The space opera Dark Matter first aired on the Space Channel in Canada and on SyFy in the United States in June of 2015. The science fiction series showcased the awakening of six people from stasis on board a starship, none of whom had any memory of who they were or why they were on the ship. After three seasons, though the show had developed an avid, even cult like following, SyFy canceled the series on September 1, 2017, after three seasons and 39 episodes. The news was announced by the show’s co-creator Joseph Mallozzi on his personal blog and later confirmed by the network.
Fans of the show immediately took to the internet to express their outrage over this decision. They sent angry emails to the network, tweeted their support to cast members, and launched online petitions to save the show. They also wrote to Netflix and Amazon, urging them to pick up the show for another season that would tie up loose ends and give the fans closure. Unfortunately, at this date it appears conclusive: there will be no resurrection for Dark Matter.
What Is Dark Matter About?
Dark Matter is a story about six seemingly unconnected people who one day woke up from stasis aboard the Raza starship. With no memories of their lives or their identities, they assume the names One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six in the order which they woke up. Over the course of three seasons, they would learn about their past lives and the events that brought them aboard the Raza.
Based on the eponymous comic book written by its creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, Dark Matter was originally developed for the Canadian specialty TV channel Space by the Toronto-based Prodigy Pictures. SyFy joined the project in late 2014 and ordered a 13-episode first season.
Filmed entirely in Toronto and starring mostly unknown young actors, the series debuted on June 12, 2015. One week later, it was joined by “Killjoys”, another sci-fi series made for the Space network and picked up by SyFy for US broadcast. Neither show was a major ratings success, but both had respectable viewing figures and quickly developed a cult following.
For the next three seasons, Dark Matter and Killjoys would occupy SyFy’s Friday night prime time schedule during the summer months. During their third seasons, both shows averaged about 0.6 rating points in the coveted 18-49 demographic. However, after the season was over, only Dark Matter was canceled. Killjoys survived the network’s purge of shows, landing a final season deal along the way.
Why Was Dark Matter Canceled?
Many sources claimed that Dark Matter was canceled due to poor ratings, but there’s more to it than just that. After all, it was SyFy’s second highest-rated show after Killjoys and regularly outrated the network’s other two primetime shows, Wynonna Earp (0.5 18-49) and 12 Monkeys (0.35 18-49), both of which were renewed at the time.
These ratings might seem low compared to broadcast television, but they are pretty good for a niche cable network like SyFy. And let’s be honest – the glory days when new episodes of Battlestar Galactica averaged a 2.0 rating for SyFy are long gone. The media landscape is much different than it was in the mid-noughties and all TV networks have seen steep ratings declines over the years.
The show’s co-creator Joseph Mallozzi offered another explanation for the cancelation. Namely, Dark Matter isn’t a SyFy original in the truest sense of the word. Neither the network nor its parent company (NBC Universal) holds the distribution rights to the show, which means that they can’t make profit by selling it to international buyers, designing syndication deals, or selling the show’s seasons to streaming platforms. Instead, the distribution rights are entirely owned by the show’s production company, Prodigy Pictures.
Killjoys, meanwhile, is a co-production between Canada’s Bell Media and Universal Cable Productions (UCP). In fact, UCP holds worldwide distribution rights to the series, so every time it is sold to a streaming platform or a TV station abroad, its parent company NBC Universal–which also owns SyFy–will receive a hefty share of the profits. As such, even if the show underperformed on SyFy, the network would still have a way to turn a profit from international syndication.
Based on this information, it is clear that SyFy canceled Dark Matter primarily for financial reasons and not because of its ratings, which were better than the majority of SyFy’s lineup. Unfortunately, this has become a common phenomenon in the land of television ratings, as more streaming services are started by entertainment companies looking to build their portfolios with their own originals.
Why Would Netflix or Amazon Want to Save the Show?
Netflix has a long history of saving shows that were canceled by broadcast and cable networks. By the time “Dark Matter” was canceled in September 2017, they had successfully rescued Arrested Development, The Killing, Longmire, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the latter of which was cancelled prior to ever airing on NBC. Likewise, Amazon Prime Video picked up their first saved show with SyFy’s The Expanse a year after Dark Matter was shut down.
It’s incorrect to say streaming platforms don’t care about ratings, but when it comes to the most important aspect of streaming, most services look beyond typical ratings. Instead, they want their shows to build a large online following and generate a strong word of mouth that would attract new subscribers. Historically, sci-fi shows haven’t performed all that well ratings-wise, but they’ve all managed to build cult followings, especially in the online community. It is thus no surprise that the fans and creators of Dark Matter looked to Netflix or Amazon to give their show a chance at survival.
Did Netflix or Amazon Pick Up Dark Matter Season 4?
Before Netflix or Amazon could pick up the show, SyFy still had the option to order additional episodes. That’s why the creators proposed a six-episode fourth season that would bring the story to a close. The network took some time to consider this proposal, but they ultimately rejected the idea.
The creators of Dark Matter then started talking to the representatives of Netflix and other popular streaming platforms. Even though some of them expressed interest in renewing the show for a fourth season, it was already too late. By failing to renew the show in a timely manner, SyFy effectively allowed its cast members’ contracts to expire. They were thus free to pursue other projects and many of them have already booked new shows.
To pick up the show for another season, not only would Netflix have to renegotiate contracts with every single cast members but they’d also probably have to recast a few roles due to schedule conflicts. The simple truth is that fans wouldn’t want to watch their favorite show with half of the original cast members replaced. And that is the main reason why Netflix and Amazon haven’t picked up the show.
At one point, it looked like the show might get picked up by MGM’s streaming platform Stargate Command. The renowned studio wanted to expand the Dark Matter universe so that it would crossover with the platform’s sole original show, Stargate Origins. Mallozzi was very excited about this, especially because he spent more than a decade as a writer on the Stargate television franchise, which was SyFy’s biggest hit until the 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
Unfortunately, all these plans fell through due to contractual issues. And just like that, it became clear that fans won’t be seeing the fourth season of Dark Matter any time soon.
Will There Be More “Dark Matter” in the Future?
Everyone involved in Dark Matter has since moved on to new projects. But the creators are still holding out hope that the show might return in the future, even as a two-hour reunion movie that would resolve the cliffhangers from the season 3 finale and wrap up all ongoing storylines. It could take years to work out a deal, negotiate contracts, and figure out the way to synchronize schedules.
Meanwhile, Mallozzi has been posting extensive outlines of his planned season four episodes to his Twitter account, as well as his personal blog. This gives fans an opportunity to learn what would have happened to their favorite characters had the show been picked up for another season.
However, at this date, it seems clear that there simply isn’t interest on the part of any of the players who would need to make a restart happen. So, for now at least, rest in peace Dark Matter.