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.