do our dirty work for us, and they eventually rebelled and started killing. A lot, and to add to the mix, because we taught them religion they did so in the firm belief that they were carrying out the work of God. The war is often referenced in the original series and we were treated to occasional flashbacks which went down well with the fans, so it’s no surprise to see the concept be greenlit for more money making opportunities.
What is surprising is the disdain SyFy have shown the concept. Initially (to say nothing of logically), it was confirmed that the two hour television movie could act as a ‘back door pilot’. In essence, it it made enough money for its parent network, a full blown series would be commissioned to take advantage of the opportunity. So far so good. Except this was a long, long time ago.
Back in July 2010 was when we first started to hear details on the web series. It was in October of that year that SyFy confirmed the upgrade to a TV movie. Filming started in February 2011 and was completed just weeks later. Then we entered the wilderness as far as updates went. Now the fact that they finished filming does not mean the project was done. Blood and Chrome was filmed almost entirely on green sets, and the amount of post-production required to digitally input backgrounds, let alone create all the external ship special effect shots was far from small. But it wasn’t until the 2011 Comic Con when SyFy spoke again on the project. And what did they say?
It might not be coming to TV after all. SyFy executives had seen the first cut of the film, and were so happy with it, they weren’t sure if they wanted to show it off on their TV channel.
In December 2011, special effects guru Doug Drexler who’d worked on the show confirmed that the shots were done and they looked great. He also supposed that a decision might be made on the future of the show by February, noting that such decisions were never made over the holidays. Well February came and went and… nothing. Well, nothing from SyFy. Bear McCreary who’d produced such iconic music for the original series confirmed that he’d finished the score for Blood and Chrome. Since music is almost never added to a film until right at the end of production (unless of course, you’re working with Peter Jackson on a certain series of books), that as good as confirmed that late though it was, the film was ready to go.
So SyFy waited to March before making an announcement, and not because they wanted to. A demo reel showcasing the film’s (very) special effects was leaked online and quickly went viral – the original YouTube video garnered over 100,000 views in 24 hours. SyFy shut it down, ostensibly because the music track used hadn’t been licenced. The very next day, they confirmed Blood and Chrome would not become a full TV series, but might appear online in the alternative.
So let’s recap up to that point. SyFy greenlit a web series to cash in on the success of Battlestar Galactica and as an alternative to the more sedate Caprica. Following their cancellation of Caprica, they upgraded the project and said, ‘let’s make a movie.’ And lo! The movie was made. They didn’t talk about it, they didn’t tease it, they barely acknowledged its existence unless pressured into by the actions of others. And when the demo reel leaked and the fans went wild and demanded to see more? They said no, and confirmed that no TV series was coming. To this date, they still haven’t released any promotional material whatsoever to whet fans appetites for the film. And keep this in mind as well; the actors are only on contract for so long. Leave it too long and they can either charge a fortune to be re-hired or simply walk away. When asked about the status of this in late 2011, SyFy’s Chief Programmer said they weren’t sure when the contracts ran out. I’m spitballing here, but I’m assuming it’s because they didn’t care.
So what have we heard since March? Erm, well… frak all to be honest. This is a film that was greenlit in 2010, finished filming in 2011 – was actually supposed to air in late 2011, and here we are now looking to the end of 2012 and not one word from SyFy.
I’ve never been moved to write about the decisions of a network before. Lots of shows I’ve liked such as Pushing Daisies, Deadwood, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and many more besides have been shut down before I felt their time had come. Let’s not even get into Firefly and Fox. There are a number of pilots such as Ron Moore’s 17th Precinct that I thought showed promise and weren’t picked up. There are loads of shows still airing that I don’t think should ever have seen the light of day. Conan O’Brien still has a chat show and so far as I can tell the funniest thing he ever did was die in South Park whilst being voiced by Brent Spiner. But that’s showbiz, and at the end of the day I don’t really care.
Except this time I do. For me, Battlestar Galactica is, without question, one of the best TV series of all time. It can hold its own with ER, Law and Order, The West Wing, the Sopranos and any others you care to mention. The final season slipped a bit and I’m glad they didn’t run it into the ground by scraping it over too much bread (to burgle a phrase), but the chance to see more? Tell me where and when and I’ll tell the world.
And this is to say nothing of the stupidity of SyFy’s actions. It’s a near guarantee that properly marketed, the viewing figures for the Blood and Chrome movie could be among their highest ever. Think of the ad revenue, the DVD sales, the merchandise (assuming they ever figure out what that word entails). And let’s say that happens. Let’s say the figures are through the roof and on top of that, the film gets universally positive reviews – the world loves it, it gets nominated for Emmys, the actors all become huge stars – before any of that even has a chance to happen you confirm, without room for wiggle, black and white, end of story that there will not be a TV series? How fucking stupid can you get?
It’s neither new nor original to state that SyFy has betrayed its purpose, but it bears repeating. Even if you’re cynical and say their purpose has nothing to do with promoting science fiction and is in fact solely about money-making, they’re being fucking stupid. It’s that simple.
Now it might happen that tomorrow a trailer is released, an airdate is confirmed and early next year we all watch a truly awful film. But the point is we’ll watch it nonetheless. SyFy will make money, and the amount of that depends solely on how hard they try not to fuck up any more than they have done so far. Regardless of the money it took to make (and don’t think green screen means added expense because quite the contrary), it’s done now. It’s ready. Stick it on the fucking telly.
The video below is the visuals from the leaked demo reel, with some different music stuck on top. If some kid in his mum’s basement could think of that, why didn’t SyFy?