NEW YORK - Need proof the television ratings system is dead, a victim of the TiVo, the ubiquitous satellite dish and schizophrenic viewing habits? Take a look at what's happening with "Battlestar Galactica."
If the traditional ratings system is used to measure its success, well, the series is scraping bottom like a viper throwing sparks on a hot landing.
Yet the show's producers are moving forward with two post-"Galactica" projects that would never have seen the light of a cathode tube had ratings been the only factor in the decisions.
Jamie Bamber, the British actor who plays Lee "Apollo" Adama in the series, has a much better way to gauge ratings. Turns out, as the ratings plummet, the show's popularity continues to skyrocket as it reaches the end of its five-year run early in 2009.
"When the numbers were high I would get stopped in the street maybe once a week," Bamber said. "Now that the viewing figures are lower on the TV, everywhere I go someone will come up to me and say what a huge fan they are. That just tells me that people watch the show in a more modern way and that it has reached its sort of critical mass."
"Galactica" wrapped shooting in July and the final 10 episodes will begin airing in January. But the franchise won't stop there.
Producers recently announced end-of-the-summer production of a two-hour standalone "Galactica" prequel that will air in 2009 after the series finale. And they've also shot a pilot for a new series called "Caprica," which has yet to be picked up by the network but seems destined to air.
These things never used to happen. There never would've been a "Rhoda" had "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" tanked. "Fish" would've been fried had it not been for the popularity of "Barney Miller."
"Galactica's" numbers - to put it politely - have begun to stink. The latest Nielsen ratings seem to indicate the show's viewers are as hard to find as the fleet's mythical destination of Earth. The series averaged 2.8 million viewers an episode during Season 1. During the most recent run of 10 episodes, the show averaged 2.2 million viewers, a slight dip overall but up from Seasons 2 and 3. The series lost some of that steam by the midseason finale, falling to just 1.8 million viewers.
Co-executive producer Michael Angeli thinks the numbers are irrelevant, however. He believes most "Galactica" fans have atypical viewing habits and take advantage of new technology to watch the show whenever they want.
"I think we were one of the first ones," Angeli said. "TiVo had just sort of taken off. This was four or five seasons ago, and because we were on Friday nights most people, most fans don't watch it (on first run). They TiVo it and watch it a zillion times."
Others rent or buy the DVDs after the season is over and watch in long marathons. To take advantage of this group, producers will be releasing the two-hour movie on DVD shortly after it appears on SciFi.
The movie is a prequel that gives some insight into the machinations of the cylons before they unleashed the nuclear holocaust that wiped out all but 50,000 human inhabitants of the 12 colonies. "Galactica" star Edward James Olmos will direct and Dean Stockwell (Cylon No. 1), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) and Michael Trucco (Sam Anders) - all "skinjobs," cylons who appear to be human - will participate.
While the movie is a lock to air, the fate of "Caprica" remains to be decided. The pilot has been shot and screened, and there's a trailer up on YouTube. Angeli is helping with early scripts in case the series is picked up and said the show is an almost complete departure from "Galactica."
"In fact, I don't think we ever go into space," he said.
"Caprica" takes place 51 years before the events of "Galactica." It stars Esai Morales and Eric Stoltz as the heads of rival families who clash over the creation of artificial intelligence, which will eventually lead to the cylons.
Besides the robots and the location, the only real connection between "Galactica" and "Caprica" will be Joseph Adama, the character played by Morales. While Joseph Adama - father and grandfather to the characters played by Olmos and Bamber - never appears in "Galactica," his work as a lawyer provides a moral compass in a significant storyline and his name is often evoked.
Like "Galactica," which took on war, terrorism, torture, religion and questions of morality, the storyline in "Caprica" will have many things to say about our society.
"It's really about big business, the machinations and the subterfuge that go on inside of it when you have something that is groundbreaking and could change the nature of life and the future," Angeli said. "In this case, they're developing artificial intelligence."
Executive producer Ronald D. Moore described the show to reporters at the Television Critics Association meeting in Beverly Hills. While he was talking about the fictional colony Caprica, he could just as easily have been talking about today's America.
"It's about a vibrant society. It's really at the height of its power and the height of its decadence at the same time," Moore said. "So it's really a thriving, vibrant culture that's going to come apart as we watch, but it's sort of the roller coaster. It's thrilling at the top when you see how far down you've got to go."