Sanitized Battlestar Galactica Screener Riles Up Critics

SciFi Channel sent out screeners of tonight's Battlestar Galactica premiere to critics, minus the episode's most important scene. Needless to say, reviewers were not pleased. Has anti-spoiler mania gone too far?

When reviewers (including yours truly at io9) received their screener DVDs of tonight's episode, they also got a note from SciFi Channel explaining "with all due respect" that a "sensitive reveal" had been excised from our review copies. We were asked to review the episode without seeing the entire finished product. While it's normal for studios to send out early screener copies that lack special effects or some sound editing, sending out an incomplete version of an episode to stop spoilers is extremely rare. (UPDATE: This isn't as rare as I originally believed - apparently several studios have sent out incomplete screeners to critics for key episodes in series such as Doctor Who, ER, and for shows winning contestants.)

Obviously the message was that SciFi couldn't trust reviewers to keep secrets to themselves. Or they were worried the excised scene was so lame that they didn't want to risk bad reviews. Either way, the official story was that this weird move was merely a pragmatic precaution. Reps explained that removing the "sensitive" scene was:

an extra precautionary measure to protect the content in the event that this package should become lost or unintentionally delivered to and viewed by someone other than the intended.

Um, what? Are we on orange alert?

A lot of critics noticed the weirdness, and commented. The Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara mourned the omission of the scene, and the New York Times' Mike Hale grumbled about all the "things you can't know" about Battlestar. Even the Pioneer Press in Minnesota complained about not getting to see the crucial scene. And the Boston Herald's Mark Perigard tried to be nice about it by patiently explaining that as a reviewer he wouldn't want to spoil the ending - but that without seeing it, he basically can't review the whole episode with confidence.

I've been reviewing movies and television now for almost a decade, and I've never been asked to review an incomplete product. Sure, I've been told I can't view a flick until the night before the release, and sometimes studios decline to screen stuff for critics at all (usually a very bad sign). But when you get a review screener, or go to a critic's showing, the studio gives full, unedited access so you can make an honest evaluation of their creation.

I understand why SciFi is worried about spoilers. It sucks when people reveal your "sensitive reveal," but that's a risk whether or not you let critics do their jobs properly. Most leaks come from within studios themselves, not from outsiders who are accidentally delivered a screener DVD. And not from reviewers.

Which leads me back to a point I made earlier, which is that when studios don't want to screen something for critics, it usually doesn't bode well. I really liked what I got to see of tonight's episode, but it looks like we should brace ourselves for a disappointing final cylon.