Sanctuary is a Canadian science fiction-fantasy television series, created by Damian Kindler and funded largely by the Beedie Development Group. The show is an expansion of an eight-webisode series that was released through the Internet in early 2007. Seeing the success of the web series, Syfy decided to buy the broadcast rights to the series and pay to re-stage the series in a season of thirteen episodes.
The show centers on Dr. Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old teratologist (born August 27, 1850), and her team of experts who run the Sanctuary, an organization that seeks out extraordinarily-powerful creatures and people, known as Abnormals, and tries to help and learn from them, while also having to contain the more dangerous ones.
The series premiered on October 3, 2008, in both Canada and the United States, and on October 6 in the United Kingdom. The premiere drew in more than 3 million viewers making it the highest rated original series premiere for Syfy since Eureka debuted in July 2006. The premiere two-parter, "Sanctuary for All", was a combination and rewriting of the first four webisodes and was followed by "Fata Morgana", based on webisodes five through eight.
Amanda Tapping, with all of the original cast from the web series, made the transition to the television series. A second season of 13 episodes aired in 2009–2010, and Sanctuary was renewed for a third season of 20 episodes on December 12, 2009. The second season premiered on Friday, October 9, 2009, in the 10 pm timeslot. In Australia the program debuted on Pay Television's Sci Fi and on free-to-air channel, ABC2, where season one started on March 1, 2010 each Monday at 9:30 pm.
Season two commenced on July 12, 2010 in the same timeslot. Season 3 premiered Friday, October 15, 2010, on Syfy in its original 10 pm timeslot. In January 2011, Sanctuary was renewed for a fourth season, which finished airing on December 30, 2011. On May 21, 2012, Syfy announced that Sanctuary will not be returning for a fifth season and that the show has been cancelled. On October 8, 2012, PPI Releasing announced that it would distribute the series in U.S. syndication, starting fall 2013.
Sanctuary follows the exploits of Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) and her quest to protect various cryptids, legends, and abnormal animals/people with certain extraordinary powers and abilities (what most people would consider "monsters"). She heads the Sanctuary Network, which consists of large facilities known as "Sanctuaries" scattered throughout the world serving as safe havens for these "Abnormals".
She is initially aided in her quest by her reluctant protégé Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne); her intrepid, if somewhat reckless, daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup); the talkative geek and lycanthrope Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), a computer and security expert; and her taciturn, Homo heidelbergensis-like assistant, played by Christopher Heyerdahl (unnamed, but listed as "Bigfoot" in the show's credits).
The series is produced by Stage 3 Media based in Vancouver, British Columbia, founded in 2006. The webisodes were filmed from January 3 to January 31, 2007, at Bridge Studios. Sanctuary is filmed almost entirely using the green screen technique. Unlike many other shows, elaborate sets are not built for the scenes to be filmed; instead, they are created using CGI technology. Production on the television version of Sanctuary began in early 2008, with a reshooting of the pilot episode, "Sanctuary for All". The first season cost an estimated $21 million (CAN), and filmed in Burnaby, British Columbia.
In December 2008, the series was confirmed to have been picked up for a second season of thirteen episodes. The second season began production in the end of March/beginning of April, 2009. Guest stars for the second season include Agam Darshi, who will play con-artist Kate Freelander, former Stargate SG-1 actor Michael Shanks as Jimmy for the ninth episode, entitled "Penance", and former Stargate Atlantis actor Paul McGillion, who will play Wexford, a character he played in the webseries, in the final two episodes.
Sanctuary is the first television series in North America to use the RED camera exclusively. The RED camera system does away with tape and film and records straight to a hard drive allowing the Anthem Visual Effects and the series' post production team immediate access to the day’s footage, and is capable of recording at resolutions up to 4096 horizontal by 2304 vertical pixels, four times the resolution of current day HD. Along with being a primary cast member, Amanda Tapping is also an executive producer on the show, but according to Tapping herself in an interview with The Today Show, she does not get paid extra as an executive producer, mainly because what salary the executive producers would get would go towards paying for the sets, because the series is not backed up by a studio.
Although heavily reliant on virtual sets, a few episodes in the first season, including "Kush" and "Requiem", were filmed on practical sets, including the fuselage of an aircraft. The series also took a different filming style for the Cloverfield-esque "Instinct".
Broadcast and release:
Unlike traditional TV series, the primary distribution channel for Sanctuary was originally the Internet. Episodes were sold directly to viewers on the official website. The web episodes or "webisodes", are about 15–20 minutes in duration and were released bi-weekly. The success of the webisodes led the Syfy Channel to commission a 13-episode season for 2008. The first four webisodes were rewritten and reshot as a two-hour premiere episode, "Sanctuary for All". After the deal with the SciFi channel, the webisodes were moved to the Sci Fi network on Hulu.com.
In its first season on Syfy, the original series, Sanctuary has averaged a 1.9 Household rating; 1,044,000 Adults (ages 18–49); 1,371,000 Adults (ages 25–54) and 2,366,000 total viewers. The pilot episode, "Sanctuary for All" received a Nielsen household rating of 2.2, the highest rated original series premiere from Syfy since the series premiere of Eureka in July 2006. The 2.2 rating represented more than 2.7 million viewers; 1.08 million among the adult 18–49 demographic and 1.4 million among the adult 25–54 demographic. This placed Sanctuary the number one cable program among adults 25–54, and number four among adults 18–49.
The ratings success also boosted the web series to 1.2 million views. In the United Kingdom, both parts placed the series first place on the top ten viewing programmes for ITV4 during the two weeks they aired. The first part was viewed by 565,000, while the second part received a higher viewing figure of 608,000.
Sanctuary has a score of 56 on Metacritic, signifying "mixed or average reviews" based on 7 television reviewers. Tori Ireland Mell of IGN called the series an intriguing story, and a mind-blowing concept, and believes the series from a production standpoint was executed well. Some reviewers have made comparisons between Sanctuary and British science fiction series Torchwood and Primeval, as well as drawing comparisons between Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) and Daniel Jackson from Stargate SG-1. USA Today reviewer Bill Keveney said that Amanda Tapping had reached her "comfort zone," and continued with further positive reaction to the TV series. Rick Bentley from McClatchy Newspapers commented Tapping's role as Dr. Helen Magnus was a way for the actress to make a name for herself outside of Stargate SG-1 as character Samantha Carter.
Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune described the show as "competent if not particularly innovative sci-fi," and said that the series might be of interest to fans of Tapping's earlier works. Mike Hale of The New York Times believed that the series does not have "the narrative force of Battlestar Galactica or the wit and creativity of Eureka," further stating "it's not an embarrassment for the channel, but it doesn't raise the stakes either.
Sanctuary has been nominated for six Constellation Awards. The series has also been nominated for ten Leo Awards and won four of these in 2009.