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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

because Syfy wasn’t kidding when they said they don’t like sci fi

It was exactly a year ago that the Sci Fi Channel announced that it would be changing its name to Syfy. And much geek angst ensued. Did this mean the network — a haven for nerds even if it was even then falling down on its apparent stated mission to, you know, present science fiction on a regular basis — would be moving away from, you know, presenting science fiction on a regular basis?

This week we learned that the answer to this is an emphatic Yes:

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) — A year after the Sci-Fi Channel replaced its name with the more vague and therefore less limiting “Syfy,” the network is also broadening its pitch to advertisers.

During its upfront presentation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York tonight, the NBC Universal cable channel will tout a slate of programs less bound to the niche of years past, announcing its first night of reality programming and other forays into science non-fiction content, as well as its growing slate of scripted sci-fi dramas and fantasies like “Warehouse 13,” “Eureka” and “Battlestar Galactica” spinoff “Caprica.”

“Less bound to the niche”? Frak that. Why do we need a science fiction channel not bound to the niche?

“Mary Knows Best,” for example, will chronicle radio host, mother of three and “psychic intuitive” Mary Occhino in a humorous docu-soap format, particularly as her children — a skeptic, a paranormal investigator and a reluctant psychic — couldn’t have inherited her abilities more differently.

“Paranormal Investigators” will follow in the vein of Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” by profiling outstanding cases of supernatural activity, while “Beast Legends” will put a documentary spin on some of the most notorious creatures and myths.

Syfy is also entering the reality competition genre with “Ghost Hunters Academy,” pitting aspiring spirit chasers against each other in weekly elimination challenges — a “Project Runway” for the haunted-house set.

It’s end-of-empire bread-and-circuses meets anti-intellectual paranormal religulousness! Hoorah!

Frak this.

This has been your WTF Thought for the Day.

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  • funWithHeadlines

    Bah! These idiots only know the profit motive without the sense to actually create profit:

    Bravo: Started out with the arts, head swiveled as they gawked at reality TV dollars, started to become the reality TV channel. What’s bravo about that?

    AMC: Started out showing, you know, American Movie Classics, head swiveled as they gawked at episodic TV dollars, started to become the Breaking Bad channel. What’s Movie about that?

    MTV: Started out as, you know, Music Television, head swiveled as they gawked at braindead versions of reality TV, started to become the, uh, whatever the heck they are but definitely nothing to do with music.

    SciFi: Started out … oh you get the idea.

    I long ago, and I mean when I was a kid, thought that there should be a channel for every show. Want to watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island? Tune to the Gilligan Island channel. The Web is bringing that reality to us. Television is besotted with broadcast riches, and every channel races to the cultural bottom trying to soak up as much money as they can siphon off before they get bought out and split up the bonus money.

    They should stick to their focus and be the best of -whatever- they can be. Instead they keep trying to look like every other channel out there. Thus giving us no reason to watch any of ’em. Brilliant move, Sherlock.

  • Patti H.

    I remember being so excited when it was first announced that there would be a dedicated Science Fiction Channel.

    Yet it never really met my expectations. I’m so glad I never became invested in it. (And I’m still holding a grudge that they didn’t pick up Firefly’s option when the show still had a chance and needed a new home.)

    And while we’re on the subject, why doesn’t A&E just change their name to Crime & Reality?

  • funWithHeadlines

    Ah yes, A&E, the other prime example. Hey A&E: Is BIlly the Exterminator Art? Or is it Entertainment?

  • JoshDM

    This is like when Cartoon Network airs live action movies.

  • I never quite understood why Dark Shadows used to be shown on the Sci Fi Network during its heyday. After all, the alien and Frankenstein subplots were sorta pseudo-sci-fi but the rest of the show–which involved ghosts and witches and werewolves and, of course, vampires–was definitely not sci-fi, even by the strictest definition of the word.

    However, even that seems like Mensa-level programming compared to this latest news.

    Why not change its name to “The Let’s Show Anything That Will Make Us Money Channel”? Because it’s not like people aren’t calling it that anyway…

  • Cyndy

    Didn’t we all sort of know how bad this was going to get after seeing the disaster they made of the Wizard of Earthsea? That made me cry. I don’t really expect anything of value from them since then.

  • Network Decay: there ought to be a law against it.

    What’s next: ESPN hosting cooking shows?

    The Weather Channel starting up a reality TV show on umbrella makers?

    FOX News actually reporting based on fact and researchable data?

    Wrestling shows on every channel?

    The Travel Channel buying the broadcast rights to Highlander: The Next Generation?

    MTV’s marathon showing of every Spelling Bee Nationals ever recorded?

  • Brian

    Maybe there’s hope that they’ll start a “SyFy 2” channel, on which they’ll put all the actual science fiction programming.

  • MTV’s marathon showing of every Spelling Bee Nationals ever recorded?

    I’d watch it. :-)

  • RogerBW

    The company’s board is required by law to do whatever will produce the most short-term profit. This is why the limited company is a suboptimal organisational model if one cares about anything else.

    If the channel had originally been called “jlslknw3e” rather than “Sci-Fi” I think there would now be less of a sense of betrayal.

    Time to abandon the channel as mediator and open the system. Well, this is happening already – if I am a bad naughty evil person and download a TV show, I neither know nor care what network broadcast it, but I’ll pay attention to the production crew and look for other things they’ve worked on.

  • Yeah. I’m much happier with the ability to watch more shows on demand on the Internets now. I always think it’s idiotic when I have to go to a pirate site when I’d happy play $2 a show or $20 a season to just watch them online when I want. Amazon/Netflix/etc are making that happen more and more often, and should just become the new model. B) TV stations can just become like radio – let you get a glimpse of something you like so you can go buy the album. B)

  • Let’s be fair to poor SyFy here – I mean, how can the possibly make money on such a tiny, niche market as Scienti-Fictional doodads. Because ComiCon is ready to shut down due to it’s tiny, niche audience, and arty films about aliens list those Star Wars ones, and that one about the Big Blue Aliens are huge flops. Only a few sad bespectacled nerds like science fiction anymore.


    Anyway, they changed their name to Polish slang for syphillis, so maybe that’s the niche market they want to go after. I expect to see lots of ads for prescription fake noses for those with tertiary SyFy.

  • Jurgan

    I thought the change was so stupid that I refuse to pronounce it “sci-fi.” Instead, I call it “Siffy.” Admittedly, I never watched it all that much, but it seems like mostly they play really dumb movies. “Sci-Fi original picture” has been a joke for quite a while. They’ll also play slasher flicks, which are rarely anywhere in the neighborhood of sci-fi.

    There was an article on Cracked recently about how dumb The Learning Channel has become. I can’t get there through my school’s filter, but I’ll drop a link when I get home.

  • The ironic thing is that when people care more about their product than about profit, profit can follow. It is not guarenteed, of course, but companies run by people that care about being the best in the market place can do better than companies that only worry about making a profit.

    The examples I read in the article are companies still owned by families, and the CEOs are responsible to those families, not to general public stock holders. Thus, they don’t have to be overly focused on the quarter and look ahead, which was a connection I didn’t think of until Roger brought it up. Yes, the company is required by law to make short term profits, but that law is enforced at the will of the stockholders, not automatically.

  • funWithHeadlines

    Right, it’s not actually a law that corps have to chase short-term profit, or else Google would have been locked up when they said in their initial prospectus that they were going to chase long-term profit even at the expense of short-term profit. I mean, think it through, if short-term profit were the only thing, they would immediately sell their offices and make a quick buck.

    Paul is right that companies that care more about the product often get profit too, but there’s one company that is public and doing it: Apple. They get criticized all the time for not going cheap with their products, but they have a massive cash balance from great sales. The PC guys are racing to the bottom chasing short-term profits, and they are suffering long-term erosion of their markets. The same thing is true of stupid TV channels that think only about the short-term fads.

  • I_Sell_Books

    @RogerBW: I think “jlslknw3e” rather trips off the tongue, don’t you?

  • Barb

    Don’t get me started with SyFy (or syphilis as I now call them). More and more ghostie reality shows and wrestling. There really aren’t many niche channels left at this point other than possibly Turner Classic Movies in addition to Boomerang. All the other stations have sold out and have become replicas of each other looking to grab the niche age market. I still don’t get why A&E hasn’t rebranded since they are all about reality show junk. The same goes for Bravo. Even History International has gotten into the act the last couple of months and I now rarely watch them either. So may channels and nothing to watch…

  • This is so not unexpected, I can’t even drum up any emotional reaction.

    Question: when is somebody gonna take the initiative to fulfill the promise that a serious sci-fi channel would have?

  • A serious SF channel?

    You know, if George Lucas is looking for a new purpose in life, this should be it. He’s probably the only man in the universe with the pull, the money, and the geek background to create a real SF channel.

    If he set aside the Star Wars vs Star Trek rivalry, hired on Josh Whedon and Charles Kaufman, and bought up the rights to the better SF novels out there, that would be a power house of geek programming. He could turn all those Star Wars and Star Trek novels into ongoing TV SF soap operas to fill in the gaps.

    My god, I may swoon. I may die. I would buy a TV. I’d apply for a job.

  • Danny

    just who do they think their fan base is?? if they want to show mindless drivel, then this fan base disappears. they should change the name to lameass tv, because that is what it is becoming. time for someone to step up and reclaim the SciFi moniker, they don’t own it, they gave it up, so say bye, bye.

    To: SyFy Execs

    We made your business and you’ve contiued to stab us in the back with your short-sightedness. We try to wake you up to your mistakes and you insult us. We make suggestions, you ignore them. From us to you, GFY.

  • just who do they think their fan base is??

    Do TV networks really have fan bases? I’m with Bzero on this–I get the TV shows I want through Netflix/Hulu/DVDs from the library, so I’m often unaware what network they were on originally. Don’t good SF shows pop up on networks other than SyFy?

  • RogerBW


    I’m often unaware what network they were on originally

    While I think that’s true for increasing numbers of viewers, I don’t believe the network and advertising execs have realised it yet. Look how much attention they still pay to the at-the-time ratings, and especially the lead-in/lead-out shows (i.e. how many people stayed with the channel to watch the next thing that was broadcast)…

  • Jurgan

    Here’s the article I was looking for: Just How Dumb is The Learning Channel?


    I will give credit to Discovery Channel, though, if only for Mythbusters. That’s the rare science show that manages to be both smart and entertaining at the same time.

    The other niche channel I can think of that’s fallen down is Nick at Nite, and its spinoff TV Land. I basically knew Nick at Nite was done when they started showing Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Just because something’s off the air, doesn’t instantly make it “Classic TV.” And now TV Land is showing original programming, so that’s a wash as well.

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