Summer hit 'Warehouse 13' draws high ratings

When Sci Fi Channel rebranded itself as Syfy in July, the name change drew some derision.

But the effort to broaden its appeal beyond nerddom is paying dividends in the case of lighthearted summertime adventure show “Warehouse 13,” which has mushroomed from a successful off-season placeholder into a bona-fide hit.

The series, which follows a pair of bickering FBI agents seeking to track down otherworldly artifacts, has become the highest-rated show in Syfy’s history, occupying eight of the top 10 slots on the net’s list of most-watched shows. The numbers get bigger as time passes, with the most recent episode — the Sept. 22 season finale — at the top of the heap.

“Warehouse,” which started out with a healthy cable aud of 4.2 million total viewers in July, finished its 13-episode season with a possible murder, a spy revealed — and 4.4 million viewers. The show’s audience has gotten younger, too, with significantly more viewers in the 35-54 category (43% at the end of the season vs. 37% at the beginning) and new eyeballs comprising 16% of the ratings for the season finale.

The success doesn’t mean that anyone is anxious to see the series jump to a full-season fall slot next year so it can go up against bigger shows. Syfy has upped its order slightly from 12 to 13 episodes and will bring the show back at the same time of year. “Thirteen episodes is plenty,” says showrunner Jack Kenny. “If we had 22, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d just as soon we stake out the summer; it’s turned into this really fertile breeding ground for hit shows.”

Syfy programming head Mark Stern agrees, and hopes the net can expand on its success: “We’re looking for new summer series for next year — for something that would be more along the lines of a more traditional genre piece.”

The per-episode budget is a high (but not outrageous) $2 million, and Syfy’s marketing team helped the show piggyback on the summer’s mammoth PR push for the net’s rebranding.

“I’ve never worked on a show with so much promotion,” Kenny says, which today you really just have to do — there are so many eyeballs and so much product out there.”

Syfy had something to prove, too. With the July 7 rebrand attracting its share of detractors, the net needed to show it knew what it was doing, and “Warehouse” turned out to be a fine example.

As he did when the brand was initially rolled out, Stern contends that the net is changing its image to suit its programming and not the other way around. Stern sees the show’s success as a mandate to explore further. With “Warehouse” and “Eureka” returning, and new skeins “Caprica” and “Stargate: Universe” anchoring the net’s core aud, Stern wants to scout out territory totally new to Syfy while he’s got momentum. “We’re looking at a potential latenight show, a potential single-camera show, possibly animation,” he says. ” I think that on some level, we’re always going to maintain a sense of entertainment and not get too dour.”

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