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On Tuesday, Syfy will be premiering its new show “Warehouse 13” along with the official name change. I won’t be watching because I don’t have cable. In fact, while I have a pretty swell little light-box that projects images at me, its sad little antenna seems to be incapable of capturing more than a handful of the big network channels. Suffice it to say, I exist in the vacuum of dvds, hulu, and pirating. And as we all know, if I had cable life would turn into an unending groundhog day of Survivorman marathons and TNG reruns. Yikes!
Anyways, while searching around for spoilers, I learned that some very welcome familiar faces will be making guest appearances on the show, including Tricia Helfer, Michael Hogan, and Joe Flanigan (John Shep-aaaarrrrrddd). Early reviews have been mixed, ranging from “silly” and “bland” to “slightly less than satisfying.” Guess I’ll have to wait for someone to grind the show into a tiny powder, place it in a reliquary, and passenger pigeon it to my laptop in order to find out for myself.
Nevertheless, a Wired article last month highlighted the steampunk influences on the show’s all-important artifacts and curiosities, including this mysterious “Farnsworth Communicator”:
Nice knobs! If for no other reason then to see week after week of awesome props and gadgets, I hope “Warehouse 13” manages to exceed the mild expectations its early reviews.
Based on the ongoing barrage of questions for SyFy’s Craig Engler on Twitter, I get the sense that hardcore science fiction lovers are up in arms over the cable channel’s decision to change their name to the made-up word “syfy.” But what are we really so angry about?
Much of this seems to stem from TV historian and original Scifi channel developer Tim Brooks’ comment that, “The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.” At the time, uber-geek Wil Wheaton responded “SyFy’s Tim Brooks insulted the hell out of geeks everywhere. So on behalf of all us geeks, I say SyFy can go Fyck Itsylf.”
But not so fast. What Brooks said about the “name” Sci Fi isn’t exactly untrue in the sense that if you throw that word around, those geeky adolescent boys in their basements are exactly what comes to mind for the general public.
Now, I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a serious anthropological study of science fiction demographics, but one way to get a gauge on what we look like is to go to a convention. Any convention. Let me tell you, there aren’t a lot of women there. But there are some.
So is the new Syfy channel trying to recreate itself in order to be more inclusive of these other demographics, “the general public and the female audience”? Absolutely. It’s a cable channel, not a fan club. It operates with the sole purpose of creating for-profit entertainment, and profitability necessitates attracting a wider audience. The good news is, the execs at Syfy seem to have noticed that as the quality of their programming increases, so too does the type of audience the channel attracts.
Growing up, I was the only one in my family that enjoyed watching science fiction. My two sisters somehow managed to deal with adolescence much better than I, and didn’t spend all their time imagining a future where high school didn’t exist, only Starfleet Academy. Fast forward to sometime in 2005, when the reboot of Battlestar Galactica made its viral trip around the pop culture circuit. Suddenly both my sisters were hopelessly addicted. Here was a show that we could talk about together. The quality of writing, the incredible suspense of not knowing how the fleet would survive, all of these things made the show incredibly satisfying for all three of us. Did it even matter that the show was science fiction? For me, yes. That’s why I watched it in the first place. But for my sisters, no. They just heard it was an amazing show. And this is a very good thing for people like me.
I get the sense that the strange anger over the Syfy name change has more to do with injured geek pride and the fact that geek subculture is currently enjoying mainstream status. All those “other” people who don’t know what it means to grow up alone in the basement watching Star Trek have no idea how to properly appreciate science fiction, right?
Of course they don’t. That’s why we don’t need to really worry about anyone taking away our geek/nerd status any day soon. At least not without a time machine and some magical popularity dust. With our geek statuses firmly intact, we should sit back and enjoy the fact that the people out there want to invest money and energy and time into creating quality science fiction for not just us, but everyone. It’s mob rule out there, and right now the mob is favoring us. Relish the moment. Because seriously, if I have to turn on the television and see one more freaking “new” crime show, so help me god…
Michael Shanks will be making a guest appearance on SGU as Dr. Daniel Jackson. His role will be fairly minor, and as he says, ”That’s probably as much as I can say without getting my nuts chopped off.” Damn, those studio guys are rough. Also, NINE chevrons. NINE chevrons. I hope they have a high-speed dialing system!
The curious world of marketing has brought us the rebranding of the SciFi channel, now reincarnated as the SyFy Channel. In a world where neologisms and intentional mispellings of common words has become the only way (tumblr, flickr, etc.) to secure something recognizable as a domain on the web, the SyFy Channel gave up its monopoly on the word scifi in order to birth the new domain of SyFy. Curious indeed.
The reason for changing their name in the first place, Engler said, was to get “something that was ownable,” and “to distinguish [their] brand from the category.” This has been widely reported and is really the only sensible reasoning, because why else would you change the name of something that’s currently successful? So why, then, didn’t they change the name completely, so it didn’t still sound like the genre whose fans love it so? That, Engler said, is because they “wanted to have [their] cake and eat it, too,” meaning they could tweak the brand just enough to allow them to trademark it but keep it close enough that it didn’t change their underlying identity.
In another interview, SyFy President David Howe explains,
Our development strategy has not changed, nor do I expect it to, other than we’ll still be doing creative, smart, risk-taking, ambitious programming, both in scripted and reality.
The conversion of SciFi to SyFy rests on the success of the channel’s recent high-quality original programming and future shows like Caprica, Warehouse 13, and Stargate: SGU that promise to keep the channel going strong. While I wholeheartedly support SyFy for bringing shows like Battlestar Galactica and the Stargate franchise to television, I do hope that they figure out what to do with all that airtime in between the good shows. Movies of the week like “Snakehead Terror” “Wyvern” “War Wolves” and “Yeti”, while hilarious, seem like evidence that money might be better spent on more of that “ambitious programming” that Howe speaks of.
If SyFy really wants to update itself along with its new name, set the bar for cable television as high as possible, and maybe consider easing up on those movies of the week. I hear Virtuality could use a home…
For your viewing pleasure, Snakehead Terror:
Today is Canada Day. There are a few reasons to be happy about being Canadian, national health care probably being one of the more obvious reasons. However, this relatively exhaustive list of science fiction filmed in Canada certainly doesn’t hurt either. There’s Battlestar Galactica of course, as well as SG-1, Atlantis, and Caprica. But head back further into the 90’s and we’ve got The X-Files, Highlander, The Pretender, the Outer Limits, Sliders, and BeastMaster. Remember BeastMaster?
You’ve come a long way, Canada.
In my ongoing hunt for any news about the forthcoming Stargate Atlantis movie, I used Babel Fish to translate a page from the French site Unification. While I’m uncertain that the page revealed anything more than the expected title “Stargate: Extinction,” it did provide this juicy bit:
“Stargate: Extinction wants to be as hooker as the preceding titles of SG-1, the Arch of Truth and Continuum.”
I’m sure if Stargate: Extinction is anything, it’s HOOKER!
I just watched the Stargate SG-1 episode titled “2010” (originally aired in ‘01), which depicts Earth ten years into the future after making a controversial alliance with a very advanced alien race called the Aschen. Everything and everyone seems perfect—too perfect—and only Jack O’Neill remains curmudgeony and skeptical in his Minnesota cabin far away from the new hi-tech Earth. Before long (stop reading if you haven’t seen this episode and don’t want to know what happens!), we learn that things are not perfect, that the Aschen are genocidal and bent on phasing out humanity, that they’ve lulled Earthlings into a dangerously passive slumber, and that it’s up to SG-1 to use the gate to send a message to themselves in the past, etc., etc.
Well it’s almost 2010, and I know for sure they got one thing right. Everyone will be wearing plastic glasses a la Daniel Jackson:
I’m uncertain if by 2010 Teal’c’s (hmm the possessive of Teal’c just doesn’t look right) serious manrobes will have mainstreamed, but I’m digging them.
While staring at one of my glowing rectangles, I unexpectedly found that NBC premiered the BBC import Merlin tonight. I tuned in about halfway through the first episode (they showed two back-to-back), so I missed what I imagine was a lot of setting up the medieval world stuff. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Anthony Stewart Head (wow his website looks like a lost Gap ad from the 90’s) playing young Arthur’s tough-love dad/king. Overall, I went in without expectations but came away feeling like the show has some potential. Bradley James (young Arthur) and Colin Morgan (young Merlin) have a nice chemistry as their relationship grows from adversarial bully/underling mode to a tense budding friendship. The tone of the show seems pretty straightforward—no evidence of 21st century inspired tongue-in-cheek humor yet, but it is technically “drama” so for now I’ll just have to imagine that off-screen Arthur, Merlin, and company enjoy goofy in-jokes and play pranks on the King’s secret, chained-up flying dragon. Did I mention the imprisoned flying dragon who talks to Merlin?
Like many historical fantasy television shows, it’s difficult to divorce the image of Larpers at Renaissance Fairs from the sincere desire to recreate an authentic (albeit romanticized) version of the Middle Ages. Somehow the colors all look a tad too bright, the armor too shiny, and the people too not-smelly. Then again, in this world magic exists, so I’ll suspend my disbelief long enough to accept that there may also be some Medieval version of Tide with Color-safe Bleach. Check out those bold brights!
Bottom line, in the desert of summer programming (I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here??? Really?), it’s good to see that NBC is taking a gamble with Merlin. Also, when Merlin uses magic his eyes do a yellowish-flashy thing. G’ould alert!