Two Guys Talking – Why Did Caprica Fail?

Caprica was canceled this week leaving some fans to scream ‘Why?!’, and some non-fans to chortle ‘it’s about time,’and probably quite a few casual TV watchers to ask ‘What the heck is Caprica?’considering the fact it’s bottom of the barrel ratings were the number one reason for it’s cancellation – or were they? The Battlestar Galactica spin-off succumbed ultimately to indifference, posting some of the lowest ratings ever in the history of Syfy (and even SciFi) Channel’s original programming efforts. It’s last airing didn’t even break three-quarter of a million viewers. How in the world could Caprica have failed in the wake of the Peabody Award winning Battlestar Galactica? Join our TwoGuys team, Jon Lachonis and Mark O. Estes, as we suss out where Caprica went wrong.

Full Disclosure Time

Jon: Okay, first up how about some full disclosure of our individual levels of BSG fandom: I loved the original, really liked the remake – but found it flawed at times – and really wasn’t in love with Caprica from the beginning, but I watch anything that Eric Stoltz is involved in.

Mark: I came into BSG when the remake first premiered, but fell off during the show’s second season. I jumped in and out until the finale season where I made it must see TV and was blown away by the finale, but left with a great big ‘huh?’as I tried to piece together the pieces and the epilogue. You know? Like Lost fans are still doing with ‘The End.’

Galactica Enough?

Jon: Honestly, I think what hurt Caprica the most was that initially it seemed very far removed from Battlestar. Sure you had the Cylons, but it seemed so far away from the Cylon revolution. The idea of the virtual world was kind of boring to me, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Ron Moore was stuck on his failed Virtuality concept at the time. As someone who really loved Battlestar Galactica, it just didn’t seem familiar. And Caprica was way too much like Earth. Stock exchanges, cell phones, websites (even called websites) – it wasn’t the alien-yet-human culture experience I was hoping for.

Mark: I think that was the point of Caprica, though, Jon. By giving us a glimpse of the life the survivors of the Thirteen Colonies lost, Caprica had to be different from BSG, and by being different, it had to be sort of ‘alien’to the status quo. BSG was all about doom and gloom with a glimmer of hope, while Caprica had more hope laid into it than doom and gloom. I would say that while I loved Caprica as a show, the BSG prequel moniker could have probably been the problem for the show from the beginning. There were too many answers not given in the BSG finale and I guess some fans felt that Caprica would be the source for some clarity in the meaning behind it all.

Story, Style, or Both?

Jon: I hate to sound like a broken record but Caprica did very little heavy lifting when it came to world building. There was definitely an effort to create a social climate, but it was sort of tossed together with stereotypes and concepts of our own history so it never felt new: corporate marauders, mobsters, caste systems, religious nuts. It was a pretty mundane group of characters considering they were supposed to have evolved thousands of years before us in another solar system.

In terms of story, I was as disenchanted by Ron Moore and company’s assertions on spirit and identity as I was by their work in this area on Battlestar Galactica. BSG was at its best when it was leaving the subtext of those issues to the imagination, I think it’s a big risk when the writer(s) of a television show try to explain things like the substance of identity, or spirit. This kind of pulpit work in fiction tends to offend people with a doctrine. I found it ridiculous, for instance, that you could create a model of my personality by combining my Linkedin, Myspace, and Facebook profiles. I give them high marks for having the guts to venture into this sort of territory, but they wound up exposing why it’s so hard to do to begin with.

Mark: I, too, could have done without the mob, the caste system, and the whole racial element in the show. I think the concept of religion dictated the overall story, something that I have heard fans of both shows gripe about ad nauseum, because there were times where you didn’t know who to root for. Also, by the popular belief in our culture of only one true God, it might be hard for some people to grasp the concept of siding with a polytheist protagonist, but viewers might’ve been equally horrified to side with terrorists who attack under the name of God. Religion became a forerunner on the show, if not a character in itself, which in other sci-fi shows and novels it has been an underlying theme, never coming to the forefront.

As far as story, the writers wobbled back and forth in the first half of the season with trying to build this world and make it relatable to viewers, but the story didn’t get coherent until the latter half of the season, which was a tad bit too late it seems.

A Cast To Die For? (Literally!)

Jon: In my mind Caprica‘s strongest point was the cast. The dialogue for this show looks ridiculous on paper, but these actors managed to make it sound good. I’ve already disqualified my impartiality here, but I can’t imagine anyone who would have done a better job as Daniel Graystone than Eric Stoltz. Keeping in mind any scifi is usual absurdest fantasy, I thought the cast did a great job of making the drama believable.

Mark: I agree, Jon. Eric Stoltz owned that role by easily switching from cocky businessman to tortured soul to mad scientist without breaking a sweat. Paula Malcomson did the best she could do with Amanda Graystone, the woman on the verge at any given second. It has been said that the women of Caprica carried the dramatic aspect of the show, and I tend to agree with that sentiment, but Eric Stoltz dominated his role, making him the J.R. Ewing and Blake Carrington of science fiction space operas, IMHO.

The recent episode that aired this week, ‘False Labor’, also showed us just how great Sasha Roiz was as Sam Adama, the mob muscle brother of Joseph Adama. We finally saw some depth in him other than the one who would lead little Willie Adama down a bad path. He actually had some layers, that we won’t get a chance to get in depth with due to the cancellation. Dare I say that the show found it’s mark tad bit too late? Maybe.

Baby, Give Me One More Chance?

Jon: I really believe Syfy made a serious mistake by cancelling Caprica, and I think the show deserves at least a mini-series to wrap it all up. What Syfy wound up doing is leaving a significant chunk of mythology in an uber popular franchise incomplete. If there was ever a case for granting a controlled crash to a series, it’s Caprica. I foresee some animosity towards the new spinoff, Blood and Chrome, by burnt Caprica fans.

Mark: Cosigning, because if there is one thing I hate is when a show within a franchise is cancelled without a proper sendoff. While the remaining five episodes will air next year sometime, I doubt they will give a satisfying end to the story of Caprica and it’s denizens. As for Blood and Chrome, I am eager to see what is done with it, but wonder if it is what SyFy wants and if fans of the previous shows will embrace it without Ronald D. Moore behind the scenes. This might make a lot of fans fear that B&C is a cash-in project and not something of value or substance. Then again, most prequels are.

Bottom Line: Why Did It Fail?

Jon: Sometimes babies really are ugly. Caprica was just a bad show. I used to stress ‘in my opinion’when I said that, but when something flops this bad I think you’ve earned the right to claim it’s true. I don’t begrudge anybody who loved it – those ugly babies have every right to be loved as much as the pretty ones – but it was just the wrong approach to the material. Had they stuck to the spacefaring themes and remained true to the known canon – that Cylons were once the equivalent of smart toasters that ‘evolved’- then it would have gone much better than this lukewarm bowl of pathos soup.

Frankly I found the Cylon spiritual message to be more interesting when it was spontaneous – remember when monotheism was a concept only a machine could love? How come no one seems to remember that monotheism was the doctrine of a terrorist religious movement by the time we get to the ragtag fleet? You’d think when Baltar started preaching monotheism someone would have associated his teachings with the STO. These sorts of inconsistencies reminded me too much of the God’s Will mumbo jumbo from the BSG finale – which in my opinion was nothing but a cop-out in place of good storytelling. I was really looking for the ancient Cylons from Earth that really did invent ‘downloading,’but alas this was not meant to be so we had to settle for a cut up of the mythology that didn’t mate with future events. Of course, for all we know Ron Moore and Company had a brilliant means of tying it up in the future.

Mark: HA! Your babies analogy is funny and I feel slightly bad for laughing. I stress ‘slightly’. But you bring up a good point, Jon, that I am guilty of forgetting. Adama should’ve raised cain once Baltar started preaching monotheistic teachings since his mother and sister were killed by people who believed in one God. Then again, maybe the theory floating around the web of the Willie Adama we saw in Caprica was not the William Adama we see later in Battlestar Galactica could factor into why BSG Adama wouldn’t have blinked an eye about Baltar’s sermons.

As for the failure of the show, I blame three factors: 1) it’s new time slot; 2) SyFy’s previous plans to air the show next year, then unexpectedly throwing it on the fall 2010 schedule at the last minute; and 3) the religious aspect becoming the dominating feature on the show. These three factors turned viewers off, plus the disenchantment of the BSG finale probably turned people off way before ratings and story became of a factor in Caprica‘s downfall. Who knows? Maybe Blood and Chrome will satisfy everyone this time around?

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  • Cross777

    It failed because people didn't want to trust the creators who so badly messed up BSG.

    • http://twitter.com/DocArzt Jon Lachonis

      That's a truth we touch on for sure.

  • Valarclan

    BSG was neat due to the remaking of the ships and the titanic battles. It had enough of plot to add to the background noise to the battles. But when the ship combat dropped, my interest dropped to. That was season 2'ish…..

    Caprica was too stuck on VR (Virtual Reality) and seemed to be stuck on itself as a NEAT IDEA. But that song has been sung and sung by better singers…. The plot seemed to drag. We saw not TITANIC CAPITAL SHIPS DUKE-ING IT OUT! No Yamato guns firing or the like….

    The creator Ron Moore does not think too deeply to his plots, general ideas and rolls dice to see what one will be done… Also What about aliens? The original Cylons were alien creation…. It is a interesting idea what he changed, but it really seemed to go no where… Even in Caprica…

    I am hoping if the other spin off does make it, its not canceled for Mexican Wrestling, then again we are talking COMCAST who destroyed TechTV….

  • Valarclan

    Now there seems to be only one SciFi show on the SciFi channel ( I refuse calling it SyFy).
    The new owners are trying to destroy anything that is SciFi, moving shows to bad times, cancelling everything and then moving Wrestling to the channel.

    Have a facebook group on it as well….
    It clear Comcast does not get GEEKS or the like. (TechTV, higher audience then G4, 40-60 million viewers, then after merger 2-3 million…..)
    Maybe they like dumb non-thinking audience that they can spoon feed crap to.
    This has been a long time coming even before Caprica AIRED!

  • http://twitter.com/madhi19 madhi19

    Caprica was scuttled in many ways first they released the pilot months before Caprica started airing a sure way to kill any initial buzz by the way! Than they split the first season in half probably to help create an habit with viewers! (: To put the final nail in the coffin they came back early in a new time slot just in time to compete with the MLB playoff! And peoples wonder why this show fail to grow an audience! It might not have been BSG great but any show that get stab in the back this many time is going to tank!

  • Ntscpewkdmh

    I've always loved watching Caprica. The false labor episode finally imo showed some glimmer of what we know of cylons. It just started getting really interesting. Not to be but cancelled. Syfy should have had more patience. I know it's a business but this is too good of a show. I want to watch how the story progresses. I don't care about the turn off with religion. I do agree with some points they made about why it failed but still I really liked watching the show and eager to know the rest of the story.

  • PhotoPro

    It's a shame this happened – another casualty to poor marketing and an even worse time-slot.
    The new Stargate (I had watched every carnation of all the previous shows) is to me- boring, makes little sense and is difficult to follow without giving it 100% attention. What is it with so many cheap shows filming in the dark. It allows for cheap sets and props – but I for one can no longer stand shows using this device. The show we see is darkened from the actual film that was shot – and there is no excuse for it. Both the human eye and the cameras have a much wider dynamic range.

  • Thawnben

    Hi guys, Caprica in Australia is 5 episodes in to the first season.

    The thing I like about Caprica is it breaks away from the traditional Battlestar Galactica saga and I quite like the drama feel to it, while science fiction supports it. I agree about the technology differences in the show, such as the Paper Tablet – you would think if they have the technology to create such device then the mobile phone would be an ancient icon, but I try to ignore that issue about the show. I am more interested in how the story unfolds to the point the Cylons turn against the humans; that is after all the basis of the entire Galactica story.

    Every spin-off show, whether it's Galactica or Star Wars, will always have a diehard fan be disappointed. A group will hate it and a group will love it. I love Galactica, got annoyed each time when someone bagged it out because they used sounds in space. I was disappointed that they made Starbuck a woman.

    Anyway, I like Caprica.

  • Ron Geiken

    The Plots in Caprica were too complicated. Unless you watched almost every episode, you would have a hard time with the plot thread. I watched all of the episodes, and even being a college graduate, I did not really know what was going on. I liked Battlestar Galactica, and Stargate Universe, and most of the other Syfy series's I faithfully watched Caprica, but honestly never really knew what was going on. There are a lot of other shows that have very complicated plots from week to week, and they likely will not survive. Keeping track of characters is not something that viewers should be expected to do.

  • Dissapointed

    SCHEDULING. As scifi fans, we were always expecting Caprica and SGU on Fridays, during periods when when the other networks put reruns. This time, not only did they set a new day, but also to compete with major TV shows on broadcast networks. And besides, they are not repeating the episodes as much as they used to.

    I just seems that Syfy wanted the show to fail. SGU will follow soon.

  • Bob

    No one is going to give Blood and Chrome a chance now. I liked Caprica, but it was a little to slow and ethereal for the average fan. Too bad. Battlestar deserved a good prequel for the saga. I guess it will have to stand the test of time…alone.

  • Tego Livi

    Never saw either show, don't have cable, never really wanted to see them anyway…..BUT! I suspect it failed because it was a prequel. People interested in BSG knew where it would go, so (mostly) didn't care. People not interested in BSG just didn't care. Anytime you cut down a known quantity without adding something big to draw in extra people, you're pretty much doomed to a small audience. Plus, heavily serialized stories are practically guaranteed to bleed audience over time. I also had the sense that even fans of BSG weren't all that upset to see it (finally) end, and that wouldn't bode well for a prequel (or any other kind of spinoff). People let things go–even things they really like.

  • Anonymous

    I think Caprica was mostly a victim of SyFy's mismanagement. How can any show build up a following when there is such a huge gap after just a few episodes. I do think Caprica was distinctively different from BSG, but I loved it. The virtual world concept was fascinating, as was seeing the beginning of the Cylons. However, I do think the show got too weighted down and was a bore when it returned for the second half of the season. It definitely was a deep show compared to most of what is on tv. I will definitely miss it, and will probably not give Blood and Chrome a chance because I have no faith in SyFy. I was lucky to come to BSG very late in the series, so I was able to watch it from the beginning on DVD at my own pace. If I had to put up with the way SyFy schedules things and the huge gaps between seasons, I never would have watched it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tsfogg Scott Fogg

    I agree with a lot of what you guys are saying, but generally disagree with your wrap-up (except the "Caprica" was a bad show).

    Caprica didn't have any of the focus or the driving narrative that BSG had. From the very first episode, we knew what BSG was about. Caprica seemed to wander around, never finding its identity. Was it about the Cylon Uprising? Or was it about something different? It seemed to want to be both and neither at the same time. While the characters were interesting and well-acted, they never seemed to do anything of consequence. There never seemed to be a bigger picture to the stories.

    Ultimately, "Blood & Chrome" was the show I wanted and I hope that it's good. But if it's not, we still have BSG and I could watch that anytime.

  • solarspike

    "Jon:  Honestly, I think what hurt Caprica the most was that initially it seemed very far removed from Battlestar."  -This sums it up why Caprica failed.  Ron D Moore and crew had the opportunity to let us know what happened to the 13 colonies leading up to BSG.  They had a great opportunity to establish a link to BSG and set up a strong foundation if you will.   BSG was all about Leitmotifs, reccurring music themes associated with the characters, places and ideas.  This type of music is essential in establishing an emotion connection with the audience, otherwise, try watching BSG without the music, it makes a big difference.  I was hopeful during Caprica's pilot, when Joseph Adama was explaining to little Will Adama that their last name wasn't really "Adams" but Adama.  During that scene they used a glimmer of wisdom and played the Adama family theme used on BSG. (Found on the Caprica Soundtrack Track# 16 titled "The Adama Name" at 1:06) They mostly used this theme on BSG when showing Lee and Will Adama interact.  (BSG Soundtrack Season 1  Track#6 Titled "A Good Lighter") is an example.  I think that if Ron D Moore wanted to separate Caprica from BSG, they should have titled the tv show something else however they were banking on the idea that BSG fans would simply shift over to the Caprica.  Not so Mr Moore.

  • ffnogoodnik

    Mark:…"As someone who really loved Battlestar Galactica, it just didn’t seem familiar.  And Caprica was way too much like Earth."

    This was one of my biggest complaints about the remake of BSG. The original series really sold the idea that these people were from a civilization whose ancestors could have come to earth to become the Egyptians or the Mayans. The new series did not. Everyone had first and last names, the pilots' names from the original series were turned into call signs. I felt like I was watching a show called Earth:2100 and we were following the Top Guns.