Today is the day that we officially declare the Sci-Fi Channel dead. The question is…do we say long live “SyFy”?
Let’s see…um…no. Just not feeling it. Being the card-carrying sci-fi geek that I have been since about the age of four or so, you’d think I’m a shoo-in for just about anything that airs on this channel, regardless of what they call it, but the more I think about their rebranding as “SyFy” – supposedly so they can “own their brand” (okay, I do understand that’s important) without alienating their core audience – the more a voice in the back of my head is saying “Guys? You’re doin’ it wrong.” Somehow, the top brass at Sci-Fi and parent company NBC Universal have talked themselves into believing that calling the channel “SyFy” instead of “Sci-Fi” will somehow get new people in the door to sample their offerings. I’m just not thinking that a silly intentional misspelling will have that effect, you know?
And for all of SyFy’s “imagine” promotion – and here’s where I’m going to get on my former-TV-promo-guy high horse and claim that I do know of what I speak (whether anyone wants to believe that or not is largely up to them, naturally), why didn’t they go for a more radical change? Case in point: Canada’s equivalent of the Sci-Fi Channel is called Space: The Imagination Station. I’ve known that practically since it took on that name, and I don’t even live in Canada – that’s because the name is so damned catchy. The Imagination Station. That’s all kinds of awesome – and if one were to leave off “Space”, there’d be nothing tying it down to space/hardware-based SF (i.e. Galactica, Stargate), which is the expensive commodity that Sci-Fi/SyFy keeps trying to ditch without losing their base; instead they keep trying to fill the roster with Earth-based shows like Eureka and Warehouse 13, which is fine, and grade-Z movies that can’t even bothered to go straight to DVD, which is less than fine. Something like “The Imagination Station” would cover that ground so much better than trying to claim to be Sci-Fi any longer, regardless of how it’s spelled.
I won’t even get into the wrestling shows on Sci-Fi/SyFy. The channel constantly defends those by pointing out that they pop a number. So did WWF Smackdown on UPN – and while it drew the wrestling audience to UPN, the wrestling audience didn’t make itself conspicuous by hanging around to sample the rest of the network’s programming.
And where is UPN now? Oh…yeah. One or two of its shows were subsumed into the CW, a mongrel-dog hybrid of UPN and the WB, and even those shows are now history. You’d think someone might have taken notice of that lesson. But by the same token, you’d think more folks would remember the DuMont network too. No such luck.
When even battle-hardened marketing folks in the industry think SyFy is most likely making a misstep, one has to wonder if there isn’t more to it than a bunch of vocal, disgruntled fans who are cranky without their Galactica fix. Sci-Fi has made so many critical missteps that I’ve lost count. The Universal Studios vaults are heavy with classic genre fare that’s barely even being exploited in the daily “marathon to fill the morning/early afternoon dayparts” marathons; arguably, there could be a Classic Sci-Fi Channel sitting comfortably alongside the current one. This rebranding is ham-fisted at best. And by ignoring such things as the fan filmmaking community, imported fare such as Doctor Who (which Sci-Fi was very late in picking up, and has now recently lost to BBC America) and international co-productions (for which you’d think that the partially-Sky-One-bankrolled Galactica would’ve helped them develop a taste), Sci-Fi has done all it can to make sure everyone knows that space/hardware SF is “too expensive” for them.
But they need to come up with something better than a bunch of Earthbound alternate universes that look like the woods outside of Vancouver. Caprica’s an encouraging step – not really space-based, but it has the high concept going for it – and Eureka’s a lot of fun when it’s not taking itself too overly seriously, but we’re talking about two hours out of the entire schedule.
Face it, SyFy, the Canadians beat you to the punch fair and square. “The Imagination Station.” Rolls off the tongue nicely – and I kinda wish I could watch that instead of SyFy itself.