The Sci Fi Channels Identity Crisis

The Sci Fi channel used to be a beacon in the increasingly drab realm of television.  With reality and recycled episodic TV increasing exponentially, shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate were welcomed and rewarding reprieves.  After Battlestar ended and Stargate: Atlantis was cancelled science fiction audiences were tantalized with the hope of a brand new Stargate series and a Battlestar prequel.

However just before the premiere of SGU Sci Fi channel had an identity crisis and became the SyFy channel.  After SyFy acquired WWE Smackdown, they made the decision to move their scripted shows to Tuesday nights and air Smackdown on Fridays.  This move was quite a blow to both Caprica and SGU.  Caprica would be cancelled only a few months later because of poor ratings.  SGU would befall the same fate as Caprica after the first half of season two pulled in reduced ratings.  The argument has been made that other SyFy original shows such as Warehouse 13 and Eureka do quite well on Tuesday nights, but both of those shows air during the summer with very little network competition.  The most current move to Monday nights did not fare well for SGU’s final episodes or currently for Sanctuary’s ratings.

When the Sci Fi channel debuted in the 90’s it was a refuge for science fiction television and movies.  I can remember fondly as a child staying up late watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, Ray Bradbury Theater and the Twilight Zone.  Not to mention shows such as Quantum Leap, Sliders and Star Trek.  The lineup for years held countless other shows and movies that told good science fiction even if some lacked good visual effects.  They began to produce original groundbreaking science fiction series with some of the best in the genre starting with shows like First Wave and Farscape.  Friday night blocks with new original series back to back became a science fiction staple.  Later even major networks, like Fox would see Friday night as outlets for shows like Dollhouse, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and recently Fringe.

SyFy’s development has taken it far from its roots, and while current programming may have been the quick financial path, I wonder if it has not hurt an important genre.  While the genre may not be as financially viable as American Idol or CSI:Wherever it has dedicated fans who appreciate strong characters, compelling stories and the importance of asking intriguing questions.  If the SyFy channel will not produce real serialized science fiction, who will?

Perhaps in ten years, few will remember what the channel use to be as it becomes part of the mediocre landscape of cable TV stations that do a little of everything passably, but nothing superbly.

Note:  About the channel’s slogan, “Imagine Greater” they should scrape it because it is a disservice to anyone who has actually imagined greater.

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10 thoughts on “The Sci Fi Channels Identity Crisis

  1. Regarding SyFy: they do whatever brings in money. The reality series are cheap, and so even at lower viewing ratings they make their money back. WWE makes over 2.5mil viewers, which is better than any of their scifi shows.

    This is not to say that SyFy shouldn’t try to bring good, expensive, scifi shows back to their program (as expensive as SGU, BSG that cost over $2.5mil per episode, according to Robert Carlyle), but the truth is, people don’t watch/read as much scifi anymore. Scifi needs nurture/push from reality in order to be successful, and since NASA hasn’t done anything amazing for 25 years now, the way they did in the ’60s, the genre has kind of being sterile in the minds of people.

    I personally love scifi, and the realism of SGU, but that’s not the case for most others.

    Finally, regarding the cancellation of SGU, the root of the problem was that it was pitched to Syfy and not to the parent company, NBC. SyFy had already a very specific kinds of viewers regarding Stargate, viewers that they were not willing to change their habits regarding scifi (they want the old style “captain of the universe” kind of scifi, instead of cerebral, realistic scifi). So no matter which day SyFy was to put SGU on, it would have still be canceled, since for that budget, it needed at least 2 million viewers per episode on average.

    Moral of the story: SGU needed to get pitched to a bigger network, and SyFy simply does whatever makes sense for their balance sheet. For scifi shows to become more successful and aplenty, that’s a social issue most and foremost. Bring imagination, and big ideas, back to the population. And only NASA can do that.

    1. I agree with the writer. The constant changing days on me got me lost and uninterested. I ended up downloading more syfy shows than watching them when they are on…b/c when they were on kept changing. WWE is pathetic and has no place on TV in general. Should just be a traveling circus…it’s just as fake. When did the execs think Syfy should pander to the unintelligent? This channel has always been for the intellectual crowd, which will not get as many viewers. I thought NBC knew this fact when they bought the channel. They should expect a small negative in their balance sheets, but at least they will have loyal fans that will continuously support them. As of now, most of my friends no longer even try to watch syfy b/c it has become so misguided and has zero science fiction any longer. Is Eureka and Warehouse 13 even coming back on? Why do they think people will wait over 6 months to watch their favorite shows? This is becoming the law of the land since other channels started to do this and it needs to stop. SGU is a perfect fit for a science fiction channel…but the execs are dumb and constantly changed it’s airtime. First on fridays, then to Tuesdays, then to Monday…what do they expect? Idiots… I have never enjoyed Sanctuary (horrible accents and bad plot) Lore is running rampant on the station but where’d the scifi go? They are two totally different subjects. They seriously need a new Farscape, First Wave, Sliders, or something similar. Haven is lame and uninteresting (wow, lots of people with powers all living in one town…snore). Eureka and Warehouse 13 are the only shows they offer that I would watch. But that’s not going to be until July or something. WTF? Being Human is OK, but a straight ripoff of the British version I have already seen. GH has been on for too long, Destination truth is running out of ideas (already out of ideas basically)… Fact or Faked needs to dismiss more videos, and pick only good ones to try and debunk. Faceoff = makeup show – wow, how’d it get on there in the first place? Marcel’s Kitchen = a horrid mess. Alphas sounds horrible b/c it’s a pseduo-Heroes show with the Heroes in a special elite squad – piss poor idea and probably going to be worse than any show in a long time. SGU was finally getting somewhere but got canned b/c the execs are idiots and look at the Nielson ratings. The younger crowd does not pander to you and watch your shows when you put them on… most of the younger crowd is computer savvy and streams their favorite shows these days. Mainly b/c parents are becoming more and more selfish and hog the televisions (as so my little cousins say). If they do not understand their base viewers or their habits, maybe this channel should fail. I’d say about 1% of the population is intelligent, and enjoy scifi. Therefore, the most viewers they would likely get is roughly 3 million viewers. Of course wrestling gets more viewers…people are stupid and like to enjoy idiotic things. But those things have no place on a science fiction channel. They have definitely lost their base and now have zero direction for the channel. I agree that in ten years, no one could say where this sh*t will go b/c the execs couldn’t even tell you. Advertisers should not run the tv airwaves… it’s sad that they have for the past 15 years and going.

      1. Brad, I agree with most of what you say. Scifi is indeed for intelligent people. But the problem is many-fold:
        – Most intelligent people stopped watching TV. They have canceled their cable/satellite, and they use torrent, or netflix. I personally canceled Comcast back in December and never looked back. I get my fix via Netflix, and the Vimeo Channel on the $60 Roku device. I bought an interior antenna too, but I don’t like anything on TV anymore, so I stopped using it. From all these TV shows, I only continued to watch SGU, on a friend’s house. Now that SGU is done, I don’t watch _anything_ on “live” TV.
        – SGU would have been canceled no matter what day was left on. Trust me on that. Hating on Syfy for changing the day is not correct. SGU simply was not for syfy because of the kind of stargate viewers it had (that hated SGU for being different to SG-1/A). It should have been pitched to NBC, not to a day.
        – Except SGU, SyFy did not produce any other smart scifi show in the last 3 years after the end of BSG. Everything scifi they still show is either very cheap and cheesy, or just plain bad.
        – As much as I hate the circus, WWE, the thing is, there are still stupid people who watch it. As I mentioned above, WWE is the most watched show on syfy these days. It would be a bad move for syfy to go just back to scifi and nothing else. We might hate it, but it brings money to Syfy, so I can’t hate them for that.
        – And the reason for that is because fewer people watch scifi than they did 10 or 20 years ago. Very unfortunately. But people really need feedback from their real world to understand things they watch.

  2. Sci-fi fans have put their collective foot down on soap operas in science fiction aka soap-fi. It started with the NuBSG, then Caprica, and we were fed up when our beloved series Stargate was tried to be turned into a EMO soap show. True fans of scifi do not want to watch a soap operas, now we all hope TPTB see that this soap-fi crap is unwanted by the vast majority of scifi fans.

    SGU is now flushed but you EMO’s still have the Cartoon channels.

    1. Sorry, but I do not agree. You fall into the category of Stargate viewers I mentioned above: the kind of scifi fans that like the OLD style of scifi. That is, “pew pew”, “bam boom”, “hahaha” (evil laugh). Flash Gordon style scifi that is. Not cerebral, not smart, not dramatic.

      SGU, LOST, BSG all were great exactly because they were dramatic. SGU gets extra points for being realistic. Caprica in my opinion had promise, but it was boring. I didn’t like the overly religious undertone either (I like science in my scifi, not religion).

  3. I agree with Eugenia,

    The dark/realistic dramatic Sci-Fi of BSG and SGU and to some extent Babylon 5, Farscape, Firefly, V, Lost, and event ST:DS9 (the later seasons) is what most fans want to watch now.
    Like Babylon 5, BSG was one of the greats. Limiting the show to a set timeline made it better than if they had stretched it out for 10 seasons.
    I liked SG-1, but by season 9, I was wondering, isn’t it time for a new team to take over? Sure, I liked the actors, but they were getting old (especially RDA), and in real life, they would have been promoted to leadership roles, and would be training the next generation of SG teams. When SG married farscape I was hopeful, but Ben Browder just didn’t bring it. Claudia Black was good as a comic foil to Jackson, but I like Aeryn Sun better.
    People loved Atlantis, I wasn’t that big a fan because the wraith were even lamer than the Ori. The best SG-1 episodes were the ones not featuring some super baddies. Maybe that is why I was such a fan of SGU. On SGU, the castaways faced real issues to survival, finding water, making air, keeping the ship going, etc. Would the series have been better without the communication stones, maybe, but they offered a useful plot device to remind us of the Lucian Alliance threat.
    I know that all is probably lost for SyFy finding its way out of the reality show hell that the network is now, but we can hope that one day, a Stargate show comes back somewhere. (hopefully on HBO or Showtime, so it can be done right!)

  4. PS- I also agree with “sci-fi fan”. Caprica sucked. Hopefully the next BSG prequel they are making will be better. With Caprica, the timeline always messed with my head. I mean, you’re telling me that in the space of 60 years the cylons go from war robots to the human-like 1-8’s? Where were the final five original cylons from the old homeworld of the colonies?

    1. That’s easy. There’s not nearly egounh interest in narrowly focused channels to cover their costs. It was a bit different when the organizations were small but, as these channels have increasingly been bought up by the big networks, they have to have a more broadbased appeal to maximize their ad revenues.It’s the same reason that we won’t see ala carte cable plans anytime soon. The nets have so much invested in and overhead cost to operate ESPN 7 or WE or what have you that they HAVE to bundle them in order to try to recoup those costs. Doesn’t matter if nobody wants them, you have to take them.As in most things, follow the money

  5. Hello I am a fan of Stargate(SG-1,Atlantis and now Universe).I am from Romania(somewhere in the eastern Europe )the show it is nehiter on tv or dvds for sale here,tho i have seen all the seriers and movies that came out with the help of the internte,anyways wanted to say regarding the SGU compared to the SG-1 and Atlantis,SGU just sucks to much drama to long story bad very bad scenario not what ppl expect give more detalis more aliens(Who are those who build the hole consteletion there,or the ones who sgu crew acutly encounterd?)ppl dont wanna see miss nice ass sleeping with ken,they wanna see aliens new races the 4th races new ones the builders of the planetary sistem wich the ancients did not know it was there etc etc so get more creative ppl as scenarists and show will rate up againP.S:Supernaturl also started sucking in the 6 season(watching that 2)

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