IndieWire sat down with Shankar at the San Diego Comic-Con before his panel celebrating the show’s rescue, and he was in an understandably great mood. After three seasons on Syfy, the show had been officially canceled as of early May 2018, but it only took a few weeks for Amazon Studios to step in and revive the series for a fourth season.
“It was a really good working relationship on the creative side,” Shankar said of working with Syfy. “I think just the economics of television on basic cable, the fact that they didn’t own the show, that made it very tough. The deal that had created ‘The Expanse’ initially on Syfy, that’s from six years ago. It was an entirely different time in the business, and I think the economics shifted so much. It just became impossible for them to sustain it.”
As Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke told critics at the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday, the reason Amazon rescued “The Expanse” is because “Amazon is a company obsessed with its customers, and our customers are obsessed with this show, and they let us know that.”
Shankar couldn’t say if Amazon was investing more in “The Expanse” than it got from Syfy. “What they’re investing in the show is they’re making more of them, and that’s a fantastic thing — because we had fans at Amazon who loved the show,” he said. “Our fans clearly go all the way up to Jeff Bezos himself. So they’re buying ‘The Expanse.’ And we’re going to give them ‘The Expanse.'”
There are many reasons why a streaming service is the right fit for the sci-fi drama set in the 23rd century across various locations throughout the solar system, Shankar said.
“There are too many factors against it, because if you talk about sci-fi in general, I think immediately you’re segmenting your audience. If your business is the broadest reach to people, to sell ads, that’s a tough market to cut into with a show like this because a hard science-fiction show is a slice of a slice. Because even fans of sci-fi get lumped into superhero shows and all that other stuff. They all think that’s science-fiction. But hard science-fiction of this nature, like ‘2001’ on the feature side, where physics and science play a part of this thing in a real way, again, that’s another barrier. It’s not a fantasy show. It’s not ‘The X-Files.’ It’s not as maybe necessarily easily digestible.”
However, Shankar believes the show’s complexity was ultimately one of its strengths.
“It’s informed by economics and resource constraints. We don’t live in those discussions, but those discussions fuel what’s going on and you have to understand it in those terms,” he said. “A professor at John Hopkins said, ‘The best show about geopolitics on television right now is “The Expanse.”‘ I was like, ‘That’s awesome!’ Again, it’s couched in an epic drama. It’s got wonderful, interesting characters. But it is about bigger ideas and bigger notions. I like that they’re in the show. That’s a harder thing to sell, I think, in this day and age on a basic cable situation.”
Shankar didn’t feel that things would change noticeably from Season 3 to Season 4, with one big exception. “I will tell you what you will notice,” he said. “The look of the show is going to pop because one of the beautiful things about Amazon is now we can make it and stream it in 4K and HDR. We were made for HDR, and so I think that if you’re watching it a few years from now on your awesome 4K/HDR set, you’ll notice the difference.”
When asked what excited him most about science-fiction on television today, Shankar said, “The thing that I love the most is it doesn’t feel like it’s in a ghetto anymore.”
As an example, he mentioned Netflix’s “Altered Carbon” (just recently renewed for a second season starring Anthony Mackie): “It’s like, “Yes!” If [Netflix] wants to launch a show like that, it’s not like suddenly they’re marketing it to a small, fraction of their audience. They’re marketing to everybody, and everybody says, ‘Wow. That looks pretty cool. I should go check that out.'”
“That’s the big difference from 20 years ago. You put a science-fiction show on then, you’re treated differently. I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”