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Saturday, July 02, 2011

Syfy: Will it Destroy Science Fiction?

Criticizing the Syfy channel in the SF community is almost like fulfilling a requirement for entry.  After all, the channel plays more wrestling and phony ghost-hunting/crypto-BS than any other channel on cable, which makes it really easy to hate if you're not into such things.  It wasn't always that way, though.  I remember watching old science fiction classics on Scifi (the name it used to have before they went moron and came up with Syfy).  Godzilla, cheezy 80s flicks, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits.  All of those wonderful shows were there.  Now?  Not so much.

But is Syfy detrimental to science fiction as a genre?  Kyle Mizokami thinks so.  One of his recent tweets reads as follows:
Syfy's express purpose seems to be to destroy the genre of science fiction.
Mizokami is certainly being facetious here, but it might be worth wondering whether Syfy, in a general sense, is good for science fiction.  I highly doubt the creators or its current "controllers" intend to destroy SF, since that would make their station pointless, but they certainly have made many decisions which many would consider damaging to SF, or, at the very least, damn well questionable.

In defense of Syfy, I think it's necessary to point out that they are the only station dedicated to
producing original SF/F television.  They've brought us the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and various incarnations of Stargate, saved Sliders from certain incomplete death, and created numerous other wholly original series (some of them, I'm told, are damned good), movies (most of which aren't so great), and so on.  True, they've resorted to playing wrestling and other garbage, but it's the only channel that actually plays science fiction on a routine basis, and maintains SF/F series as part of its "package."  Most of the major networks haven't a clue what to do with genre when they have it and that means most of the genre shows that appear there are canceled in quick order.  I'd argue that cable television is where all good genre television goes to live, while network television is where it goes to die.

That said, I do think we have a lot to be concerned about with Syfy.  Rather than play SF/F classics in poor-performing slots (to boost ratings, as I see it), they've gone towards "popular" things like wrestling, paranormal investigation nonsense, and so on.  I think this is a bad thing for the station in general, but it is also worrying for SF/F fans, since it means the one network devoted to what they love is putting too much attention into junk that should show up elsewhere.  Throw in the fact that their TV movies are more often than not just this side of kill-yourself-awful and it's hard to think of Syfy as a channel that knows what it is doing.  Quality television and quality re-run selection is absolutely crucial for SF/F.

In general, I disagree with Mizokami.  I don't think Syfy is damaging SF...yet.  But it has the potential to ruin genre television if it isn't careful.  It's hard to call Syfy the worst TV station on cable when it wasn't all that long ago that the greatest science fiction show in the history of television graced their channel (BSG).  But when you watch something like Battle of Los Angeles, which is possibly the worst film ever made, what else are you supposed to think other than "they really don't give a crap?"

What do you think?  Is Syfy bad for science fiction?

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  1. I remember hearing right after Sci-Fi got taken over by whoever owns the WWF that the then-president (Linda someone-or-other?) referred to 'that stupid sci-fi stuff' on the channel. That's when they started with the wrestling shows. I think it was her mission to get rid of it. She's out now, but it doesn't sound like much has changed.

  2. I didn't know that. That's disturbing...

  3. I don't think Syfy will do much to science fiction in the eyes of the fans - I think it will continue it's trend of cheap, rip-off "original" movies based on bigger-budgeted, sincerely original sci-fi movies and this will turn the sci-fi fans away in droves. Right now fans are holding on based on past loyalty, but it won't keep them there forever. Ultimately, the true damage is in sci-fi's acceptance by the "mainstream" (the majority). Non-fans see the Syfy channel as the best, biggest, and most dedicated representation of the genre. And that's become a damn shame.

    However, Syfy's online original web content has been somewhat of a different story. It could be that as tv transitions to streaming (which it will inevitably do) this new content will win the day for everyone. The horror that's playing on Syfy's cable channel could simply be the last dying gasps of a syndication method that's moving past its prime.

  4. Dave: I agree. Right now, the station plays too much crap for me to justify paying a cable bill. I loved BSG, and the station churns out some interesting TV shows otherwise, but their crap rip-off films annoy the hell out of me. I wish they'd go back to playing re-runs of old TV shows and classic scifi flicks (even the campy ones from way back when).

    I just don't understand why it's so hard for them to produce good TV movies. They can do TV shows decent enough. Why not 1.5 hour long flicks? It can't be that hard to find good writers and decent actors, right?

    On that note, I think the problem is that Syfy wants to be bigger than its budget will allow, which means it frequently sacrifices good writing for cheap special effects. You don't get this very often with BBC productions, since they know their budgets are small and tend to pay more attention to good writing than things which cost loads of money. It used to be that way in the U.S. You had a budget and you had to write within that. Some of the best shows and TV movies, etc. have arisen from such limitations (and the writers' acknowledgement of them).

    But you may be right about the syndication method moving past its prime...