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Lost in ‘Scape
by Scott Thomas

From Non-Sport Update
Reprinted with permission

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For four years, Farscape has been more than merely a clever science fiction space adventure. The weekly series brought prestige to two companies elbowing for greater exposure in their respective industries.

            By 1998, the Sci-Fi Channel cable television outlet had emerged from an internal corporate transformation. Its new focus centered on airing more first-run programming produced specifically for the network. Sci-Fi’s reliance on classic shows such as The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Dark Shadows had been jettisoned for the present-day special effects laden Babylon 5, LEXX and Stargate SG-1. Although vintage television fare comprised a share of its schedule, shows such as Farscape branded Sci-Fi as a viable participant in the prime time cable TV arena.

            For Rittenhouse Archives, a similar situation existed. The trading card firm, organized by former Fleer/Skybox executive Steve Charendoff, specialized in science fiction subjects from its formation. However, the non-sport business had been shaking off the effects of overproduction and other market damaging decisions since the mid-1990s.  Rittenhouse’s survival as a manufacturer had hardly been assured.

            As with the Sci-Fi Channel, Rittenhouse looked toward classic television. Their first project, the 1999 Twilight Zone, proved a triumph in current card making technology. The black and white imagery the company published became a unique attribute in the hobby.

A New Classic

            Farscape debuted on Sci-Fi in March 1999. Recalled Charendoff, “We took a chance originally with the license just a few months into the show. Among the new TV shows, you couldn’t have found something that was better. We hit on an A property at that time.”

            A six-card preview later that year foreshadowed an ambitious Farscape Season 1 collection. Four chase card levels, six different costume cards and five actor autographs, had enhanced the 72-card base set. “My feeling was we would have been satisfied with five to six thousand boxes of the first series,” Charendoff said. We sold out 8,000 boxes.  That product put us in a new position in terms of our profile as a manufacturer of entertainment cards.”

            The Philadelphia-area firm went on to release Farscape’s next two seasons plus Farscape In Motion, a 6,000-box print run that included a six-card Sound In Motion chase level. The company also marketed limited addition supplemental collectibles. Beginning with Season 2, Rittenhouse made available more exotic, if pricey, memorabilia such as trading card progressive proofs and uncut 72-base card set sheets.

            If Farscape has proven a boon to Rittenhouse Archives’ entrenchment in non-sports, Sci-Fi concurrently attained critical praise within the entertainment media. ’Scape fanatics cheered last spring when network honchos foresaw an additional two-season future in the adventures of John Crichton. The rarefied air of cable TV mastery rapidly vanished into the chilling vacuum of space the following September. Lead actor Ben Browder and executive producers David Kemper and Richard Manning announced in Sci-Fi’s Farscape chat room that the series would not return for a fifth year. In the chat session, Kemper wrote to stunned users, “We are all hugely sad.  I am shaking as I write this. Being just the people who make the show and not the corporate entities that fund it, we are as helpless as anyone.”


Escalating production costs—published reports cited a $4.5 million figure per episode—and disappointing viewer ratings during the show’s rerun cycle ultimately grounded Farscape. According to Sci-Fi’s president Bonnie Hammer, Farscape’s serialized story lines could not capture new or casual viewers. Said Hammer in an interview by TV Guide Online in January, “It was basically an invitation not to tune in if you weren’t totally familiar with the show. It was brilliant if you got it, but it took a little too much work.”

            For those loyalists who “got it,” bitter disappointment followed the cancellation notice. Fans soon realized John Crichton’s search for his true place in the universe would not be satisfactorily played out. Cliffhangers at the end of each season generated positive speculation. Farscape’s 22nd and last telecast, slotted for March 21, continues the practice. Although the Jim Henson Co., Farscape’s home studio, has made press statements that plans for a TV movie are being investigated, as of this writing nothing has been firmly established.

            Charendoff disclosed his company’s marketing approach has been altered. The base set configuration for Season 4, however, has not changed. As with previous Farscape base collections, three cards will depict and describe each episode.  Rittenhouse plans to ship the product within days of the final telecast.

Space Chase

            Virginia Hey (Zhaan), an accomplished illustrator, is contributing nine character portrait cards that comprise one of four chase levels. Each pencil drawing, unlike the company’s SketchFEX cards from Season 3, will be reproduced rather than individual hand-drawings. From this series, Charendoff said the actress would sign 100 each of the nine different ArtFEX character cards.

            Other chase set titles are reappearing from previous issues. Producer Kemper selected and wrote Behind The Scenes; Quotable Farscape depicts memorable fourth season scenes with notable dialog. Discovery of single cards from either chase group will carry a one in five pack insertion rate. The final chase series, Farscape Gallery, an issue of celluloid frames housed in a cardboard window, will be scarcer with odds to be determined.

            Charendoff mentioned feedback received from hobbyists and Farscape devotees indicated a desire for increased numbers of different costume cards.  Season 3 originally had no fabric cards in the set’s product hierarchy. In the final release, costume cards were added, although Rittenhouse guaranteed an autograph and SketchFEX card in every unopened box.

Vessel Vestige

            “Coming into the Season 4 set, we continued to feel the need to go more heavily into the costume card area,” Charendoff said. “Now there will be one costume card and two autographs in every box. We’ve added a piece of Moya’s interior (to the costume card set). It’s not really a costume, it is the material used on the show to make Moya -- more of a relic.”

            In January, the company initially announced four autograph signers to be included in the new product. David Franklin (as Capt. Braca), Raelee Hill (Sikozv), Melissa Jaffer (Noranti) and Rebecca Rigg (Cmndt. Mele-On Grayza) were the first confirmed participants. Charendoff’s final goal of 12 autographers would result in the largest roster of Farscape signers for one release since the property was acquired in 1999. Also this spring, Rittenhouse will market a set of four bobblehead dolls portraying Crichton, Chiana, Scorpius and Zhaan. One thousand of each figurine will be manufactured.

            The prospect of Farscape disappearing into a wormhole populated with forgotten sci-fi television programs seems unlikely at this stage. What is certain in today’s memorabilia marketplace is that nothing is truly lost in space when a corporate entity owns a product license. Indeed, with Rittenhouse, Xena Warrior Princess trading cards continue to draw fan and collector interest.

            “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Farscape,” Charendoff commented. “The Henson Company is in the process of being spun-off from its German parent. There’s been a lot of flux with this property. I’m most curious in seeing the ratings for these last 11 episodes.”