Stargate Universe is going off the air soon, and it's not coming back. There are no TV movies coming, either. For the first time in 15 years, there won't be a new Stargate TV show.
How can Stargate live on without a new show on the air? Partly by learning from other TV shows that were canceled but still lived on. Here are 10 lessons that the Stargate creators (and fans) can learn from other cancellation survivors.
Top image: Stargate Worlds concept art.
Every TV show goes away at some point — some, like Farscape and Firefly, gets a continuation in movie or miniseries form. Some, like Doctor Who and Star Trek, eventually get restored to life on television more popular than ever. And some shows just live on in fans' hearts — like Quantum Leap, Andromeda, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and so on.
The one thing you don't want to see a beloved TV series do is get canceled and forgotten. Which happens all too often. Here are some ways to prevent that nasty fate:
1) Support media tie-ins, like comics and novels.
Especially if they're well done and expand the mythos. If comics and novels are successful and make money, then it keeps a cancelled show on everyone's radar. And well-done tie-in novels and comics can actually go places the TV show couldn't, thanks to budgetary constraints and other issues — so they help to prove there's still life in the basic idea.
2) Fan campaigns don't have to succeed to be influential.
Sure, it sucks if fans campaign to bring a show back from oblivion, and the show still doesn't come back. Nobody wants to put in all that work, mailling food items, taking out ads in Variety, and hiring billboards, only to see it all come to nothing. But an energetic "save this show" campaign makes a difference, no matter what the immediate outcome is — just ask everyone who mounted apparently fruitless campaigns for Star Trek in the early 1970s. People notice these things, and remember them years down the line.
3) Support fans of the show becoming successful creators in their own right.
Doctor Who didn't come back from the dead because the Doctor had spent long enough in oblivion, and someone at the BBC felt like it was time to give the Time Lord another shot at saving the universe. To a large extent, Doctor Who's resurrection came because fans of the show like Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat had become successful television creators, and they wanted to spearhead a Who renaissance. So if you see your fellow fans becoming creators and professionals, don't envy them — support them.
4) Blur the line between fanfic and official creations.
The line between fan creations and official products has never been blurrier. Doctor Who has the Big Finish audio productions, starring the show's original cast, which started during the wilderness years and have been able to continue since. Star Trek's fan productions like The New Voyages have featured actors like Walter Koenig and creators like David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana. So don't be afraid to push the boundary between fan productions and semi-official continuations of the show.
5) Nurture the next generation of fans, who didn't watch it when it was on.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but it's important. Don't just focus on creating a community for the long-term fans. Don't just cater to your own generation of fans. It's more important than ever that a series should be accessible to the newbies — which means creating spaces, online and in the real world, that are welcoming to neophytes.
6) Support the creators of the show becoming big stars doing other stuff.
Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks weren't necessarily huge hits when they were on the air. But now that everyone involved with those shows has gone on to become major creators with huge projects, those shows are legendary, and there's always talk of bringing them back in some form.
7) Publish anthologies and essay collections, and host academic conferences.
There's something to be said for creating a perception that your favorite series is something Significant and worthy of Academic Study. Plus, it's fun to go beyond just geeking out and get into deep analysis. And a smart book of essays or a clever panel discussion can get people thinking of the defunct show in new, fascinating ways — which can lead, through a long chain of inspiration, to people coming up with new ways to re-create it.
8) Keep the episode guides and wikis and galleries and message boards alive.
You'd be amazed how many shows from the 1990s no longer have a real internet presence. Back when they were on the air, there were fansites and resources aplenty, but they got Geocitiesed or overwhelmed with spammers, or whatever. It really only takes one person to keep a fansite going, and then it can become a magnet for others who also remember a show fondly.
9) Find ways to keep making the show an event rather than something from the past.
The sad thing about a show that's gone off the air is, there's no longer any news to buzz over. there are no upcoming episodes, no new bits of casting, no spoilers. So you have to find ways to make it an "event" in any case. Whether it's the publication of the newest book or comic, or the latest rumors of resurrection (however goofy they may be), it's worth keeping the news cycle going. If one day you realize the last bit of news about your show was three years ago, then it's ever more clearly stuck to the past.
10) Be prepared to laugh at the stuff that's going to look dated.
This goes for creators as well as fans, and everybody else who revisits a cancelled TV show over the years. Stuff that looked great when it originally aired will inevitably age badly — special effects will look cheesy, cliches will feel worn-out, and even aspects of the performance and direction will mark the show as belonging to a particular era. The process happens a lot faster than you think it will, sometimes. And clinging to the notion that the show was perfect and untouchable will only make it grow irrelevant faster. Be willing to poke fun at the stuff that starts looking silly, even if you once thought it was all uniformly brilliant. Otherwise, you'll just wind up creating obstacles to the idea of someone reinventing the show without some of that baggage.
The bottom line is, cancellation doesn't have to be forever — intellectual property is never left fallow for too long in Hollywood, as long as there's money to be made. It may take years, or even decades, but a show that has an enduring fanbase, creators who've gone on to have decent careers, and a slew of top-flight younger creators among its aficionados will never really be dead.