Monday, June 7, 2010

Decline and Fall of Sci-Fi on Television (or why I want the Sci-Fi channel back!) [Syfy Needs Scifi: Day 1]

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Science Fiction Geek Fans - today on the blog is going to be a special week, titled "Syfy Needs Scifi"!  This week is dedicated to spreading awareness and gaining support to tell the Syfy channel "We want SCIFI on the Syfy SciFi channel! We don't care about your silly name change."

To start the week off, we have a special guest blog post by Twitter user @webdivemaster.

Decline and Fall of Sci-Fi on Television
(or why I want the Sci-Fi channel back!)
by @webdivemaster

July 7th, 2009 was truly a black day in the history of the Sci-Fi genre. That was the day SyFy replaced Sci-Fi as the moniker for the channel.

Now, it was rumored that the channel had no claim any longer due to administrative errors, etc. on the name Sci-Fi Channel, but truthfully, the channel that started in September of 1992 was more than just a name. It was a hallmark repository of past and original science fiction TV and Movies up to it's sale to NBC in 2004.

If one reviews the programming line-up of the past, one sees a trend that shows that this SF genre is in fact dying on all of TV, much less the SyFy. Horror seems to be the new substitute to the SF programs, but also is accompanied by a rash of 'pseudo-science' programs, being those programs that are vested in the mythological and hocus-pocus garbage.

Just before the change to SyFy, one could easily find 16-20 hours of truly original SF WEEKLY, but in Feb this year, there was only 3 hours of original SF for the MONTH (Caprica, 3 episodes).

Now, not only on SyFy, there is the plethora of Ghost Hunting/Whispering/Mansions/Estates along with the Destination myth hunting and programs of it's nature. These 'reality' programs detract from Science and Science Fiction as they are truly nothing more than 'Ooh, I felt something touch me' and 'I just got a chill' statements, along with door movements or other tricks easily duplicated via mechanics and remotes. Additionally, with the state of nature losing species by the thousands annually, does anyone believe a population of one or two creatures of any sort could have survived unseen and unproven through the last century of exploration and expansion of the planet's population?

The programs seen just 6 years ago were many of the hallmark series of TV ever. Sure, SyFy airs the heck out of the SG-1 and SGA now, because they have rights to them, having been in on their production. But when was the last time you saw Andromeda, Farscape, Babylon 5, Crusade, Roar, Earth Final Conflict, and so much of what had been staples of the Sci-Fi Channel? (Heck, why is BSG not airing, except to try and push DVD sales?)

Additionally, when compared to the present, the airwaves are being dominated by Horror and the Vampire Invasion. The schedule for June has 38% Horror, 35% SF, 12.5% Psuedo-Sci, 12.5% ad programs, and 2% Wrestling. The mix of programs 7 years ago was approximately 72% SF, 15% Horror, 10% ad programs, 2% Pseudo-Sci, and 1% Wrestling.

Certainly, the change has been slow in it's implementation, but it has met with much resistance of late, even on the SciFiWire.com (though those comments are most often deleted) and most recently by a Twibbon campaign (http://twb.ly/9TBTVE ).

This is most likely due to the SyFy's lack of really any amount of original SF programming, and most spotlighted by the channel's Saturday and Sunday programming (Movies) being dominated by horror and creatures, with the last real SF original airing months ago.

The B movies have indeed been reduced to a D- class by the mass repetition of creature discovered after it has eaten someone, more people die trying to kill creature, girl gets trapped by creature, and hero saves girl killing creature in the process scripts.

The most troubling part of this push for Horror and the subsequent reduction of SF airtime is that the parent to SyFy has a dedicated Horror channel, being Chiller Channel. It makes one wonder if that channel (which has not been invaded by the SF genre) exists, why is the SyFy airing programs more appropriate to Chiller? Additionally, is the shift just a sign that all SF will be pushed off and eventually the less known Chiller will be swept into the SyFy world, and all of the SF would be finding new homes (BBC America maybe?).

In fact, many of the past months the BBC America has surpassed SyFy in not only Original SF Programming, but has come close to total SF programming by having aired all day long sets of Doctor Who, or ST:TNG. Next week alone (Week of May 24th) there are day blocks of Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Primeval, while SyFy has a plethora of horror movies, ST:TNG, and Ghosts dominating the week.
The trend is sad, as is the recent habit of the other networks to drop SF programs by the dozens.

Sadly, I do wish for the days that one could tune to the Sci-Fi channel, and see the programs that have helped to define the genre. Truthfully, they live on only in DVD format, but so many people interested in the SF greats do not have the means to buy all that they would like to view, and the online systems do not have the libraries, so the greats are destined to die off.

Worse yet, the original programming and movies have declined to the point that one has to wonder if SF needs to be listed as endangered. -kh

- Stay tuned for more Syfy Needs Scifi posts this week!

8 comments:

  1. I agree with your post whole heartedly; if I were a more demonstrative man, I would have shouted "amen" a couple of times. The BBC has more Sci-Fi credibility than Syfy these days.

    Two notable caveats though. I realize Stargate Universe and Caprica diverge too much from the shows that inspired them for the diehard fans; however, when taken on their own merits, they're pretty good speculative fiction.

    Aside from those two arguable exceptions, I completely agree. Syfy is not at all Sci-Fi.

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  2. Instead of getting mad at SyFy (which, let's face it, is not the SciFi channel any more than G4 is TechTV), let's brainstorm and come up with pitches for original science fiction series that won't require a big budget.

    Here are a few:
    In 2040, there's a substantial shift in the earth's climate, causing an average increase of about 20°C across the planet. We follow a small ensemble cast of characters that have to leave Chicago and head north, trying to survive the shifting climate. Hard science fiction isn't represented often on television, and this could end up being a good, dramatic vehicle for it. The end of the series doesn't even have to be a destination, it can follow attempts to rebuild civilization after much of the planet's population dies off due to starvation because the agricultural industries are destroyed. Oh, and for god's sake, please don't make the cast all white. That pisses me off about science fiction.

    Adapt Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle into a miniseries, which could become a regular series. Not only could this be a great way to blow people's minds with a classic alternate history story, it could also appeal to an audience a bit different than Stargate folk.

    Finally, my very favorite idea, is a regular series based on Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy.

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  3. @Will - Funny you mention ideas...

    About a year ago there was a bit on SciFiWire that dealt with the books and writings that WOULD make great movies/series. People were critical that 'Dune' was not very 'filmable' due to it's complexities.

    But the main outcome of the response was a PLETHORA of well written, intelligent Sci-Fi works that did have merit for being placed on-air in one form or another. But SyFy continues to stay in a Horror rut, with poorly made creature features, instead of embarking on the SF journey.

    Many of the posters agreed on several book series though as a start... EE 'Doc' Smith's Lensmen series as a start would do well, as would many others.

    The one thing I do remember posting in the comments though, is that the post and comments would be a great place to start for think-tankers at the network for new projects, and that the post was an easy way to get the readers to do the network exec's work and narrow down some select literary works to start with for REAL Sci-Fi, but that would be too easy, and thereby ignored. :) -kh

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  4. Keith:

    I agree with your article completely. And thanks for following me at Twitter where I am Thomas William Penn http://twitter.com/ThomasWPenn

    Now in my mid-50's, I grew up on original science fiction TV shows in the 1960's. I've often wished SciFi [before it became Syfy] would show some of those old shows, and wondered why they haven't. SciFi never had a good relationship with its viewers, totally out of touch with reality - what the viewers want, and my inquiries were snubbed. Even so, I found out it is usually and partly a rights issue. Also, money, of course, audience targeted by the commercials. Reverse that, and I realize, based on who the commercials are targeted at, I'm not one of the desired viewers, but once-in-a-while I do see commercials aimed at people like me. I see more of those on ABC, like when I was watching LOST. It appears ABC is taking the lead on science fiction. NBC is getting in on similar shows now and in the fall. They just started Persons Unknown last night, not pure science fiction, but close enough, more like a cross between LOST and The Prisoner [Patrick McGoohan original version]. And in the fall is The Event, previews looking good, maybe NBC's answer to FlashForward on ABC.

    Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, one of my favorites of long ago, has stood the test of time. I've watched episodes at Fancast, and have discovered it is as good today as it was back in the 1960's, way ahead of its time back then. I'd like to see more serious and darker versions of Lost in Space and Time Tunnel remade today, and it would not hurt for SciFi/Syfy to show the originals in a lead-up marathon to new versions. Yes, they should be showing original episodes of Battlestar Galactica. And why isn't SciFi/Syfy showing original episodes of Star Trek?! I'd watch them again! But, problem is, I'm not the kind of person the advertisers are seeking to watch programs on Scifi/Syfy. I liked it when there was a marathon of the original Quinn Martin production of The Invaders, and watched that. Quinn Martin and Irwin Allen were ahead of their time, having made some of my old favorites. Where are people like them today who can take the new lead and make science fiction popular again. I mean pure science fiction as the main genre. There are many different possible sub-genres; adventure science fiction, fantasy science fiction, horror science fiction, romance science fiction, etc. As is, I watch 1 hour of Syfy each week, Stargate Universe, and that will end this coming Friday night with the season final.

    --Thomas

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  5. Oh how I wish the people posting here were running a station like SYFY or Sci-Fi or whatever it thinks it is this week. I don't have cable anymore, since I find so little of it worth watching. When I do watch TV I tend to watch PBS. I find I read more books these days, and take comfort in the words of Groucho Marx: "I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."

    That said, I have had my moments with developing for television, at one point having a show that was to air in the fall of 2000 on the now defunct UPN. It was a sci-fi animated series based on my comic book Rat Bastard. A 5 minute short was made (you can see it at http://ratbastardcomics.com/2009/11/18/hello-world/ if you just scroll down a bit.) but the show never aired. Well, some of the key players involved in the show really believed in it, and we went to meeting after meeting around Hollywood to revive the project. I recall going to a meeting at SciFi Network headquarters for a meeting with a gentleman named Eric Story. My producer and head writer was merely Ed Neumeier, creator of Robocop and Kevin ALtieri, director of 29 episodes of the Batman Animated Series. We left the meeting with the understanding that SciFi Network Network wasn't looking for animation, but they were looking for programming to appeal to women. I felt as if I was a science fiction story. The Scifi Channel wanted to be more like Life Time Channel? It didn't want the creator of Robocop? It didn't want animation, which can create any world or vision much easier and faster than live action? It didn't want the merchandising power of a gritty, pop culture image? It didn't want a character that came from the world of comics?

    The thing you have to understand about Hollywood is that they really haven't got a clue and certainly don't have a passion for the material. The people who decide what goes on the air are as frightened and nervous as the gazelles feeding on the Serengeti Plain in Kenya. Their careers are quite tenuous, so they dare not make mistakes, and bold steps are not in their nature. They do what the pack does, not what will make them stand out.

    I share your deep sorrow for the loss of televised SF; shows like the original Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, the first two Star Trek series, The Prisoner, and even Serenity. Hell, I was really starting to enjoy Terminator when they pulled the plug.

    And what of animation? U.S. television has never ventured into animated SF arena other than some Star Wars projects. There was a lame Fantastic Voyage in the the 60's, but not much else comes to mind. Yet such a large portion of the Japanese animation market is SF. How does Japan support such a thriving SF animation culture, yet we have none?

    I'm not sure what the answer is, but I can tell you the problem: TV execs with no vision, no passion for SF. Well, at least I can still watch my old videos of Dr. Smith and his "blundering bucket of bolts" The Robot, and the Robinsons on "Lost In Space."

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  6. Thank you! Wonderful points you make in service to the Science Fiction genre and it's need for a dedicated channel. I'm tired of SyFy larding it's programming with bad horror movies! Bring back Sci-Fi!

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  7. Here, here! Well said.

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  8. Sci-fi lost its heart when they canceled MST3K. Love the Pearl.

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