Whoosh! Issue 57 - June 2001

By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2337 words

Author's notes:

What follows are my opening remarks for the WHOOSH! panel at the Pasadena 2001 convention, along with some thoughts I had about the panel at the end.

Opening Statement (01-24)
Afterthoughts (25-32)


Opening Statement

The seven XENA dwarfs -- Fiver, Buckeye, Queeny, Bossy, Smurfette, Clueless, and Thirsty

The lambs lined up for possible slaughter: (left to right)
Philip Tracy, Beth Gaynor, deb7, Kym Taborn, Katherine Fugate, Bret Ryan Rudnick, Jeff Lundrigan
(photo by Carolyn Bremer)

[01] You do all realise, I hope, that Tim Omundson is on stage OUT THERE, not here, and that some celebs are signing autographs OUT THERE, not here! (Pause) Wow, then you people must be here to see the panel!

[02] First of all I'd like to say thanks to Kym for letting me keep this chair warm until someone important shows up, but certainly thanks to Creation Entertainment for making this room available and giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject.

[03] When we talk about things going "right" or "wrong" with a show we're making very subjective judgements. As regards episodes, every individual has his or her own likes and dislikes. Some people prefer drama, some prefer comedy. Some people like more Xena some like more Gabrielle. Some people like Joxer, some dislike Joxer. Some people focus on subtext, some on simple, everyday friendship and relationship issues. Some people dig Amazons (I wonder who that could be). So, for my contribution to the panel, I wanted to bring up things of a more quantitative measure (sorry, it's the rocket scientist in me).

[04] I've reviewed ratings numbers for Xena over the seasons (and in the immortal words of David Letterman, if these weren't real numbers, could I do this?). These statistics tell an interesting story.

The 'magic eye' picture is a mermaid

A ratings chart! Comparing all airings all seasons
Click here to actually see what it looks like

[05] It's difficult to pick out any real trends until Season Three. Season One had the series just getting underway. Season Two was influenced by national publicity and the tragedy of Lucy's accident while filming a bit for the Jay Leno show. By the end of Season Three we can see some trends that carry through right up to today.

[06] Season One began with strong ratings and benefited from following Hercules, an established show that was doing very well for a syndicated programme. Starting with over 4 million viewers, by the fourth episode (CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)) people found the show and it jumped by about 750,000 more viewers and kept them for several months.

[07] After rising sharply and gradually declining, Xena ended its first season about where it began as far as total number of people watching. This is significant, however, when one considers that those "end" numbers for the first season were achieved with summer repeat episodes.

[08] When Season Two began, Xena gained about a million viewers from where it left off at the end of summer, Season One. Season Two was Xena's most phenomenal year, ratings-wise. It began strong with nearly five million viewers. It achieved dizzying highs of well over 7 million viewers with the episodes THE QUEST (37/213) and A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214) (*cough* Amazons). This was aided with the publicity from Lucy's injury. After those two episodes, ratings tailed off gradually, spiking a little for first-run episodes, until by the end of the summer repeats of Season Two, viewership was only slightly less than when the season began.

[09] Season Three also started with promise. Season Three began with almost a full ratings point (900,000 viewers) more than Season Two. After a brief dip early in the season, ratings climbed gradually higher with the broadcast of THE DELIVERER (50/304), GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305), THE DEBTs (52-53/306-307), KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308), and WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP (55/309). Then there was a steep dip, and this is also significant in my opinion because this was a "repeat" segment -- i.e., in between new episodes. We are now able to see a trend pretty clearly by this time. The gap is in the ratings between first-run episodes and repeat episodes. Xena has found a regular audience as it had in the previous season, but now the numbers are starting to even out.

[10] Ratings were pretty flat for the next block of Season Three episodes, which included THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313). Again, after the block of first-run episodes was over we dipped during the repeat segment. Fewer people came back for the last block of Season Three first-runs, but there was a ratings spike upward for SACRIFICE I and II (67-68/321-322), largely on the strength of guest stars Hudson Leick and Kevin Smith (and others). But during the summer, viewership declined sharply, in contrast to Seasons 1 and 2 where the summer repeat period was much more flat.

Remarkably similar to stock option trends

Another ratings chart! This one comparing first run episodes by season
Click here to actually see what it looks like

[11] By the end of Season Three, a third of the audience was gone. Season Four was the first season to start with fewer viewers than the previous season, almost a million and a half fewer.

[12] The Season Four pattern was similar to Season Three. The core audience showed up for the first-run episodes but the trend was still downward. Season Four started with an audience of well over 4 million and ended with an audience of just over 2.5 million for the summer repeats.

[13] The news gets worse for Season Five. Over three and a half million people tuned in to see FALLEN ANGEL (91/501), but by the end of summer, that number was down to less than 2.5 million.

[14] Things improve a little for Season Six so far. Although Season Six began a full ratings point less than Season Five, so far the ratings patter has been closer to the pattern followed by Season One. There is a smaller loss in viewers during the repeat segments. Season Six is coming close to matching Season Five in terms of average numbers for an entire season.

[15] So from a numbers point of view, what episodes show best and what episodes don't do as well?

[16] Beginning in Season Three but certainly in Seasons 4, 5, and 6, we see that dramas and Xena/Gabrielle "relationship" episodes do better than comedies. LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407), A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403), CRUSADER (76/408), and BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415) were top rated episodes in Season 4. Lowest rated in that season were KEY TO THE KINGDOM (78/410) and THE PLAY'S THE THING (85/417).

[17] For Season 5, top ratings go to FALLEN ANGEL (91/501), SEEDS OF FAITH (99/509), and MOTHERHOOD (122/522). Bringing up the rear are LYRE LYRE HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510) and LIFEBLOOD (106/516).

[18] Thus far in Season Six, the winners are LEGACY (117/605), THE GOD YOU KNOW (124/612), and WHO'S GURKHAN (116/604). At the bottom, though the gap is not as big as in previous seasons, are HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS (114/602) and YOU ARE THERE (125/613). Season Six is very encouraging, ratings-wise, because even during the repeat segments the show is holding its own with the numbers. It is, trendwise, an improvement over Season Five.

[19] Generally speaking, what do the numbers have to say about the types of shows people like best?

[20] It should come as no surprise that the dramatic episodes that show Xena and Gabrielle working together, or at least interacting together, are the strongest. ** The relationship is the heart of the show. **

Why, Gabrielle, you don't know what a noogie is?  Allow me to demonstrate!

Relationship? What relationship?

[21] Other factors that usually don't hurt are Amazons and Hudson Leick. Amazon episodes and Callisto episodes traditionally do well. The one exception to the Amazon rule is LIFEBLOOD (106/516), but that was part of that whole Season Five/Ewok Amazon thing they had going there. Even the producers have apologised for that one, and we did get to see clips of a pilot that was never aired.

[22] One final note from me, I'll inject my own "subjective" opinion as to what I think was a thing that definitely went right with the series and that is production value.

[23] The thing I think is really right about Xena is what they inherited from the Hercules telefeatures, that is, they shoot every episode as if it were a short film. They use multiple units, first and second, and they have all the people one would typically find performing functions on a feature film set, the difference being in New Zealand they do more work with fewer people. The look and feel of the show, in terms of cinematography and how they shoot it, is something I think they definitely got right.

[24] Thanks for not throwing things, I'll hand this over to Katherine.


A graphics editor gets his comeuppance.. but he likes it!

Gabrielle has some afterthoughts of her own in DREAMWORKER

[25] It was a privilege and an honour to be a part of the WHOOSH! panel at the Pasadena convention. Frankly, the other panelists were probably "better fans" than me, in that they spoke with a passion for the characters of Xena and Gabrielle that was deeper than mine. While I appreciate those characters, and while I understand they are the heart of the show, I personally reserve equal passion for some of the other characters as well. Was Ares the redeemable character I thought he might be from time to time? Where's Horace? Could Aphrodite rise to rule what was left of the Olympians? Whatever happened to Derk (from the third season HERC episode MERCENARY, one of the greatest HERC eps ever made)? Did Iolaus2 and his mermaid bride live happily ever after? How exactly did Callisto come to lead an army after the tragedy of her village and death of her family, and what of her sister? How are things in Nebula's kingdom? What's Sisyphus up to? Does anyone need a graphics editor to do detailed research on Amazon mating rituals? There are so many unanswered questions.

[25a]Over time, and perhaps due to the unusual role I've played for WHOOSH!, I've also developed a deep respect and appreciation for the technical side of the show, the writers, directors, and production staff. Having seen all phases of how an episode gets created, from story idea to script to set/costume preparation to shooting to post production, it is amazing just how much work gets done in such a relatively small amount of time, and how high quality that work is.

[26] One could not ask for a better group of panelists to sit with. Jeff Lundrigan has established his credentials as a credible reviewer, and I have found his observations to be insightful and entertaining. Katherine Fugate simply overwhelmed me, she has a lifeforce and talent that is strong and beautiful. Deb7 reminds me of the Amazon Queen who would be great not because she wanted to be Queen, but because if the job were thrust upon her shoulders, she'd bear the burden with dignity and competence. Beth Gaynor is also a remarkable person in general, and she's got more wit and mental agility than Fort Knox has gold. Phil Tracy? You simply **have** to admire a guy who came onto Xena in the fifth season and not only stuck around but became passionate about the show. Kym Taborn, who moderated it all, is the hardworking and dedicated fan that we could all aspire to be yet never reach that lofty goal because we just don't have the same mojo she has. And finally, the audience itself, who stuck around, listened to us, and participated themselves in a discussion rather than go out there and mix and mingle or see what was on offer at the big convention stage. It was one of the very few moments in my Xena/Hercules career where I took note that I was actually proud to be a fan.

[27] Beth has done a great redux on the event in general, to which I can't add much. I will reiterate a couple of points that came up during the question-and-response part of the panel discussion.

[28] No matter what some fans might think, all of those who produce the show, and especially Rob Tapert, have a deep respect and appreciation for the fans and what they think. That doesn't mean they will always agree, but it also doesn't mean that fans wishes or thoughts are disregarded either. Sometimes the producers will want to tell a specific story and that is that. Once in awhile it might seem to some fans that they are being slapped in the face but that is certainly not the intention. Sometimes fans are listened to very specifically and stories will reflect that too.

[29] Pacific Renaissance has no control over what times episodes air. That is a station decision completely. As the show did better in ratings, it got better time slots. As it did worse, it got lousier time slots. That is completely out of Renaissance's jurisdiction.

[30] Studios USA rarely interfered with what Renaissance wanted to do. I can count on one hand the major incidents where the studio told Renaissance "You can't do that". One of them was the original story to FINS, FEMMES, and GEMS (64/318). It was originally the plan to have Gabrielle become infatuated with Xena, not with herself. Blame the studio for that change, not Renaissance.

[31] Cancellation of the series was entirely a studio decision. The contracts were such that a seventh season could have been made had the studio wished to pay for it. They didn't.

[32] Regardless of the episodes you may have liked more and those you may have liked less, the people who made them put equal effort into every single one. Everything that Pac Ren did was done with passion. If the same could be said of us, we'd have it made.


Too numerous to list


Bret Ryan Rudnick with a friend Bret Ryan Rudnick
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"

When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a newsreader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great."
HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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