My Issues with SyFy

sci fi channel logoI have a love hate relationship with the Syfy Channel (or SciFi, as I still refer to it in my head). The channel has this strange gift for producing interesting science fiction and fantasy series, and then canceling them very abruptly in the midst of storylines or directly after a cliffhanger season finale. According to an acquaintance that has worked as an editor for their promo division off and
on for years, the network is not so adept with managing their money. Consequently, they often run out of the funding to produce their programs, pushing too hard at the beginning and then losing energy over the long haul, like a poorly trained long distance runner. The result is that some of the best shows on the network get cancelled unceremoniously. Recently, they have launched two or three really strong shows, and my fingers are crossed that these programs will stand the test of time. Looking back over the network’s history, however, gives me little confidence.

The lament of many Syfy watchers is that, with the exception of some great mini-series (see “Tin Man”), shows that deliberately followed an arc that was designed for five seasons or less (see “Battlestar Galactica” or “Lexx”), and the odd juggernaut (see “Stargate SG-1”- though it only aired on SyFy for five of its ten seasons), every other series on the channel has been cancelled. It is a strange trend, and one that certainly does point to a certain level of mismanagement at the top. Especially when you consider the amount of wrestling and low budget horror films that quickly move into the empty time slots. It is as if the network is doing some sort of broadband comparison, or focus group research, and wilfully ignoring their actual viewers. Granted, shows get cancelled on other networks too, but the lack of viewer-ship is usually the reason, and the low numbers are relatively obvious to everyone.

SyFyAs a fan of a poorly-viewed show, you can see the train wreck coming just beyond the next bend, so you are prepared. Not so with SyFy. Their cancellations seem almost arbitrary, and they often cut their most popular programming in order to “save money”. It seems like an oxymoronic strategy, and has reduced their fan base each season.

Over the years, fans have fallen in love with at least 12 or 13 shows that have been canceled. Since Syfy usually only launches two or three shows a season, that means that they have cancelled all of their programming, almost every season that the network has been in existence. Non-cable networks add four to six new shows to their line-up each season, and pick up pilots for two to four mid-season replacements as well. Large cable networks like HBO and Showtime will launch two to three new shows, but they also give them two or three seasons to incubate and grow with fans. Syfy does neither of these things, and the result is an ever-shifting schedule that makes it difficult to trust that the network is worth a viewer’s time.

Since the network’s inception, they have produced and then cancelled a host of excellent shows:

First Wave Sci-fi Channel– “First Wave” ran for three years from 1998-2001, when the network was first getting started. It was cancelled, even though it received an Emmy nomination, a rarity for a science fiction show, among multiple other honors.

The Invisible Man Sci Fi Channel– “The Invisible Man”, which had solid ratings, ran for two years from 2000-2002.

Painkiller Jane Sci Fi Channel– “Painkiller Jane”, ran for one season in 2007. A little shaky out of the gate, it was starting to figure itself out, and deserved another season.

The Dresden File Sci Fi Channel– “The Dresden Files” ran for one season in 2007, and then just never came back. It wasn’t even officially canceled. Though it was only loosely based on the books that inspired it, both Paul Blackthorne’s performance as Harry Dresden and Terrence Mann’s work as Bob, made the show a joy to watch. Fans are still mad about it disappearing.

The Chronicle scifi Channel– “The Chronicle” ran for two seasons from 2001-2002, and, like “The Dresden Files”, just disappeared.

the secret adventures of jules verne sci fi channel– “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne” ran for one season in 2000, and was definitely a show with room to grow.

– “Stargate: Atlantis” ran from 2004-2009, and then got the ax even with fantastic ratings. Maybe it had something to do with lasting more than five years.

– “Stargate: Universe” lasted for two seasons, and received three Emmy nominations.

Caprica sci fi channel– “Caprica” wasn’t able to make it through its four-season arc like its sister show, “Battlestar Galactica”, and disappeared after 18 episodes, again with an Emmy nomination and a few of other awards.

farscpae sci fi channel– “Farscape” (1999-2003), one of Syfy’s most popular shows, was cancelled so suddenly that the actors and crew were pink-slipped, on-set, while shooting the season four finale. They subsequently shot a two-part mini-series to tie up all the loose ends.

Eureka Sci Fi Channel– Most recently, “Eureka”, a show that Syfy picked up from its sister network USA, was canceled. Hugely popular, the cancellation has caused uproar among fangs. Like “Farscape”, there was next to no warning, and again, the writers and performers were given no time to wrap up the series.

This is just a partial list of Syfy’s canceled programming. What is going on at Syfy? Why the poor track record? Is NBC-Universal trying to phase the channel out in these tough economic times? Is it just a matter of very poor taste? Why pick up great shows, if they are only going to be canceled later? These are the questions that fans of shows on the channel ask themselves daily, as they flip to another network to find something to watch. As a science fiction lover, I was excited to have a channel that catered to my tastes when the network launched in the late 90s. Almost 15 years later, I have learned that the existence of that channel was just another type of science fiction.

Contributed by: Dee Mason

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