The SciFi Channel had a bright future ahead of it when Battlestar Galactica concluded back in 2008. It had just done an HBO-quality show in the 13-26 episode format and was continuing with Caprica. Had the latter show gone at least three seasons, we might have gotten to see the Cylon War that kicked off everything. But there were signs that owner Comcast had lost its way already.
First came that hideous name change. “Syfy.” Everyone made fun of it. Some said it looked like “syphillis,” an STD people had not heard much about since the 1980s, and back then, mainly in high school sex ed classes or history classes when teachers told Gen Xrs lurid tales of how Al Capone, Hitler, and probably Stalin died. (Pretty sure Joe drank himself to death. He loved him the vodka.) The idea was that you really couldn’t trademark “SciFi.” We could see their point, but “Syfy” just looks stupid. Yet here we are in 2018.
Then Caprica was doomed from the start. Someone somewhere at NBC Universal (Comcast’s network division) decided that pro wrestling, specifically the WWE, was science fiction. So we were treated twice weekly to Smackdown and Raw, the latter of which ran on Friday nights in Galactica‘s old time slot. So while HBO lost Deadwood, wound down The Wire, and said goodbye to Sex in the City, it managed to find Game of Thrones, lining up Westworld to eventually replace it. But poor Caprica was doomed. Friday was the primo timeslot for a thoughtful, complex science fiction show, and Caprica got bounced around so much that the creators wound up rushing the ending and missing the whole Cylon uprising, which was the original point of the show.
It gets worse. Doctor Who disappeared. So the end of Matt Smith’s run and all of Peter Capaldi’s (along with Jodi Whittaker’s debut) wound up on BBC America with older episodes of Nu Who (and some choice Tom Baker arcs) going to Amazon. What did we get instead?
Sharknado. Sharktopus. Some movie about giant CGI mosquitoes. Bascially Roger Corman flicks with CGI and no directors who will look back fondly on their internship. (George Lucas, Francis Ford Copolla, and Ron Howard all apprenticed on Corman’s cheap, cheesey movies. I seriously doubt Sharknado will yield the next Uwe Boll, never mind Steven Spielberg.)
And then it occurred to someone at NBC that they might possibly have been mishandling an asset created by Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov in the 1990s to showcase science fiction. That was the whole purpose of SciFi (or Syfy). So out comes Defiance and Killjoys and Dark Matter. My hope was renewed when they also picked up James SA Corey’s series, The Expanse. Syfy was back and ready to compete with Amazon and Netflix. Right?
Nope. Defiance? Gone. Ditto Dark Matter. And the cancellation of The Expanse caused an uproar the likes of which had not been seen since people found out how an elderly Luke Skywalker got his breakfast. Amazon managed to pick it up, but the damage was done. Now Netflix has gone out of its way to become the home of edgy science fiction, especially since Disney will soon yank its Marvel line-up for its own streaming service. Stranger Things, Altered Carbon, and Lost in Space give Netflix a slate of dark, thoughtful, and most of all, bingeworthy programming that’s made the network’s bread and butter in other genres.
And there’s the rub. If it’s on Amazon or Netflix or HBO or Hulu, it can be binged. Even BBC America puts half its programs on demand via cable or Sling/DirecTV. Syfy cancelled The Expanse because viewers did not want to watch it “live,” the old fashioned way where you had to have your fanny in front of the TV at a set time on a set day. They did not get that most people want their TV on demand. And therein is the problem.
Disney is gathering content from its many networks, including ABC and its associated networks, to create a new streaming service set to debut in 2019. CBS already is moving away from broadcast television by putting the latest Star Trek on CBS All-Access. Fox already has on-demand options on cable/Sling/DirecTV, which has allowed me to watch The Orville alongside Star Trek: Discovery. NBC doesn’t get it. And it may be too late. Syfy has alienated too much of its core audience to recover, even if it pivots to streaming. The damage is done. Syfy may be no more in a few years.
Too bad. Or maybe not. I like paying for quality, and Syfy does not understand what I get from my Prime account or Netflix subscriptions.