The Sci-Fi channel announced on Monday that they were to be undergoing a major rebranding effort, changing the name of the channel and its related projects to the SyFy Channel.
It’s a terrible idea.
The impedus behind this move is a logical one for the company, I’ll be honest. The channel, according to all reports, has really been growing over the past couple of years. I frequently hear about how various miniseries events, television premieres and films that are aired on the channel break prior records for viewers, which is a positive step for the genre, and the network has gained a number of viewers outside of the normal fan routes for shows such as Battlestar Galactica, which have gained considerable attention over the past five years.
Still, this move, and others that the channel has made in the past couple of years, are worrisome. In 2002, the channel cancelled Farscape, citing expenses, although there was a considerable fanbase for the show, although that was later brought back. Part of the decision has widely been reported to have been taken because the channel was attempting to transition away from the image of space ships and aliens, and towards more grounded and accessible shows and movies. As a result, shows such as Stargate and Battlestar Galactica are being transitioned out, to be replaced with shows such as Eureka and Warehouse 13.
The main problem that I see here is that the network is essentially alienating and marginalizing its core target audience, which is both insulting and unfair to the demographic that is largely watching Sci-Fi’s shows. The impression here is that the ‘geek’/’nerd’ demo is not only enough for the channel’s expansion, but it is unwanted, because the nerds are the unwashed, unsocial and unwanted people in general, and, what they like, of course, must be something that the rest of mainstream audiences won’t like. Hense, space ships and aliens are on their way out, to be replaced with a number of reality shows and uninteresting shows, not to mention WWE Wrestling.
The channel as it stands right now isn’t making things easier for itself. A frequent topic of conversation amongst some of my friends is the programming that they already have, that never seems to change – the Saturday night movies, designed to immitate the bad b-films of years past, even worse shows such as Sanctuary, Moonlight, Primeval and Painkiller Jane, all of which have been panned critically. This is opposed to shows such as Battlestar, which has garnered much media attention and awards, Stargate SG-1, which ran for ten seasons and won numerous awards, and Farscape, which likewise was a critical and fan favorite.
What bothers me more is this rejection of the core demographic. Geeks and nerds, as I’ve written about before, don’t generally fall within the sterotype that we’re typically branded with. They’re intelligent, obsessive, interested and, as Farscape and Firefly have proven, are willing to do a bit of legwork with TV shows – they’ll promote, talk about it, and spread it around. While I’m sure that most SF fans will continue to watch the show’s content and this will still be the case, the notion that the programming will be broadened to encompass a larger audience is worrisome. Battlestar Galactica and Farscape were not the most accessible shows, yet they were still successful because of their complexity and work with moral grey areas. They still prove to be facinating when you go back to re-watch them. This move indicates that something like this might be stripped away to something far more mainstream, less interesting and less likely to be as critically successful.
Essentially, the network is trying to distance itself from Science Fiction, and in a way, away from the fans that make it up, while still counting on their support, if that makes sense. The move looks to new areas, such as fantasy and other paranormal, which is what they have been moving to over the past couple of years. The name change is essentially the final cap on this whole sorry tale. I honestly can’t say how replacing the I’s with Y’s is going to really make any sort of difference when it comes to the broader perception of the public. The SciFi channel can do far better than what they have been doing, and we’ve seen evidence of that. I honestly don’t care what they call the channel, but so long as they reject what has really worked in the past and continue with some of the really bad programming, they’re still going to have perception problems, while continuing to alienate their core audience.