Pretty much everyone knows by now that the SciFi Channel is changing their name and their branding to ‘SyFy’ (utterly ridiculous) here soon, all in an attempt to broaden their audience by moving away from what they perceive to be the negative mindset of the general public in relations to the ‘scifi’ moniker. See, they’re saying that when people think of ‘scifi’, they think of people in rubber monster suits and ‘space shit’, and that’s not who they want to be.
To be honest, they aren’t entirely wrong. A lot of people hear ‘scifi’ and they think about the myriad of low budget crap that has been produced through the years, or they flash back on childhood memories of Dr Smith and the Robot arguing on ‘Lost in Space’ and how campy that show was (and a host of other shows from that same time period when Irwin Allen owned the airwaves). In short, they don’t take it very seriously, so who could blame SciFi for wanting to distance themselves from the brand?
I can. See, I think SciFi really missed the mark here.
I can remember when the SciFi channel first launched. I was living in Fresno California, and they were showing commercials for the channel on all the genre shows on at the time, asking people to call your local cable company to demand that the SciFi Channel be added to the lineup. When I saw that Colonial Viper firing away on the Cylon Raider (original show) in the commercial, I was hooked. I called just as they said I should and asked for SciFi to be added to my local lineup!
…couple years later, it was. Grumble, mumble, stupid cable…
I was so jazzed when it was finally available to me. Then I saw the lineup; mostly reruns of old shows, Dark Shadows was on there, Battlestar Galactica was not, lots of campy horror movies filled the schedule, along with old scifi movies both good and bad (Ice Pirates comes to mind). Still, it was the SciFi channel, so I watched. It wasn’t too long before SciFriday’s started – original programming, every Friday night. FINALLY! I thought that Science Fiction had a channel and a night (I think this was a carryover from Showtimes SciFriday’s because Stargate was moving to SciFi). Shows like Stargate: SG1 and Farscape and a slew of others, some good, many just awful, found their way onto that Friday night lineup over the years. But the channel never really expanded the way I thought it would. I expected all sorts of genre shows to permeate its airways as they expanded into other nights, but that never really happened. They did move into other nights, but the offerings were never quite what I had hoped they would be.
Then they did stupid things like cancel Farscape – what the hell? That was an awesome show. Then they did things like Flash Gordon. Um. What? I told myself, ‘It’s okay – they have to give you the good and the bad’. A bunch of other shows came and went, and I honestly can’t remember most of them anymore, which is probably a good thing. Then, Wrestling? Seriously? How is that SciFi?
Well, turns out, they don’t really want to be SciFi, and that’s where I think they never quite got it.
The ‘big 4’ networks, Fox, ABC, CBS & NBC – they don’t do more than a handful of genre shows each year, and those are almost always treated as the red-headed step child of the network, to be tortured and slapped around and eventually dropped and forgotten (Why do they even bother?). Cable is a little better, but still, you have to hunt to find anything worth watching amidst 200+ channels of utter crap and infomercials. The SciFi channel had the opportunity to become the beacon in an otherwise dark American television landscape, a place where people like myself could come and feel at home and find shows that interested and entertained us. Instead, they offer us low budget movies that barely qualify the ‘b’ rating, God awful wrestling, and two-year old reruns of British television shows we’ve probably already purchased on DVD.
See, that’s the other thing that SciFi has never quite gotten – someone like myself is going to seek out genre shows on DvD or anywhere else we can get em because we’re starved for it. Doctor Who, Primeval, Jekyll, Merlin, Robin Hood, Charlie Jade, Torchwood – the list of well written, well acted, well produced, fun and entertaining SciFi and Fantasy television is long and vast and usually has a BBC logo attached to it, not a SciFi logo and that’s just sad and poignant.
SciFi could have fed our habit. They could have been the place, the spot, the channel. They saw a little bit of that with Battlestar Galactica, but then did what they always do and got rid of it as fast as they could, screwing up yet again and leaving us starving again.
As they move to more of the same reality crap their parent company, NBC/Universal spews at us on a nightly basis, I can’t see myself supporting them anymore.
I can only hope that someone else, with a better, clearer vision of the potential that a genre channel holds for the future, will come along, scoop of the moniker of ‘SciFi’, and run with it the way these people never have.