The Syfy Channel's Spiraling End
As the Syfy Cable net continues to get further away from expensive (well, for them anyways), scripted programming in favor of more and more cheap to produce reality programming (with some mild genre appeal), one wonders why they don’t just drop the whole concept of giving viewers genre shows at all. Much like the Logo (the gay cable network), Syfy has decided to “broaden” their programming sked by doing away with what made people watch them in the first place.
Granted, with multiple platforms for viewers to watch TV shows and movies, the idea of a cable network dedicated to one genre -especially the science fiction, fantasy, horror genre, which has always been considered “cultish,” in nature and offers limited growth potential- is difficult. I can give them a break on that.
But because them and the advertisers want to appeal to one demographic -12-25 year olds (and I will say the 18-49 is fallacy demographic)- any viewer who wants something that is, say deeper than a puddle, is forced to look elsewhere (and let me tell you, there is not much out there even on other cable or broadcast networks). I mean, it’s always been assumed by the studios, the broadcast networks and the advertisers that average American’s have a 12th grade education, and any program with a complex story or metaphor should be kept at a minimum.
But I would argue that science fiction and fantasy fans are actually smarter, more in tuned than the average viewer or reader. Not saying that George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is great literature, but he does try to create complex characters, with various moral compass issues, and sews in parables and other allegories that gives a deeper meaning to what he’s trying to convey. Is it The Lord of the Rings meets The Sorpranos? Yes, but those two franchises are great ones to be compared to.
I won’t say something similar to Game of Thrones is out of reach for Syfy, but I could not see them delving deeper into the complex world of Martin’s series the way HBO is doing (and granted, HBO runs a completely different financial platform because they don’t have to bow before advertisers, but still). For them, the stories would have to become less dense, less intricate because advertisers don’t want viewers to become overwhelmed with narratives that require any thought process -it might interfere with the product they’re hawking between acts.
As a fan of the genre since I was able to read and understand it -35 to 40 years- I do expect a lot out of what I read and view on TV and the movies. While not a huge fan of the horror genre, I completely enjoyed Cabin in the Woods, mostly because I got what writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were doing with the genre (it made me giggle when a couple left the theater and walked by me and my friend and the guy turned to his girlfriend and said “I don’t get it”). Had Whedon and Goddard approached Syfy with this idea, they would have (like it seems all the major studios) required them to change almost everything about it, including the brilliant ending (because, apparently, everything must have the traditional Hollywood Ending). The fact that MGM initially financed it (before going bankrupt) and then Lionsgate picking it up, indicates that marketing and the hedge fund managers playing CEO’s in the entertainment industry are clueless when it comes to producing movies and, more so, TV shows that break-out of the typical box these products have made in for the last 100 years.
Yes, cost-cutting and streamlining are necessary corporate maneuvers, that I understand. But scaling back scripted fare in favor of reality shows (like these announced today) means fewer ideas, fewer projects that could be breakout or surprise hits on what was once a go-to channel. These type of cutbacks do not create a future for a cable network like Syfy, but institutes a culture of dumbing down the audience in favor of corporate profit.
The fact that you have little regard for viewing audience who actually wants something different than the same old cop show that Dragnet started or the same old comedy that Lucy launched indicates how little you really care about anyone above the age of 25. Yes, reality TV is cheap to produce, does not require a huge audience share, but when you put profit before the product, then you are essentially giving the middle finger to anyone who might wants something that challenges the mind.
Beyond the new reality series announced, I also read that Syfy is considering an adaptation of Stephen King’s fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon. While I like the idea, I shudder at the thought of them producing it. First, Stephen King is hard to adapt, even though I believe Michael Taylor is a capable writer, having written for the cable net’s Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Secondly, while not a hugely complex novel, it has some very dark aspects that TV seems to shy away from (I don’t see Syfy approaching horror the same way that AMC has done with The Walking Dead or FX with American Horror Story). Plus, it does share some mythology with King’s Dark Tower series, as well as a particular villain in the name of Randall Flagg, the heavy in King’s much-loved epic, The Stand. I’m assuming that Syfy will negate any connection to the Dark Tower or The Stand much like the film adaptation of Hearts in Atlantis did (and I’ll grant you both properties are currently in development at Warner Bros., but still).
While I know they’ll produce a miniseries version up in Vancouver for cost reasons, being a fantasy movie also means building sets, unless they go the route of virtual sets like they did with Neverland mini last year. While well acted, the cheapness factor of that mini really ruined it, at least for me.
In the end, I’m a frustrated viewer, but I know there are many more of us out there. A lot have just simply given up (which could explain why viewers eyes are vanishing from the TV), because their voices have been lost in the cacophony yes people and hedge fund managers that run Hollywood these days. I once believed creative people were valued there. Sure corporate managers are an instrumental part of running Syfy as well as other aspect of a business, but so are creative visionaries who can deliver the big ideas.
Syfy -and the entertainment industry somewhat- has forgotten that in their current climate of putting quantity and profit above quality and a lasting legacy.