It is rare that we here at The NYRD give “props” to the SyFy Channel for anything they have done. After they canceled Farscape we were never the same again. However, even we have to admit that the floundering network that was once dedicated to science fiction has done some things right over the past few years. They are going to great lengths to try and introduce new and dramtic miniseries, movies, and in some cases they are even experimenting with actual science fiction. Unfortunately, the SyFy Channel still sometimes has problems with getting out of its own way, and like any good friend, maybe it is time for us to all sit down with the network we used to love and have an intervention.
When Science Fiction Became SyFy
The first hints of the SyFy network’s decline started way back 2009 when the Sci Fi Channel changed its name to the SyFy Network. -Properly pronounced See-Fee– It was a small change, but a big premonition of things to come. The change happened for two main reasons. First, NBC Universal realized that they could not copyright Sci Fi, because it was a fair-use genre name, and not a corporate brand. So in a trend that would become all to apparent, the channel made a change in the name of the bottom-line at the cost of ever so slightly isolating their original fan base. Secondly, -and most sinisterly- the change was made to “broaden” Syfy’s appeal. That is corporate Hollywood speak for, “we are trying to disassociate ourselves from our original nerd fan-base and aim for the people who watch MTV,” and tried they certainly did.
The SyFy Network became like that friend you used to have in high school who used to be happy to play Magic: The Gathering with you, but then one day found out that MTG wasn’t “cool.” So he changed his name to Todd and spent the next four years throwing dirt at anything or anyone who might try to remind him that he had once been a nerd. So, as the years progressed, SyFy continued to make decisions in the name of “broader appeal,” which would also further jilt their original fan-base and a proverbial straw would be added the camel’s back. SyFy canceled fan favorite shows -including the network’s flagship show, Stargate– in order to make room for broadcasting aimed at attracting the Twilight tween–base. Then, SyFy stopped making serious miniseries and movies to instead make Sharknado and other B-movies aimed to attract people who just want something to post about on their Facebook. This particular trend also further turned SyFy into a joke, as people began to associate the network with “all those terrible TV movies.” Lastly, SyFy doubled down on the cheap reality-show market instead of investing in new and interesting fictional dramas.
Every step that SyFy took was made to chase certain fads or attract typically “non-nerdy” people to watch the channel. All the while, the message that original and nerdy fans got from SyFy was, “We don’t care about you. You’ll watch anything we say you will. We want the people who watch Jersey Shore.” All the while that original fan base felt more and more disrespected. You see, SyFy was trying to fo what channels like TLC and the History Channel had accomplished, and for those networks “broader appeal” meant less shows about history or learning and more about watching reality shows about hillbillies do hillbilly things, even if a lot of those things were staged. It didn’t work as well for SyFy. The network never really attracted new viewers, and their original fan-base moved on. The sad truth is that most of them forgot about SyFy, just like most of us forgot about Todd. After all, if SyFy wasn’t willing to accept the nerd community, than the nerd community believed that it could find better places to put its time and money, and it certainly did.
How SyFy Missed the Nerd Bus
A strange thing happened in the late 2000’s and early 10’s, geekdom started going mainstream. About the same time SyFy began its disassociation from its nerdy roots, the rest of the media found their inner geek. Iron Man debuted in 2008. The Walking Dead broke cable records in 2010, and Game of Thrones broke all the records in 2011. Star Trek became a blockbuster movie franchise and Hollywood started clamoring for everything form superheroes to spacemen. Suddenly, the nerd was the king of pop culture, and SyFy was left holding the bag. Most of their base had already abandoned them for more serious networks, like AMC, and the network who once believed that nerdy interests meant “ratings poison,” suddenly became the laughing stock of cable TV. All they had to offer was second-rate reality shows and B-movies about different types of sharks, -ghost sharks, tornado sharks, Jersey Shore sharks, etc-
Perhaps the greatest irony of all was that SyFy, was the channel that had been practically built for shows like Sleepy Hollow, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, or any one of the other numerous projects that exploded onto cable, broadcast, and streaming channels, but it was too late. SyFy had altered their image so much, and gone so far in the opposite direction of who they had been, they couldn’t compete. They got scared of their own content and fan base, and they paid the price for it. The biggest irony of them all is that people have begun to forget the good that the old Sci Fi Channel once did for us geeks.
Sure, some people still remember Battlestar Galactica, as one of the first of the new breed of compelling episodic science fiction dramas. Yet, how many people remember that it was SyFy that started showing Doctor Who, before Matt Smith ever made it into the “American” pop culture phenomenon that it became? SyFy should have doubled down on their fan base instead of isolating them. Maybe then we would be living in a world where SyFy had bought the rights to Firefly or where they took a risk on a mega-production and made a 10-episodic epic before Game of Thrones ever became a a glimmer in HBO’s eye. What if SyFy took control of lesser known comic universe, like the WildCats, and turned that into their own serious comic book multi-show universe, like what Netflix is currently doing with Marvel?
Trying to Make Amends
About a year ago SyFy basically admitted that they screwed up, and if this is an intervention than the first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem. Ever since then, the channel has been doing its best to get back to their roots. The miniseries Ascension was decent. We cannot call it a home run, but definitely a step in the right direction with an interesting premise. Other new projects like Hunters and Childhood’s End also show promise. Dark Matter is doing well, though we cannot find a single person who has actually watched it. The disappointing truth is that everyone here at The NYRD stopped watching SyFy about the same time they lost Eureka and Warehouse 13, and we are not alone.
SyFy’s overall ratings tend toward cancellation. More of their shows are cancelled than are renewed, including a lot most people have never heard of. Currently, SyFy seems to be putting all its chips on Krypton, the new DC drama that will take place decades before the birth of Superman. It has been promised to basically be like Gotham and Game of Thrones in space. We are dubious about another superhero prequel show, but here is the weird thing, we are secretly rooting for SyFy. Part of us our nostalgic for the days when we could plop down on couch on a Friday night and turn the TV to Sci Fi to watch classic movies and fun science fiction shows. However, with a plethora of reality shows and wrestling still occupying their airwaves, there is a lot more work to be done.
When the Sci Fi Channel was started back in 1992 it was launched with a big ceremony at the Hayden Planetarium. The MC was Leonard Nimoy. The advisory board was made up of people with names like Asimov and Rodenberry. It was started as a place to show classic Star Trek and classic sci-fi movies like Frankenstein. SyFy has come very far from those origins. They have made their mistakes and taken their lumps. Now it is time for them to get back up and find their way back to where they started, back to what they could have been. We do not want to lose Syfy the way we lost History or TLC or numerous other networks with new “broader appeal.” SyFy needs to learn the lesson of every nerd in high school, “sometimes in life you don’t need to impress the kids at the cool table. Sometimes the only person you need to be is you, because, for the people that love you, that is already pretty damn impressive.”