Well, you probably already called it. We sure did. After consistently failing to find an audience or any kind of love among reality TV addicts, Fox has finally pulled the plug on their self-described “social experiment,” Utopia. The news is hardly a surprise, but while many are gleefully warbling “I told you so” across Twitter, few are remembering exactly how much this reality show cost the network.
The entire Utopia production has been nothing but an internal headache for Fox, having gambled a whopping $50 million on the John de Mol show earlier this year. $50 million I repeat! To put that in perspective, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood only cost $4 million and that social experiment took eleven freakin’ years to film!
In case you’re one of the many, many, many people who never glimpsed Utopia, it basically revolved around a group of fifteen strangers -- everyone from angry ex-convicts to belly dancers -- who were stranded in a remote California location in order to build a more perfect society. They laughed, they cried, they baptised one another and got into a huge fight about mayonnaise ("JOSH" was clearly written in cursive across the jar). There was even a doomsday prepper who was bestowed with the hashtag #DoomsdayDiva. What fun.
Eclectic cast aside, Utopia is not an original idea for Fox, having been derived from a similar show that ran in the Netherlands. But while the Dutch enjoyed mild success with their televised social study, Fox always had reservations about how it would translate to US audiences given the struggling market for new reality shows. (Have we reached our saturation point for unscripted programming? Singing competition or otherwise?)
Even before this latest series premiered, critics doubted the utopian dream would ever recuperate its costs and, true to form, with less than 2 million viewers a week, it was an uphill battle to balance the books. Not to say the network didn’t try. Fox was even shilling 24 hour live access to their contestants’ quaint little farm, but with those kind of viewing figures, the $4.95 subscription price would probably have needed to be bumped to $25 just to break even.
Naturally those live-streaming feeds from the Utopia compound will stop later today, while the show's participants, who had committed to spending a year away from their normal lives, will be notified and sent home. Hey Fox, here’s an idea, how about you just don’t tell them it’s all over? Let it play out like Lord of Flies or that Simpsons episode where the family encounters a forgotten tribe of Survivor contestants. We’ll revisit them all again in a few years, just make sure you pull out bizzaro host Dan Piraro -- he’s precious.