There’s something to be said when a network or cable channel is willing to spend an obscene amount of money on a television show. And that something is usually: “Uh oh, don’t expect it to last long.”
Genre fans got their taste of that in the 1960s with the original “Star Trek,” and it carried on into the late 1970s with the original “Battlestar Galactica” on ABC. More recently, shows like “Terra Nova” on Fox would have to get “American Idol”-like numbers just to be considered for survival. And they didn’t.
Now Syfy is hoping money will buy them an audience, spending a record $100 million on “Defiance” through both the television series and the video game that complements it. This is quite easily the largest project Syfy has ever undertaken, and it will either spell into the cable channel’s greatest success — or its biggest failure.
“No one’s ever attempted this before,” Syfy president Dave Howe recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s been a big learning curve for us, as you can imagine.”
Leave it to Howe to follow Syfy’s tagline since its rebranding by imagining greater. The sets for “Defiance” take up an entire business complex in the outskirts of Toronto, including an exterior set of the outpost town itself that is larger than a football field. It’s easy to get lost not just on the streets of Defiance, but with the townspeople as well.
The project is a joint venture between Syfy and Trion Worlds, the gaming company behind MMOs like “Rift.” The entire project has been in development for more than two years, with filming finally getting underway last year. Many of the key characters are aliens — there are more than a half-dozen in all — and they’re not the big-eyed monster type we expect from other genre outings.
Syfy and Trion hope that both the television show and the game will complement each other. But still, it’s a risky marriage, because rejection of one could lead to the downfall of the other. Trion spent $60 million developing the “Defiance” game, and it will need to sell at least 1 million units to break even, according to THR.
When it comes to games, either they’re big, or they whimper away. “Defiance” as a game launched last week, and numbers seem to be promising. Trion won’t release sales numbers, but did say that inventory had to be replenished in many locations, and that others had the Xbox version of the game completely sold out.
Some fans have reported the game is in the top 10 sellers for console products, while others said they reported “hundreds of thousands of ark hunters” in the game. Those large numbers may have been larger than what Trion was expecting, as many fans complained about server issues and lag — problems Trion said they are working around the clock to fix.
It’s a fascinating experiment — game, television show, universe. But will “Defiance” as a television show have to achieve the impossible just to stay alive?
Howe said Steve Burke, the chief executive officer of NBC Universal, is totally onboard with the “Defiance” world.
“This project makes sense in the marriage of content and distribution,” Howe said. “The game is obviously broadband-hungry, which from Comcast’s perspective, makes total sense for their broadband business.”
“Defiance” finally premieres Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Syfy.