Today, let’s take a moment to reflect on what a bad job Syfy is doing.
I don’t do this out of hate, really, but just to point out some critical shortcomings. And hate, too, I guess. Ok, I do it out of hate, and the critical shortcoming thing. I hate, but I hate because I love.
Since they started producing their own shows about twelve years ago, Sci-Fi (As it was then known) has always made some very odd programming decisions. Of course this was a very transitional time for TV in general and cable TV in specific, so some of those can be written up as the same kinds of missteps that everyone was making in those days. No harm, no foul, but it’s much harder to overlook the increasingly bad job they’re doing at present.
Case in point: in the 2009/2010 season, the network has only three SF shows in production: Stargate Universe, Caprica, and Eureka. “Warehouse 13” is a fantasy show, so it doesn’t count, and the rest of their program is Wrasslin’ and (Allegedly) reality TV, which is, itself basically fantasy. They *were* running new episodes of Doctor Who, but they lost that to BBC America since they refused to pay a decent fee for it, thus we’re down from an average of four genre programs a year just 18 months ago.
“Ah,” you say, “But that’s not too bad, now is it?”
Well, yeah, it kind of is: Let’s compare them to ABC, which this season also ran Lost, V, Defying Gravity and Flash Forward. What that means is that Syfy - who’s mandate is to show Science Fiction - is doing a worse job than ABC, a network that doesn’t have that mandate. ABC doesn’t make us suffer through Wrestling, either. Not only is Syfy doing a worse job, really, they’re getting panted: ABC tends to run its shows concurrently and with a fairly predictable schedule (Though Defying Gravity is a dead-before-it-hit-the-air exception of the sort more commonly seen on Fox), whereas Syfy traditionally shows short seasons (13 to 20 episodes) and breaks them into haves that are shown at widely spaced intervals.
For instance, the final season of Battlestar Galactica was aired between April 2009 and March 2009, with a break of more than a year between seasons! The break between the truncated second season of “Eureka” and its slightly-less-truncated third season was almost fifteen months! And that’s a terrible show! Who makes someone wait more than a year for a terrible show?
“Ah,” you say, “But this isn’t a broadcast network, and they don’t have the kinds of resources to throw around.”
Well, yeah, that’s true, but let’s remember here that Syfy is owned by NBC-Universal (Who used to be owned by the Shinehart Wig Corporation, but was recently sold to Kabletown), who also own the USA Network. USA is, of course, known for high-quality high-rated original series like Monk, White Collar, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Law & Order: Criminal Plot Erosion, Psych, Royal Pains, and, sadly, wrestling. This network is Syfy’s sibling, they had the same basic beginnings, the same opportunities, the same basic limitations, and yet USA is able to crank out a half dozen high-quality original series every season, and Syfy can only barely do four. Why is that?
No, seriously, why is that? I get that it’s harder to film an SF show than it is to do Burn Notice. You can’t just take a drive through the Deco District in an SF show, anything exotic in SF has to be built or rendered, which is expensive. However the thing that’s really made a name for these series is their tight writing, good casting, glitzy direction, and interesting characters. Drama is drama, after all: the rules aren’t really all that different whether you’re talking about westerns, noir, period pictures, modern-day tearjerkers, or SF. You tell a good story in a good way, and give it a chance to find its feet, and people will find you and reward you handsomely.
“Ah,” you say, “but Syfy doesn’t have the resources USA has.”
Well, yeah, but USA didn’t have the resources USA had when they started out, now did they? They started out making one show, it got ratings, and they got money to make a second one, which also got ratings, which justified a third series, and so on. They planned these things out well before they hit the air so the risks were relatively small, they had a strong sense of what they were doing, and they’re been successful with that. Arguably, they’ve been more successful than their parent corporation. This is the same basic model that Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network followed.
Syfy, by comparison, hasn’t done that. They’re just throwing crap at the wall at random, and jerking their audiences around.
Case in point: Stargate SG1 is the show that put Syfy on the ratings-map. It was their number one rated show for most of its run, and their number two rated show for the remainder. It could have run for another five or ten years, and MGM invested a ton of money in re-inventing it in season 8 with the tacit understanding that Sci-Fi would support it. Then Sci-Fi abruptly cancelled it. MGM attempted to find another home for it - back on Showtime again, or maybe CBS - but Sci-Fi *Prevented* them from doing so! Who cancels a #2 rated show and keeps the #3 rated show on the air?
They painstakingly build up an audience and a style for Stargate Atlantis, then abruptly cancel that a year before everyone’s contracts ran out. Again, who does that?
They created Stargate: Universe, which - much as I like it, let’s be honest here - is horribly derivative of Battlestar Galactica, and doesn’t have nearly the audience its predecessors did.
Meanwhile, they refuse to pick up orphaned series that people *Want* to see - Crusade, Firefly, Terminator 2.5 - so they can make giant monster moves that no one watches.
“Ah,” you say, “But Science Fiction is a niche entertainment, you can’t expect…”
Horsecrap! SF is more popular in the media now than it’s ever been, which is why all the *real* networks have been dipping their feet in the pool over the last couple years. If there’s enough SF being produced out there to support this website based on third-hand interest, then there’s *more* than enough interest to support decent programming on Syfy. If only there were some. Remember the USA model: you build your shows, and people will come if you don’t jerk ‘em around too much.
And man oh man oh man, does Syfy love to jerk ‘em around! In addition to the delays mentioned above, try to figure out their daily schedule! I dare you! They’ve got a regularly-scheduled set of repeats up until prime time, as with any local station, but they pre-empt it continually for no good reason whatsoever - “Let’s throw on a marathon of V that’ll take up two days!” “Let’s throw up a marathon of Twilight Zone episodes,” “Let’s show a random bunch of stargate episodes,” “We could show Kings, but no one watched the V marathon a while back, so we really should run that again! Twice!”
How can you hold viewers with continual half-assed stunt casting like that?
I think this was the real reason behind their misguided rebranding a year ago: They thought that if they broadened their mandate to Fantasy (And by the way, they’d never excluded fantasy anyway), it would help things out. Clearly it hasn’t, though, has it?
Seriously - to anyone at Syfy who’s stumbled across this and is lighting up their Molotov cocktails - you’re doing a bad job. There’s a lot of viewers out here who *want* to like you, and you’re just frustrating the hell out of us.
Please, please, please try to do better, ok?