Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1112: SyFy Gets Ambition

Bill McGoldrick the newly minted executive VP at the SyFy Channel has announced that the channel is on the hunt for serious and ambitious adult-oriented science fiction projects.


Because other channels like AMC (Walking Dead) and HBO (Game of Thrones) have been having great success in the genres that should be SyFy's bailiwick. You probably remember that a few years ago the channel once known as Sci-Fi was "rebranded" as SyFy and they tried to reinvent themselves as the one stop shop for wrestling, reality shows about people running around empty houses, and bad TV movies with randomly generated titles/plots that people like to make jokes about.

This rebranding/reinvention was caused by the simple fact that Sci-Fi, for the most part, wasn't very good at doing science fiction. For every success story like the Battlestar Galactica reboot there were a lot of turkeys like their 2 badly botched adaptations of Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld books. For most of its history Sci-Fi/SyFy seemed like a genre channel run by people who looked like they didn't really like, or understand, the genre they were supposed to be selling.

This meant that the people running Sci-Fi saw the poor return on investment as proof that somehow speculative genre entertainment didn't sell, even though it dominated the blockbuster movie market, and not of their own mismanagement. So they rebranded, did everything they could to hinder the few genre shows they had, and enjoyed incredible mediocrity.

Over the past year or so they've been trying to reclaim the genres they gave up with mixed results. Their big budget series Defiance did okay, but wasn't the Walking Dead size monster hit they wanted, and it's happening again with their new science-fiction thriller Helix which just seems to be doing good, not great.


Because SyFy isn't really trusted by viewers.

Remember their brand is based around TV movies like Shartnado, wrestling, reruns, and cancelling original shows that people seem to like. Audiences have come to expect two things from SyFy's original programming:

1. Pseudo ironic deliberate crap.

2. A good show that gets cancelled prematurely and arbitrarily because someone in a suit at head office thought running a rerun of something cheaper, like wrestling, would bring in a better return with lower ratings.

This McGoldrick fellow has his work cut out for him rebuilding trust with viewers.

So let's put our thinking caps on and come up with some ideas for SyFy.

My first idea is to adapt some of the great science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels and novel series of the past. Maybe not the ones that would cost $100+ million to adapt, but the sort of smart, intense, intelligent stories, with dedicated fan bases.

But they must do something very important.

They must be done RIGHT.

Actually, it's a lot of hard work
They must be done by people who actually care about the source material. Not just people who think that as long as they have a familiar title and some CGI the audiences will take their crap and call it ice cream.

They need to bring their "A-Game" and be more Vince Gilligan and less of the sort of abominations adaptations they did in the past.

This won't be easy. Most of the "classic" genre novels and novel series have already been bought up by the major studios hoping to make them into blockbuster movies by taking out everything about them but the titles. However, it's not impossible.

Also, when it comes to putting out original programming you can't expect a straight out of the gate blockbuster. You need to build a rep for quality viewing first. AMC had moderate ratings, but great reviews with Mad Men, and better ratings and greater praise with Breaking Bad, so when they adapted the popular Walking Dead comic series, their rep for quality preceded it. This sparked anticipation and interest, and the show's quality and intensity kept the viewers coming back to make them the number one series on all of TV.

See, it's a process, not a magic pill.

I wish the folks at SyFy good luck, and maybe the channel will find a less nonsensical name.


  1. Hi, I've really enjoyed reading through your blog. Following you now.

    I couldn't agree with you more. I actually politely confronted SyFy producers at a scifi convention. I tried to explain that Scifi fans would prefer actual science fiction to wrestling. Hogwash they said. You'll like what we give you.

    Ok, now the SyFy Channel is joke. Although I've liked what I've seen with 'Helix' so far, but it's no Battlestar.

  2. Mr. D,
    I've been reading for a while, and you always make a lot of sense. But I have a question:
    You frequently present the idea, as in this post, that producers should hire creators that actually like the source material, or actually like the genre of entertainment they are supposed to be creating. That makes sense to me (and I want that to happen).
    However, do the suits at the top have plausible reasons to not do so? I.e., doing so is always a gamble, right? Is that the dilemma? Could you elaborate more on why the execs don't let those who love the actual genre/source material do the jobs?

  3. Rainforestt Giant here,

    Syfy has cancelled things like MST3K while running an 'Asylum movie of the week'. If I were running SyFy I would set aside a couple of blocks for genuinely new/original productions from small producers and students etc. I would bring back MST3K or something like it. I would produce a few good adaptions of classics and look for those good/great ideas that could be tv series.

    No one's done Ring World, Mote in God's Eye, or even Lucifer's Hammer. Some asshats stole the idea for Dies the Fire and called it Revolution. SyFy could pay ffor the actual Dies the Fire it would or could be a Game of Thrones.

    Good military SyFy is rare as hens teeth. Part of the problem is every show _has_ to have 90 lbs pixies that kick ass on 250 lbs trained killers. Doesn't happen in the real military, witness how few women even pass the minimum standard for men. But it is standard for the future apparently. Make a Combat! in space and it could do well.

  4. Or maybe SyFy will go down the same glory hole that the weather channel seems to be heading for. That would be my favorite option.

    If a channel that brands itself X and then can't make it showing X in a reasonable time, then maybe they should call it a day instead of throwing more crap into the cable mix hoping some stix.

  5. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. Hell, any Zelanzy. Just, please, do better than Damnation Alley.