In the content space race currently being fought out in the entertainment industry, shows getting picked up by one platform after being dumped by another is becoming a more frequent phenomenon.
Some moves feel more like a marriage of convenience, while others feel like a more obvious fit.
Take “The Expanse” moving to Amazon Prime Video after three seasons on Syfy, for instance. Season 4 of the high-concept space series dropped Thursday on the streamer, and most involved in the story of how “The Expanse” was rescued agree that Amazon was a better fit for the galactic caper all along.
Much has been written of the wild story of how “The Expanse” fell into Amazon’s lap. To recap, fans paid for a plane to fly over the Amazon Studios offices with a #SaveTheExpanse banner; “Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin (among others) sent a message to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos asking him to save the show; and real-life U.S. astronauts who are fans of the show took the less-than small step of sharing their support on social media. All this culminated in Bezos announcing the pickup himself during a speech at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles in 2018, with the show’s creatives, including showrunner Naren Shankar, present in the room.
Taking Variety inside how the deal went down, Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, co-CEOs of Alcon Entertainment which produces “The Expanse,” say it was precisely two weeks to the day between the moment Syfy decided not to exercise its option for fourth season, and the moment Bezos said the words, “I just got word that ‘The Expanse’ is saved.”
“It happened at lightning speed,” says Kosove. “It was a fairly seamless situation, they already had some rights to the show, they were big fans, everyone had written about how Jeff Bezos enjoys it personally. It was an uncomplicated process.”
When Alcon and Syfy struck a deal for “The Expanse” back in 2013, it was for the linear rights only, meaning that Alcon was later able to sell some of the international distribution rights to Amazon. So when the Alcon chiefs came knocking on Amazon’s door, “the whole thing just made sense,” says Kosove.
“Amazon was able to re-purchase all the rights to the show globally,” he continues. “Alcon continues to produce and finance the show, but it is now under one umbrella at Amazon, and now the show is being marketed and pushed out by Amazon in a way that it has reached a much broader audience.”
That marketing push has been the biggest difference that the duo have noticed since the move to Amazon. “The Expanse” received a “very limited” amount of marketing support while at Syfy, says Johnson, meaning the show built its passionate fanbase on word of mouth. Now, with Season 4 being released in more than 200 countries, the hope is that the number of people watching the show and the fan base will “grow exponentially.”
When asked to identify why the relationship with Syfy eventually broke down, Kosove and Johnson say the issue was that the deal was skewed too heavily on Alcon’s favor. “The Expanse” was a solid performer by Syfy’s ratings standards (Season 3 averaged a 0.18 Live+Same Day rating and 600,000 total viewers, roughly the same as the network’s current top show “The Magicians”), but there came a point after three seasons where the network was struggling to reconcile the large budget required to produce the series with the fact it only had the linear rights.
As for the part that Bezos played in the decision, Kosove and Johnson say that while he was never present himself in the negotiation room (“Jeff isn’t exactly in the weeds of these kinds of negotiations,” notes Kosove), there is still no denying the importance of his role in reviving the series based on the books by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
“You can’t discount Jeff Bezos himself who loved these books when they first came out — the Kindle introduction screen would have ‘Leviathan Wakes’ because it was a huge eBook for Amazon — but the thing I loved the most though was when we were at that crazy dinner at the space conference when we had been doing a panel on the science of ‘The Expanse’ and Jeff Bezos was there to be honored, he announces Amazon has saved ‘The Expanse’ and we all go crazy,” recalls Shankar.
Shankar and the Alcon duo point to several reasons why “The Expanse” has “finally found the home and the format it was intended to be watched in,” per Johnson. One is that the show was designed with an eye for streaming in the first place, according to Shankar.
The scale of the show’s galactic storylines and the “big thematic swings,” as Shankar describes it, makes it more suited to a streaming platform such as Amazon, which is increasingly moving into the high-concept genre landscape, with such shows as “Lord of the Rings” and “Wheel of Time” in the pipeline.
“This kind of show is hard to pull off on basic cable because the medium itself doesn’t lend itself to the viewing experience: There’s commercial breaks, you don’t watch it in the same quality. So for us, we had always thought of the show as a streaming show,” Shankar says. “So, when we went from Syfy to Amazon, it was like we died and went to heaven.”
In terms of where the Rocinante and its crew will voyage next, Shankar says Season 4 will see the rival planets of Earth, Mars and the Belt all lay claim to an abundant supply of lithium discovered on a new planet, leaning more heavily into the theme of colonization than ever before.
“It’s like the Europeans coming to the New World or Europeans coming to Australia — what we’re talking about is a gold rush. Suddenly there are inhabitable worlds that are within reach of humanity; the species is not confined to the solar system anymore,” Shankar says. “This a story about resource constraints and economics, cycles of history and warfare and tribalism. It has a giant canvas, and we’re in the movement that brings these colonization issues to the forefront.”
As “The Expanse” sets off on its fourth season journey on Amazon, Kosove, Johnson and Shankar are already looking well beyond this one season.
Abraham and Franck wrote nine novels in “The Expanse” series, and so far each season of the show has stuck pretty closely to the books. When pressed on how many seasons the show might run for, Johnson simply says “You do the math.”
“We obviously don’t unilaterally control how long the series will go on for, but it would be very exciting to have it on Amazon until Season 9,” he continues. “We’re filming Season 5 right now, and sometimes shows reach their zenith around this point in their history, but we feel like we’re just getting going.”