In today’s Tube Bit post, we pointed to an article over on the Sy Fy Portal about how SF fans are being too complacent about the current state of SF on TV. Author Wayne Hall takes fans to task for being negative about SF on TV, especially the Sci Fi Channel, and says we should support SF TV regardless of a show’s quality. Indeed, he says this:
If you want science-fiction on television, you have to make it worthwhile for the people who bring it to you. It’s as simple as that.
I have to disagree. It is not up to us, the fans, to make it worthwhile for TV networks to bring us shows. It is their
job to bring us shows that we want to see. Blasting the fans for not supporting crap is, well, rather silly. And no where is that more obvious than on the Sci Fi Channel. Science fiction, as a genre, has a much smaller viewer base than other types of shows, for various reasons we don’t need to go into here. So it makes sense that a cable network dedicated to SF can be successful while drawing fewer viewers. SF fans should be flocking to the Sci Fi Channel. But they aren’t. And it’s not the fans’ fault.
Consider this. In the beginning of the Sci Fi Channel, they actually showed lots of science fiction. Old TV shows, movies, you name it. Then things began to change. Sci Fi started to expand its programming to include new shows and movies. Things that brought in somewhat better ratings, but have tended to alienate the SF base. Things like their original movies, filled with B or C list actors, filmed on the cheap with lame stories that tend to be creature features, usually shown on Saturday night, or, as Tim and I like to call it, ‘The Most Dangerous Night Of SF On Television’. Or their ‘reality’ type shows like Ghost Hunters. And then there’s wrestling. I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing the intersection between wrestling fans and SF fans is pretty small, so whatever audience they get for ECW doesn’t stick around for the rest of Sci Fi’s offerings. But we’re stuck with that because it pays the bills, as do the cheap-o movies.
Sci Fi’s original series track record isn’t that great either. The Dresden Files was a huge disappointment, taking an awesome series of books and making a, well, lackluster show out of them. From all accounts, Painkiller Jane was the encountered the same problem, and, yes, so does Flash Gordon. While Wayne may say Flash isn’t as bad as people say, it isn’t good either. It isn’t even good enough. Again, Sci Fi took a fun and campy property and sucked the life out of it. I just saw a preview for this weeks episode where Flash meets the Hawk Men. Hawk Men who were goggle and dark capes and look like rejects from Mad Max. Even Galactica has suffered as it moved away from escaping the Cylons towards more allegorical fare. And let’s not start on how Sci Fi treated Farscape. It’s easy to see that Sci Fi is all about the money, and not the fans. That isn’t the fans’ fault, so why should the fans support a network that isn’t giving them what they want?
Is it any wonder, then, that when Sci Fi does produce something worthwhile, people are surprised (Eureka) or don’t tune in (The Lost Room)? Sci Fi’s recent track record is very poor and people know this. Unfortunately for Sci Fi, that means that any new show or movie that gets produced will be seen through the ‘Sci Fi is cheap and makes crappy shows’ filter. And Sci Fi, and Sy Fy Portal, shouldn’t blame the fans.
So the question now becomes: Can the Sci Fi Channel be ‘saved’? And by saved, I mean can it become a place where decent, if not great, SF programming be found and where money can be made because, let’s face it, Sci Fi has to make money to stay in business. Right now they have a model where they make money by producing mediocre or worse SF fare. My guess is they can make even more money by making better shows. Eureka is a good start, but its not for everyone. But how do they get ‘there’ from here?
I don’t have the answers. The SF fanbase is much smaller than for other TV genres, so maybe this is the best Sci Fi can do. I’d like to think that better shows would bring in more people, and not just SF fans. Of course, that means overcoming the aversion some people may have to watching a show on a ‘Sci Fi’ network. I think it can be done. Galactica started out as a breakout hit with lots of word of mouth, but subsequent seasons didn’t live up to the first. I think Sci Fi will need to take some creative risks and, yes, spend some money to find shows people really want to watch. But doing so is risky so I’m not sure that they are willing to do so.
I’ll keep my eye on the new stuff Sci Fi produces, but just don’t expect to watch shows that could, or should, be better than what we get. I can always go elsewhere to find better science fiction. It’s a shame the Sci Fi Channel isn’t one of those places.
Update: Keith Strohm has more thoughts in his Why I Am Not A Slave To Sci Fi TV! post.