A dozen reasons TV shows get made BESIDES ratings

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70 Responses to “A dozen reasons TV shows get made BESIDES ratings”

  1. macegr says:

    “Is it a scripted series? A serialized show? A reality show? A comedy? To bring in the most viewers throughout the week, our lineup needs to be balanced. After all, if we only had one type of show, we’d only bring in one type of viewer. Overall, TV viewers want variety, so it’s important not to lean on one type too heavily.”

    Hello, your channel was supposed to be about science fiction. You’re losing core viewers because you keep adding more crappy non-sci-fi stuff. Yet another made-for-TV movie about some lab experiment gone wild, complete with cheap MIDI orchestral score that sounds like it came from a Casio keyboard, doesn’t count. If you don’t have enough new shows, then don’t buy crappy “SyFy Original” shows or run non-sci-fi shows. Instead, rerun older beloved sci-fi shows like Lost in Space, Farscape, Firefly, Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc. Branch out a little to MST3K and no one will complain. But the line is drawn at wrestling.

    “SyFy Original” provokes an instant reflex action to the remote control. If you want to shoot new films, why not base them on some of the thousands of classic science fiction novels? Even if the production value is low, the story will at least be rooted in competence.

  2. Daedalus says:

    PS: You should consider making some of those 6-episode runs into web series and then DVDing/Netflixing ‘em. I’ve got problems committing to 100+ eps, but I’ll do 3 hours of kick-ass awesome in a night and it’ll keep me hungry for more.

    But, then, I think the greatest thing ever made was FLCL, so perhaps I am an unusual viewer.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow, there’s so much bitterness and cynicism in these comments. I didn’t hear anything in the article even implying that it wasn’t about money, or apologizing for that fact. For me, it was simply an informative reminder of the things people have to take into account when they are building a television lineup. Many people believe that ratings determine everything, period. This shows that that system is actually more complex. I feel like a lot of people are bringing baggage to what is a fairly innocuous text, here.

  4. Ernunnos says:

    I do have to thank Mr. Engler. Brought to my attention that there’re only two shows on TV I watch anymore. One will end in a week, and the other is legally available online. Just called to cancel my cable. That’s a significant chunk of change I can use to buy more video games, music, and books.

    • EricT says:

      Oh now you have done it. the Heinlein purists will begin the flame war in 3…2…1…

      Actually I liked Teh screen version of SST. It wasn’t the full court press of Poli Sci that the book was but it had the core of it there. And there was some interesting socio political commentary and plenty of Boobs. Nice Boobs.
      I like boobs

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m curious and hoping you can also list all the other things you look at when evaluating show pitches.

  6. Dewi Morgan says:

    Seems to me, all channels show “outsider art”. Discovery and History would make me wince with their woo-shows, but like Mr Engler says: those are *gateway drugs*.

    [slight devil's advocacy follows]

    Cooking and wrestling and reality shows are abhorrent, and I don’t know when they air. I don’t have cable, and I don’t live in the US (yet). But if daytime TV has wrestling to draw in some gay redneck eyeballs, and those eyeballs stay on for the sci-fi that follows… that’s a win for the channel, and it’s a win for the fandom of the show that follows the wrestling. Every new pair of eyes gained, no matter how underhanded the manner in which they were gained, is a blessing to that next show, surely?

  7. Chris Tucker says:

    Why is there a wrestling program on SciFi?

    Because the media conglomerate that OWNS SciFi, and has a contract with WWE, ordered SciFi to run that hour wrestling program.

    That’s why.

  8. redesigned says:

    #22 @Chris Tucker – That isn’t how it works when one large company own another. Do you have evidence of any such order?

    • Chris Tucker says:

      OK, SciFi is owned by a huge media conglomerate. There is NO “equality” in power here. None whatsoever.

      The conglomerate? Oh.

      NBC. And NBC is owned by General Electric. And there’s no “equality” of power there, either.

      Anyway, NBC/WWE have a contract. WWE provides content, NBC places it. WWE programming generates more income via cable than broadcast. WWE owned the ECW “brand” and needed a channel for it. As I understand the circumstances, SciFi had an hour slot open.

      Bingo. SciFi had a brand new show and no say in the matter, save for timeslot.

      When you’re a little bitty cable channel owned by NBC, NBC tells you what to do.

      And THAT’S how it’s done. I don’t know WHERE you get the idea that SciFi is a “large company”. It isn’t even a company. It’s just another division of NBC Universal.

  9. EricT says:

    Oops I selected the incorrect reply button my bad
    I ment to reply to Gellfex # 17

  10. pickin grinnin says:

    “Is it good? Will our audience like it?”

    SyFy has been ignoring those two questions for a very, very long time now.

    The “original movies” really flummox me. Does anyone here know someone who actually LIKES them? I would rather watch reruns of short-lived series (or old ones) that fit in with the station’s concept than these “too bad for Cinemax” abominations.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A serious question: Why are the Scifi Original movie scripts so bad? I know they’re made on the cheap, but surely there are plenty of unemployed scriptwriters who can manage better than the dross that generally gets turned out for these? It seems like the people who make them know that the script sucks, but they don’t seem to care enough to do anything about it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Not surprised that all the Joss fans are coming out of the woodwork to complain about how hard done by he is, but. Tiny violins!

    It does depress me that Warehouse 13 is the network’s hugest hit ever, given that Dresden Files only made it through one season.

    Also, have y’all missed that the “SyFy” rebranding is widely derided? The one thing I’ve never heard in any conversation about it is someone who isn’t associated with the network thinking that the rebranding was a good idea. Nobody does. Indifference is the most positive response, but the more common one is sheer mockery.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hi Craig, Thought 1 –
    Re: “ad friendly”, I personally find product placement to be a hostile act. It’s even scarier that the big networks have acknowledged putting their plots up for sale ( keyword “message placement” )– e.g. the Gates Foundation paying to co-develop scripts for episodes of E.R. and such to promote their (very worthy) causes. [http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/arts/television/02gates.html?_r=1&ref=media]

    Q1: Does message placement extend into any Syfy shows, and are third-party producers required to let you know?

    Q2: The increasing inter-meshing of content and advertising seems inevitable during the age of Tivo. Do you, as a TV exec, think there should be any legal limits placed on this sort of thing?

    Thanks for your posts.

  14. thisisentirelybogus says:

    I can’t believe nobody mentioned the obvious qualification that many shows are ANTI-SCIENCE such as the Ghost Hunters or the formula-type where 1. stupid scientist unleashes ancient evil being but 2. can’t kill it with science, 3. only the words of the Ancients kills it.

    Horrid crap.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Step 1: Nerds beg for dedicated SciFi channel.
    Step 2: They get it! Happy nerds.
    Step 3: Some non-nerd at SciFi says, “We can get more viewers if we air wrestling.”
    Step 4: Unhappy nerds turn off SciFi, but non-nerd is happy at slight uptick in the interim.
    Step 5: SciFi loses core viewers, can’t compete with bigmeganetwork, and closes shop.

    Also, Craig, you really think piranha movies are keepers? Never mind that a lot of nerds don’t like them, you write as though those sell on DVD. Do they? You would know more than we would.

  16. gyrobo says:

    The problem I have with SyFy is that is supposed to be a niche channel. When you start showing wrestling and cooking, you aren’t drawing in new viewers — they’re going to gravitate to other outlets anyway, which haven’t been historically associated with science fiction. You’re just alienating existing sci-fi viewers.

    How about focusing on what you’re good at, become better at it, and stop trying to be a jack-of-all-genres?

  17. Ugly Canuck says:

    The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.

    Hunter S Thompson re: TV “journalism”,from “Generation Of Swine” circa 1984, IIRC.

    Unrecompensed, swinish plug link:

    http://www.amazon.com/Generation-Swine-Tales-Shame-Degradation/dp/0743250443/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273535753&sr=8-1

  18. Anonymous says:

    the U.S. TV model doesn’t readily support six-episode series

    That’s a great shame. Watch some subtitled Korean shows. They have a few long-lived series; but most are intentionally short. They reuse some actors, scenery, music, etc.; but in exchange they get a lot of new authors, plotlines, …

    It is a great way to avoid the dreary death of a show that passed its prime three seasons ago, while still allowing for reasonable plot development.

  19. BadIdeaSociety says:

    Would it kill you guys to home grow your own stuff on the cheap? The original “Dark Shadows” and “Doctor Who” weren’t made with giant budgets.

    Scifi.com used to be one of the best, most informative sites on the internet. You ever thought of soliciting fan fiction again and making a low budget half-hour anthology series based off of it?

  20. BookGuy says:

    So I admit it, when SyFy first started airing wrestling, I raised an eyebrow, but I didn’t think too much of it. But given the number of times people bring up wrestling every time Craig posts, I had to check out the schedule. I searched and found that wrestling was on for literally one hour per week. Just one hour.

    Yes, wrestling is silly and low brow, but does one hour per week really so offend you that it taints the whole channel? I think the geek contingent (and I count myself in that contingent) would be taken more seriously if we didn’t lapse into Comic Book Guy-style nuttiness. Seriously, let it go. Watch what’s good. Go outside and play when wrestling is on.

    • jccalhoun says:

      It isn’t that wrestling is so terrible that (at least speaking for myself) that I want it wiped off the face of the earth. I used to watch wrestling (I was never a wwf fan so when they basically took over I lost interest) so that isn’t the problem. The problem is that it isn’t science fiction. It doesn’t make any sense. It is like when the history channel showed Planet of the Apes (or now that they have a show about ancient earth being visited by space aliens that is presented without anyone debunking all the crazy claims). There are tons of other channels where they can show wrestling, why does it have to be on syfy? Also, it seems to be a sign of where the network is going because guess what, it may be an hour now but it will soon be two hours and to make things more insulting it will be on Friday night which means that the current shows will be moved to a different night — which frequently hurts ratings. http://www.multichannel.com/article/451611-Syfy_s_Wrestling_Upgrade_SmackDown_on_Fridays.php

  21. orwellian says:

    I’m enjoying your guest poster-hood and find it really helpful in understanding TV. Something you touched on today was that the US isn’t set up to do 6-episode series like the UK and Japan do. Why not? Miniseries used to be huge and Dr Who has shown several episodes to go through a plot will still keep the viewers’ attention. It seems that it would also lead to a good DVD sales option (does potential DVD sales factor in when decisions on series are made?) with the series and some extras for a good price point.

    • gellfex says:

      A late 80′s US classic of the “short arc” genre was “Wiseguy”. They’d have a series of 6 or 10 episodes with only 3 continuing cast members, the rest were all new. By promising short commitment they were able to get actors ranging from Kevin Spacey to Tim Curry to Jerry Lewis. The writing was superb “because” of the short arc, they didn’t have to beat the idea to death.

      EricT: I could go on forever with my wish list. There’s so many great novels by everyone from Heinlein to Vinge. But what about thinking outside the box, and what Syfy could produce without a James Cameron budget? How about an animated series based on Brin’s Uplift novels? Or maybe a series based on the Stainless Steel Rat (I happen to be reading that to my son). Pournelle’s “Mercenary” books would be ripe for a series, no aliens, not so much effects and lots of action & intrigue. What about a “short story anthology” series like the Twilight Zone minus the fantasy? Those were done on a shoestring. There’s so much out there, 80 years of “modern” SF, it makes me cry to see the poorly conceived crap that airs, with most of it either fantasy, “they walk among us” or time travel.

  22. Roy Trumbull says:

    Other considerations are how many sets are required? Many sitcoms get by with one. Most of Startrek took place on the bridge, sickbay, and transporter room. How many regular cast members are needed? Fewer than 5 is pretty standard augmented by guests. How many segments can be shot in a week to minimize the crew-days? Are there some character traits that would allow you to tap dance for a scene to fill out a thin story line?(think Kirk to Spock to Bones)

  23. Anonymous says:

    So, why was Joss Whedon laughed at when he came, just a couple weeks after cancellation, to ask Sci-Fi to keep Firefly alive?

  24. loonquawl says:

    Were the reactions equally bad when SciFi showed Sword%Sorcery flicks, i wonder? Wrestling, after all, is just another fantasy series. Slightly lower production values than even Hercules or Xena, admittedly, but costuming and acting should be on par, with stunt coordination even a notch above.

  25. grimc says:

    Oooh-oooh: Is nepotism #13?

  26. loonquawl says:

    So it is not the show’s prospective ratings you concern yourself with before the start, but the … factors that will weigh into prospective ratings, and the show’s prospective impact on other shows’ ratings? Wow. Such broadness of mind.

  27. Xenu says:

    How about “Is the concept a carbon-copy of at least 2 other shows currently on television?”

  28. Chris Tucker says:

    Craig has not said: “We didn’t want Wrestling but our parent company made us place it in that time slot.”

    And he’s not going to, either.

    One does not comment on that kind of thing in public and expect to keep one’s job.

    OK, here’s something to chew on. Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bought from Comedy Central. Good ratings. Not huge, but steady, devoted fan base. Could have run for another 5 years at least.

    Cancelled. So that SciFi could bring us Lexx and Black Scorpion. Two hours of utter and complete crap.

    So, maybe you’re right. maybe the SciFi management asked NBC, “Oh, PLEASE let us have some of that sweet, sweet, WWE action. Our viewers will watch any old crap.”

    Nah, they’re not that stupid. They learned from the MST3K fiasco.

    NBC ordered SciFi to carry ECW.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I really wish US TV shows would run for not many episodes per season (and a short number of seasons). But I doubt that will ever be the case like in the UK. Offhand, maybe it’s because fewer people are hired to make those TV shows because of less funding? And I would imagine advertising happens at a smaller scale and competition for viewers’ attention is less fierce. How many cable networks are in the UK?? And of course one of the main ways I think US networks recoup costs is when the show hits the magic 100 episodes and they sell into syndication. That wouldn’t be very possible with only 6 episodes per season.

  30. jackdavinci says:

    I generally like the SyFy Friday night lineup, and some of their rotating syndicated shows. I don’t like wrestling, the super low budget D movies involving silly monster puns, or most of the horror stuff they show.

    But I appreciate that SyFy has to do what makes them $. Those who complain that Neilsen is broken need to realize that time-shifted shows are often also commercial-ignored. I invite all the whiners out there to either make useful suggestions to the suits as to how to service both quality and the bottom line, become suits themselves and try to do a better job, or come up with a new finance model.

  31. Anonymous says:

    So, what happens if you do a 8-11 block, then repeat at 11-1Am, but the 8PM show does poorly, while it’s 11PM repeat hits it big, because people are free to watch it then?

  32. endymion says:

    Strange title to this article. “BESIDES ratings”? Television shows don’t get made because of their ratings; obviously, there are no ratings yet.

  33. really? says:

    All the points you mention boil down to: “will we get a lot of viewers” aka “will we get a lot of money”. While I have no problem with that philosophy, you are a company, don’t make things up like “It’s much more than just cost vs. ratings”, because it’s not. When pitching new shows you look at these points and when they are favorable, aka. will get you a lot of viewers then it’s worth the cost.

    What kind of show is it?
    Wrestling = Yes
    Science Fiction = No

    What are the “auspices” attached to the show?
    Joss Whedon? = give it half or one season then cancel it.
    Some big name run off the mill guy = order a second season when production of the first one is still busy.

    Is the premise sustainable?
    Can we make 500 exactly the same episodes = yes
    Is it different and interesting = no

    What kind of audience will it bring in?
    Will it bring intelligent people who want to see something good = no
    Does it bring a million American Idol sheep = yes

    When can we air it?
    aka. when can we air this struggling show so it will fail for shure.

    What can we air it with?
    Wrestling off course

    What can we air it against?
    Lets air it against the biggest show currently on, every-one will stop watching that one and watch this new little show no-one heard of.

    Will it repeat well?
    aka, is it repetitive, and how many original scripts do we have to make until we can just recycle them?

    Is it an easy concept to understand?
    aka, is another lame unintelligent show?

    Is it promotable?
    Yes or no = give it as little promotion as possible, then blame fans for not getting enough other people to watch it.

    Is it “ad friendly”?
    aka, can we put annoying product placement in the show?

    Is it interactive?
    Yes = fans should have gotten more people to watch before we canceled it.
    No = fans should have gotten more people to watch before we canceled it.

  34. franko says:

    this is all very well, but none of it explains or excuses “mansquito,” “chupacabra” or any of their drecky, low-budget ilk. i had such high hopes for your channel when it started, and time and time again it disappointed. SciFi Fridays and BSG/Dr. Who was the best thing ever. i loved the Dune miniseries. but the rest was just awful. the change to “SyFy” was the last nail in the coffin for me. i gave up, i’m sorry.

    won’t someone *PLEASE* make a real science fiction based channel, one that runs a wide variety of old stuff that exists in syndication as well as funds serious attempts at more contemporary stories? please?

  35. jccalhoun says:

    yes none of this explains why they air wrestling, reality shows, or why they are making a cooking show.

    I wonder how long they change their name again to it is just “Sy” or something and they drop any pretense of being a genre show and join Spike, Tru, and G4 at just being generic channels that mostly show reruns of network shows.

  36. progrocktv says:

    How about “because it’s NOT Science Fiction”

    OOPS! I said a bad word didn’t I???

  37. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting this, it was very informative! I don’t suppose there’s a chance you could start up The Lost Room again? The pilot eps were amazing, it was dramatic, funny and sometimes scary, and it had a premise that would’ve allowed it to continue indefinitely!

    • orwellian says:

      Lost Room was amazing and, IIRC, there was room for a sequel. You could even probably make an interesting series about the Lost Room bumping into alternate realities.

  38. Felix Mitchell says:

    Thanks for this post. It seems a lot of your job is strategy and tactics for giving shows the best punt at your audience as you can. Which doesn’t really explain why you end up with wrestling and not firefly, but cheers anyway.

    Also would like to say that a Snow Crash movie would be a piece of shit without a total rewrite. I like cyberpunk a lot, but Snow Crash is like a lot of its genre; no character development, no plot, no emotion, loads of description of gadgets and weapons and networks. The only way it works straight out of the book is as a meathead action film.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Ok, let’s address what everyone here knows already. We are your product and advertisers are your customers.

    Given that, if you aired nothing but SciFi and closely-related fantasy, no matter how old, here’s what you’d get: geeks would turn it on when they got home from work, and would leave it on for the next 5-10 hours, listening at least, until they fell asleep.

    Yes, they might also be doing something else on their computers. They will still hear and occasionally see the commercials.

    The more monolithic you are, the more exposure you get. Make us pay attention, we skip commercials. Let us zone out, and we hear them subliminally.

    Tell all this to advertisers. Also tell them we are tech-hungry, middle-class men. You’ll be beating them off.

    Seriously, B&W reruns of Science Fiction Theater or even Twilight Zone would be so much better than wrestling or those movies. Seriously, our hatred for those things makes us turn the TV off.

    Maybe make the ‘off’ stuff one fixed day a week? The day you have the most competition from the networks is probably best. After all, you’ll never beat the networks. They have time, size, and the OTA advantage.

    So to sum up: wrestling is the *opposite* of scifi, (love one, hate the other), and ST:TOS trumps piranha movies.

  40. Anonymous says:

    So where does this leave Caprica? Will we hear some (any) news about season two in the near future?

    From what you wrote, it has a lot of factors working in its favour but, being a smart show set in space, it’s not as conceptually simple and ad friendly as, oh I don’t know, insert random drivel that caters to the lowest denominator.

  41. Craig Engler says:

    Xenu, there are definitely a lot of shows “like” other successful shows on TV. Like other entertainment industries, TV goes through phases. Right now vampires seem hot on TV, in books and in film. Great if you love ‘em, not so great if you don’t.

    Anon #3, I’m not sure because I’ve never seen it happen. If the ratings were REALLY strong at 11 but not 8, we’d probably just move the show to 11.

    really? The money part is right, the ratings part has flexibility, which is my point. You can get away with fewer viewers if you can find something else that offsets it. Conversely, you can have 10 million viewers but if no one wants to buy them, volume doesn’t help you much. You’re also slightly overemphasizing the importance 1 hour of wrestling a week brings to the network ;)

    macegr, our channel has always been about science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a lot of “related” categories thrown in. There was never a time when we ONLY aired pure science fiction, and with good reason … it won’t work. There are not enough shows available to buy that would get a rating to sustain a TV network, which is one reason you’ve never seen a competitor show up. Reruns of Babylon 5 are not in high demand with TV viewers, so you don’t see them on TV that often. That’s why we’ve had technology shows and things like Sightings and Ripley’s Believe it or Not and dozens more over the years, along with a mainstay of sci-fi shows & movies.

    Ernunnos, glad to help. TV isn’t for everyone, so no use paying for it if you don’t watch.

    Anon #25, We’ve done no “message placement” that I know of. We’ve done product placement, such as Degree in Eureka, but only if the creative runners of the show are okay with it. Most shows I know of WANT product placement because they know it will get them more $$$ to make a better show. Don’t know about legal limits, but there should definitely taste limits!

    gyrobo, science fiction isn’t niche. Avatar, Star Wars, Star Trek, and many more have proven that. Sci-fi is BROAD. See above answer for show mix. If you did want to go super niche and air shows only the super core of sci-fi fandom would watch, you would not be able to sustain a TV business. Maybe there is a way to create such a “channel” using the Internet but all the long-tail-type sci-fi content I’ve seen put online hasn’t been able to attract many viewers. Would love to see it happen…I’d watch.

    • theembalmed says:

      There is plenty of SCI FI material that could sustain a network with s SERIOUS investment in original series, movies, and other content. In one reply you say there isnt enough for ratings and another reply you comment on the “BROAD”ness of scifi.

      Your monster of the month movies are a joke, wrestling (even just an hour) is an insult to your core viewers, ANTI-science shows (Ghost) are insulting, and your dives into horror should be left to fear.net.

      SCI-FI with hardly any scifi, SYFY with all rerun monster of the month movies, What next…SiFi where everything possible is aired. I had the scifi channel when it first was created and had to pay extra on my cable just to get the 10 hours of twilight zone you were airing back then…..i rather have that old channel.

      Why not actually try being a science fiction channel for a few years and if its not possible change the name again and change the format. I am sick of looking at your schedule each day praying for something to watch and not getting it. I watch Warehouse 13, eureka, and a few reruns you run during the day sometimes. your channel has turned into a pile of disgusting!

      remember first wave, farscape, battlestar, sg-1 (showtime thank you), there were some good ones. then the ones that got a season and got cut. Or scifi shows cut by networks scifi could pick up?

      your channel is quickly becoming a joke!

    • gyrobo says:

      Craig, my comment wasn’t to imply that sci-fi wasn’t broad. I strongly believe that sci-fi is broad enough to appeal to everyone. I was just equating niche with genre.

      My issue is that SyFy appears to be moving beyond the “related categories” you spoke of, into genres that don’t have anything to do with science fiction or fantasy (cooking, wrestling) — while simultaneously putting out poor quality sci-fi movies and rebranding yourself.

      I really liked the old Saturn logo. The new logo is bland and generic. There, I said it.

  42. sickstep says:

    I’m really enjoying these informative posts Craig.

  43. Craig Engler says:

    Anon #34, Joss was not laughed at by us. We love his work and would gladly be in business with him if we could. Firefly was an EXPENSIVE network show that we could not afford with our cable model. We did air Firefly in its original order on our network, and we also showed the unaired eps that Fox didn’t run.

  44. Anonymous says:

    That “Warehouse 13″ is the highest rated show in the history of The SyFy Channel tells you everything you need to know about The SyFy Channel…

  45. teapot says:

    Why write a post about a dozen anything, and then use a picture of 10 eggs in a carton?

    Lucky for you, this troll has photoshop

  46. Anonymous says:

    It is driving me crazy that the egg carton in the photo only has ten eggs! What is up with that?

  47. Shay Guy says:

    and the U.S. TV model doesn’t readily support six-episode series.

    Why not?

    • Darcy Fitzpatrick says:

      This is a great question, and one I wish Craig had attempted to answer since I’m equally curious.

      That is the model that the UK’s tv industry seems to be built around: banging off quick, sharp, original tv series’, which may or may not go on to a second or third season, then moving on to the next project.

      They have also lead the charge on television interactivity.

      As far as I can tell, the UK’s tv industry does not seem to be under the same kind of stress as the American one. While I doubt changing the model is in any way a simple task, it seems like it would be worth considering.

      If I were to play devil’s advocate, part of the problem may lie in the perception of production values. American television has sort of dug itself into a hole in terms of how much it now costs to produce something viewers think looks good. Big sets and locations with lots of extras and action and glossy lighting and slick camera moves have become synomynous with quality.

      UK tv is often less “expensive” looking, because it is less expensive to make, their audience being more attuned to character and story than how it all “looks.” UK tv is free to be more experimental in the look department as a result, with shows like Green Wing and Peep Show breaking traditional molds, effectively and on the cheap.

      Still, I loves me some BSG, which I don’t think the UK model could so readily support producing.

  48. redesigned says:

    Craig, thanks for taking the heat. I might not agree with some of what you say, but I appreciate you being willing to be a guest blogger here, and to respond to contrarian opinions.

    If Sci-Fi is BROAD, then you can use it to draw in new viewers and please the existing viewers, right? No need to resort to wrestling…which is an intellectual slap in the face and alienates your core audience while drawing in viewers with very little interest in your other lineup.

    Short arcs do work in the US. Look at the trend for many HBO and Showtime shows, 10-12 higher quality episodes instead of 22-24 midrange episodes. I believe this started with Carnivale? Plus I’ve seen many BBC series, I don’t mind the 6 episode format, or even the 3 movie length episode format. it works for me.

    I guess that personally a channel that always has Sci-Fi is worth 10x more to me then a channel that might have something SyFy-ish sometimes. I want your channel for 1 reason and 1 reason only, Sci-Fi. Water that down and you’ve lost me personally. I know you don’t base your lineup around me, but I’m fairly confident that a there are quite a few others that feel the same way.

  49. EricT says:

    Ok I understand the complexity of trying to maintain an audience and selling advertising. That is what makes the world go round. Oh wait…I Pay for access to the Sci Fi channel. Not a premium mind you, but still it is not like I am pulling the broadcast off of the airways. So a portion of my Comcast bill goes specifically to access the channels and their content. Sci Fi must be getting a cut of that.
    But it seems like you are thinking old school about network programming, Nielsen ratings and as broad an audience as possible.
    Everyone knows the Neilsens are woefully inadequate to accurately gauge how many eyeballs are really on your programming yet the networks and the agencies still play that game.
    My point is that you are giving a big finger to those who should be your core audience. Geeks.
    I appreciate you taking chances on things like Tin Man and River World. I understand that you need to fill out programming with Rose Red at least once a quarter and that some of my favorite original programs are the Saturday Night Schlock CGI monster of the week. Mansquito being my all time favorite.
    I also understand that original programming is REALLY EXPENSIVE. Subsidized by Canadian Tax Payers or not.
    Accept that your audience probably is really smart and can get abstract and scientific premises and would actually enjoy them. That sure fantasy is fun in small doses but it is not Science Fiction. So perhaps your programming would improve if you went for harder science or optioning classic novels that are doable in the movie or mini series format. Give your audience credit for having a brains and using them.
    Some ideas for starters.
    Snow Crash
    Ring World – Could be a real CGI Fest
    Stranger in a Strange Land – John Cusak should produce this one
    Have Space Suit Will Travel
    Rocket Ship Galileo – 50s era Nazis on the moon..cool

    I could go on, but you get my point and I did not even mention Wrestling

    • nutbastard says:

      I’ve discussed the prospect of Snow Crash on screen many times with many people – and not one thinks that it can be done well enough.

      SIASL/HSSWT I can go with

      You want moon-nazis? just wait for iron sky.

      • gellfex says:

        Snowcrash reads like screenplay, and after Avatar you can’t deny the technology is there to do it. It just needs a director who respects it rather than wanting to piss all over it to “make it his own”, like Verhoeven did to Starship Troopers.

      • EricT says:

        Given the budget and the proper dedication it could be done well enough. The trick would be to keep the suits out of the creative process and tell em to bugger off with the notes.
        Actually to do it right you would need an independant production house to spec it with Sci Fi perhaps gettin first refusal to screen.
        Sets?? Strip Malls Deteriorating American Suburbea Some Sea Side and an Aircraft Carrier. No Problem.
        It just takes the artisitic vision and commitement to present that story as written (Knowing there will always be cuts)
        My daughter is reading Lord of the Flies in school right now. I put a 1962 BW version on the instant net flix last night.
        She picked out points in the book that the movie had missed but they still did a great job of presenting the story.
        My point is anything is possible

  50. Chris Tucker says:

    Once again. The media conglomerate that OWNS SciFi ORDERED SciFi to run that wrestling program. The media conglomerate that OWNS SciFi has a contract with WWE to show WWE programming on it’s cable channels.

    Now, if your boss tells you to do something, what are your choices?

    1: Do it.

    2: Don’t do it. And lose your job.

    What is so hard to understand about that?

    Seriously, what is so hard about that to understand?

    • Anonymous says:

      “The media conglomerate that OWNS SciFi ORDERED SciFi to run that wrestling program. [...]
      Now, if your boss tells you to do something, what are your choices?”

      Owner is not a boss.
      Besides, if you only need to air it, you can air it at a time it doesn’t hinder with other programs like, say, Monday morning 4 am.

  51. Anonymous says:

    The original movies are awesome.
    Greg Evigan + Posessed race car?
    that kind of movie is worth its weight in gold. Much more enjoyable than a Tyler Perry flick, or whatever “epic” Russell Crowe is starring in yearly.
    More originals!

  52. gellfex says:

    EricT, nice start of a list of all the classic SF ignored by SyFy and the rest of hollywood in favor of easy, derivative “no thinking” garbage. Time travel is the crack of the Hollywood sf writer, they just can’t keep away because it’s easy and never actually has to make sense.

    I dream of a “SF” channel where time travel, alternate universe and body snatcher stories are banned, as well as evil twin and amnesia stories. This would then require actual SF writers rather than hacks cashing in.

    • EricT says:

      So what would people add to the list? I am reticent to include the Foundation trilogy only in that it is too large. But then again they did a great job with LOTR

  53. Anonymous says:

    All nice and informative posts, but I would be more interested in hearing how you are different than the big networks than how similar you are to them.

    As a fan of the SF genre, I’ve already learned everything you’ve been posting here from the likes of Fox, ABC and CBS by watching them yank my favorite shows off the air.

    And seriously, what’s the hold-up with Caprica? Has it been canceled? Why no news?

  54. redesigned says:

    I appreciate the response.

    I understand that the SyFy channel is a company owned by NBC and that NBC has a contract with the WWE.

    The dynamics and agreements in these situation very seldom allow direct dictation of child company by the parent company. Are you privy to their level of autonomy or control over their programming?

    Craig has not said: “We didn’t want Wrestling but our parent company made us place it in that time slot.”

    Craig’s listing of how SyFy selects its programming didn’t include, X% of shows being dictated by the parent company. He seemed to indicate they have control over the selection.

    So again I’m wondering, while a nice sounding theory, if you have any evidence that such and order was given?

  55. Daedalus says:

    I can see how bland stuff gets greenlighted more easily, now. ;) The whole “runs forever, and also in repeats, and plays nice with other shows, and easily promotable, and ad friendly” tends to skew the view toward bland, formulaic, easy, “boob tube” TV, just like everything else on TV.

    It’s like show A meets show B with buzzword buzzword buzzword and maybe we can get the guy who played the bartender at the Mos Eisley cantina involved!

    There’s certainly a vital place for that, not every show can be epic, and there’s a real demand for “comfort food” TV. But it does mean it’s harder to give half a crap, and, especially as competition gets more brutal for a given half hour, it means you’re actually less likely to hit your targets.

    I suppose that’s why we see some big risks and different directions being taken with TV every few seasons. Things homogenize to the point of pointlessness and then everyone goes hunting for the thing that’s going to make them stand out again.

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