Cleo producer R.J. Stewart answered my questions!
After his appearance at the recent Xena convention in Burbank, Cleo exec. producer R.J. Stewart was asked if he'd be willing to answer fan questions about his work at the Xena Online Community (a message board.) Naturally, it's primarily going to be Xena-related questions, but it's open to his entire body of work. Details and guidelines are in the linked thread.

If anyone doesn't want to take the trouble to register for Yuku (and since it's a commercial hosting site, I can make no promises as to how much or little they might spam you once you register, although the site admins are fans and certainly would never do that) feel free to ask any questions here and I'll pass them along. Smile
August  - Jack's Pack Fan # 1, Keeper of the List, 3-Time Speaker of the JoAT Fan Quote of the Week, and the only person ever to have Back 2 Back Jack and Cleo fan quotes !
[COLOR="Navy"]Thanks to the hard work and people skills of the admins of the Xena Online Community, a connection was made with R.J. Stewart, and his answers have been posted at the link above.

As you might expect, I was the only person to ask him about Cleo, and he sort of split apart my larger question to that he could answer individual parts. Here it is!

Me: Mr. Stewart, thank you so much for your willingness to reach out to your fans this way!

Cleopatra 2525 may not have broken any Nielsen records, but it's still loved and admired by genre buffs for its revisionist take on traditional scifi themes, and the elaborate backstory that we really began to see unfold in the 2nd season. How much of that had you planned out from the beginning? (like Creegan being a thaw, his creation of the Baileys as environmental cleanup drones, his past with Voice and Hel's father, the apocalyptic massing of the Baileys in the finale, etc.?)

R.J.: Rob really had that back story worked out very well. However, some of the things you just mentioned developed as we went along.

Me: ....and how much was developed later by Carl Ellsworth and Chris Black (as I gather you went back to focusing primarily on Xena at some point?)

R.J.: Chris and Carl were pretty much writing the whole show there at the end. Rob was always involved creatively. A funny story - Carl Ellsworth has gone on to write features (Red Eye, Disturbia) and he's a smokin' hot feature writer right now. But without a doubt, the thing he's most proud of is Cleopatra 2525. He can remember every ep like he saw it yesterday (and maybe he did.)

Me: And what might we have seen in a third season?

R.J. : Brilliance. :bounce:

And then I asked him some questions about Xena ratings and audience feedback, but these would apply to Cleo as well.

Me: As Exec. Producer ..... what sort of viewership data did you have access to, beyond the basic ratings - for example, results from focus groups, surveys, feedback via cards and letters, message board input, etc. - how closely did Studios USA follow and analyze this? And what did you learn? Were there 5-6 million people watching every episode every week, or 25-30 million people watching every few weeks, 5-6 million people at a time? Were most adults? Children? High school and college students? And how much credence did you - and Studios USA - give to the various types of viewer feedback?

R.J.: I was very disciplined in the sense I never paid attention to the details. I only cared about the bottom line. Was Universal/Tribune/USA happy with the numbers? Everything else was sound and fury signifying nothing.

Me: Along those same lines, did Studios USA ever indicate to you any cause-and-effect data related to ratings? For example, was the steady rise in ratings for the first year and a half due to anything thematic, or was it just more and more people discovering the show? And can anyone legitimately attribute the subsequent gradual decline in ratings to, say, too much comedy, not enough comedy, ......the 25-year jump, particular writers or directors, particular guest stars ... etc. Or were the rising and falling ratings due to external factors more than what episodes people happened to like?

R.J.: Honestly, I haven't a clue. You must understand that in a business as tough as ours, if you get good enough ratings to get a next season, you've done your job.

Me: As a writer, how do you measure the success of your work, especially on a show.... where you created much of it, and were able to revisit and develop the same characters and themes repeatedly? If you loved a script that you wrote and felt very proud of it, would you care whether 4 million people watched it, or 7 million, or 50 million? Would you change your view of it if, say, hundreds of viewers didn't like it? Or if hundreds didn't like it, but millions watched anyway? Is there ever a time that external factors contribute to your own assessment of the merit of your own work?

R.J.: With Xena I gauged the success on how I answered the following three questions 1. Did I like it? 2. Did the people I was working with and the people who were paying me like it? 3. Did the ratings and other forms of feedback suggest it was well received by the audience? [/COLOR]
August  - Jack's Pack Fan # 1, Keeper of the List, 3-Time Speaker of the JoAT Fan Quote of the Week, and the only person ever to have Back 2 Back Jack and Cleo fan quotes !

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