The Expanse Is The Great Space Epic We Asked For, But Where Are The Viewers?

By | February 23, 2017

Syfy’s The Expanse returned this month for its second season and has been getting rave reviews from the sci-fi community so far (it currently holds a 92 percent Fresh Rating at Rotten Tomatoes). Despite the good buzz, the show hasn’t seemed to have found much of an audience, at least as far as the linear viewing numbers indicate.

Its Season 2 debut pulled a 0.25 rating based on the Live + Same Day viewing with 700,000 total viewers, which are decent numbers for a Syfy entry. It then dropped to a 0.18 rating in its second week and a 0.14 score last week. [Udate 3/3/17: Ratings have trended up the past two weeks, so perhaps word is getting out. Continue to spread the news about the show!]

Based on the hype, you might expect this one to be heading toward the viewership levels seen by The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, but it is actually nowhere near that and quite low for a cable series (though not too far below Syfy’s average for scripted series). I haven’t seen the delayed viewing numbers for it yet, and I am assuming that a fair number of people watch the show online (those numbers are not regularly reported). I am guessing its viewership is actually between one and two million per episode across all platforms. I am sure that Syfy would much prefer to see higher linear viewing because that drives the advertising. (Vote in the poll below whether you are watching the show and how.)

So the question is: Why aren’t more people watching ?

Just What Is ‘The Expanse’?

This series is based on the novels by James S.A. Corey (beginning with Leviathan Wakes) that take place several hundred years in the future when humans have started to colonize the solar system, with the major political powers represented by Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Tensions are high among all three, and as the story begins, a very tenuous peace is on the verge of breaking down.

The first season intertwines two main storylines, the first of which involves a small group of survivors on the run after the ice freighter Canterbury is destroyed. They believe that Mars was responsible for the attack and they eventually establish a tenuous alliance with the rebellious OPA (Outer Planets Alliance). The second storyline involves a detective from the asteroid Ceres who is investigating the case of a missing girl, which leads to a conspiracy that could threaten all human life in the system.

Those storylines, which are from the first book in the series, have carried the show through its first season and into its second. Elements and characters from the second book have already been introduced, including a United Nations representative investigating the current situation and a Martian marine who will find herself caught up in the ongoing conflict.

Who’s Behind The Series?

'The Expanse' [Credit: NBC Universal TV]

The show was developed for television by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, who wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for Children of Menas well as the script for the first Iron Man movie. James S.A. Corey is the name used for authors Danial Abraham and Ty Franck, the former of whom has previously collaborated with George R.R. Martin. So, if you note some similarities between Game of Thrones and The Expanse(especially noticeable in the structure of the books), that explains why.

Leading up the cast is Thomas Jane (The PunisherThe Mist) as grizzled detective Miller as well as Steven Straight (Sky High) as the spirited James Holden. However, this is very much an ensemble series, with excellent performances from Dominique Tipper, Chad Coleman, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams and more.

Why You Should Be Watching The Show

'The Expanse' [Credit: NBC Universal TV]

Because it rocks! This series delivers the epic space series  fans have been clamoring for since Battlestar: Galactica and the last entry in the Stargate franchise went off the air several years ago. The Expanse is frequently referred to as Game of Thrones in space, which is a somewhat fair comparison. It has the politics and intriguing characters, though not quite as complex of a story or as big of a cast, making it easier to follow.

The cast of the show is superb and works quite well together, with the crusading Holden providing the right balance to the morally borderline Miller while Dominique Tipper and Shohreh Aghdashloo provide the strong female characters to counterbalance the machismo (we haven’t seen much of Frankie Adams yet, but she will be kicking butt soon enough). Plus, The Expanse has ironed out some of the freshman kinks it had in its first season as it continues to get stronger with each episode. The special effects are some of the best we have seen on television, often giving the show a cinematic feel.

This series delivers on all levels, giving us the sci-fi space epic that has been missing amidst the many genre entries currently on television that too often deliver superheroes, cop shows with a twist, and/or paranormal/supernatural dramas. Moreover, The Expanse has plenty of source material to draw from — there are currently six entries in the book series with at least three more on the way.

So, Why Aren’t People Watching?

I don’t know, and perhaps more are watching than the linear ratings suggest. The numbers I have seen are based on the old school Nielsen sampling for viewing of the live broadcast. Sci-fi fans tend to be more technically savy and are more likely to be watching the show online; unfortunately, Syfy does not regularly share those numbers (cast your vote below on how you watch the show).

Still, from what I understand, the networks are not generating nearly as much advertising revenue from online viewing, so that might not be enough to keep the show alive. Syfy does have international financing in place that helps cover the costs because this is quite an expense series to produce, but I am sure that the network would like to see better live viewing numbers in order to drive more advertising revenue to the show.

What Can You Do?

'The Expanse' [Credit: NBC Universal TV]

For one, watch the show. Of course, if you are not a Nielsen family, that won’t help the ratings. If you watch online, that will be counted by Syfy. Also, you need to spread the word about the show. Be active on the social networks — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. — and let others know to start watching, especially since Syfy is not doing much in the way of promotion. The first season is available on Amazon and is included with Prime membership. New viewers can catch up pretty quickly and a season pass for the second year can be as little as $20.

If word continues to spread about the show, that could draw a lot more viewers. AMC’s Breaking Bad had pretty modest ratings in its first two seasons, but the hype continued to attract more viewers and it eventually became a huge hit for the network. The same could happen with The Expanse, but people need to get active to let others know what they are missing.

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