Syfy Not for Sci-fi Fans Anymore?
Growing up in the '90's as a fan of science fiction was a rather difficult task. While major networks would occasionally run science fiction programs, most of the time they were at an hour that only made them accessible to those who had their schedule set to catch them. When I was still in grade school, about all I was able to see was Star Trek: Deep Space 9 on CBS on Saturday night, Star Trek: The Next Generation on NBC on Sunday morning, and then my local NBC station also held a "Star Trek Marathon" every Saturday night starting at about 1am and running till 5am. Outside of that, there really wasn't any science fiction shows available to me on TV, that is, until I learned about the Sci-Fi channel.
I didn't have cable or satellite for awhile when I was growing up, so one of the things I looked forward to when visiting my grandmother was watching TV at her place. Amongst the hundreds of channels she did get was the Sci-Fi channel, and through it I found a new love for the genre like only a child could. Lost In Space, Battlestar Galactica, The Twilight Zone, you name it, I watched it. It wasn't just the classics that I became acquainted with though. This network introduced me to various wonders from across the Pacific, ranging from kaiju movies such as the Gamera series to anime such as Iria: Zeiram the Animation.
If it wasn't for the Sci-Fi channel, I'm certain that my love and appreciation for the genre might never have blossomed, so it's understandable how much it pains me to see the "Syfy" channel the way it is today.
Gone is Sci-Fi! Hello Syfy!
In July of 2009, NBC, the parent company for the Sci-Fi channel made the decision to change the name of the Sci-Fi channel to Syfy, claiming that it was a decision made because their existing name "Sci-Fi" couldn't be trademarked. At the time, while their show line-up was changing, they were still sticking predominantly to their science fiction roots, mixing older, more classic series with their own line-up of new shows and movies created specifically for the network. When I heard about this change, I thought it was rather odd that they'd decide to do it so late into the network's existence, but I understood the reasoning behind it.
It was what accompanied this change that turned the whole conversion process sour. Though it began 2006 with the introduction of some decidedly non-science fiction programs, such as Extreme Championship Wrestling, once this conversion to Syfy took place, the network started making a marked transition to more "reality" based programming. I will admit, I am a fan of some of these shows, such as Ghost Hunters and its spin-off, Ghost Hunters International (I'm a huge fan of this one), but a lot of the recent programs seem to fall in line with the trend of unoriginal, repetitive reality shows sweeping most major networks as of late.
Prior to the network name change, there were a total of four reality shows being run, the aforementioned Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International, a related show known as Destination Truth, and the comedy-based Scare Tactics. As of right now though, there are over sixteen different reality shows running on Syfy with more slated to begin in the near future, making up the bulk of their line up nowadays. While these shows are, admittedly, loosely based on concepts that are related to science fiction (such as the paranormal as well as the sci-fi movie and television industry), it's still pandering to the same market that has resulted in a noted decrease in scripted series across most all networks in favor of shows that could be made cheap and released quick.
So it's a Shark...and an Octopus?
When it comes to things being done on the cheap for Syfy, I couldn't possibly ignore the independent movies that air on the network nowadays. The Sci-Fi channel has always had a reputation for supporting independent movies in the past, showing them alongside classic science fiction movies as well as ones coming out of Hollywood. It wouldn't be uncommon for a Sunday night event to include an independent or "classic" movie or two leading up to a world or network television premiere of a big Hollywood movie of the same sub-genre. Pretty much, no matter what sub-genre of science fiction you were a fan of, you could expect to see movies pertaining to that at least once a month.
Unfortunately, the trend towards higher quantity at the expense of quality that they've been practicing with their television series has struck their "original movies" as well. A number of movies aired on the network nowadays are created by the independent film studio known as The Asylum, a company that specializes in low-budget films, some of which specifically to bank on the impending commercial success of big-budget Hollywood movies in theaters or soon to be released in theaters upon the time of their release. If you've ever been flipping through the channels to see "Almighty Thor" playing on Syfy, only to see the former wrestler Kevin Nash playing Odin, you can thank The Asylum.
Most notably though are the recent films produced by Roger Corman. While an Academy Award winner as well as mentor to some of the most renown directors today, his work over the years has been marked rather heavily by B-movies. Seeing an outlet with Syfy, Corman has produced a number of low-budget, cheap special effects movies involving giant creatures attacking various locals. Dinoshark, Dinocroc, Supergator, and Dinocroc vs. Supergator are some of his "contributions" to their line up of original movies, with plots as bizarre and head-scratching at the names.
Perhaps most famous is his 2010 film, Sharktopus, involving a creature, part shark and part octopus, genetically engineered by the United States Navy. With a creature that would be considered absurdly stupid if it didn't look so funny, special effects that would seem outdated on the set of the original Star Trek series, and an all-star cast of...Eric Roberts, this movie by itself defines the drop in quality of the "original movies" released by Syfy as of late.
How Can A Fan Stay A Fan?
I understand that change is a necessity to keep up with the demands of the viewing public, but I feel that changes shouldn't be so drastic that they alienate the existing fan base. One can look at the evolution of the network G4 to see exactly what happens when you try to appeal to a broader audience at the expensive of the loyal fan base it had. For a good while, it (especially after buying out Tech TV) was THE network when it came to video games and technology, offering multiple shows devoted to talking about video games, the gaming industry, "nerd" culture, and the like. However, the corporate higher-ups wanted to appeal to a broader audience rather than the fan base they had built up, so they started doing away with those specific shows in exchange for shows like Cheaters and Cops. This alienation of the the original fan base and the subsequent drop in viewers eventually resulted in the satellite company DirecTV dropping support for it entirely. Though I don't see Syfy at that point yet, I fear that it may eventually reach that level if things don't change.
I love the Sci-Fi Channel. I love what it offered my childhood, and I wish that those responsible would realize that cheap shows and movies aren't the way to go to make a network great. Bring back my old network!