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Boston Globe article on Sci-Fi channel (1 Viewer)

Jason Seaver

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http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/07...riction+.shtml

Yeah, I'm quoted - first line of the article, even. Yikes! Still, Ms. Ryan apparently hadn't been aware of how upset the Farscape cancellation had made people before we talked, and it wound up being a major theme of the article (kind of gutsy, considering my copy came wrapped in a Children Of Dune ad).

A couple issues:

"Years ago, science fiction was based on all of these predictions about technology. Well, there is nothing new out there for kids who are so used to technology," [Sci-Fi president Bonnie Hammer] says. "People don't care about the future that much but about new perceptions on the here and now. We're trying to develop products that deal with that."
(Emphasis mine)

I'm not saying that this perspective means Ms. Hammer is a complete tool (ha-ha!), but it strikes me that it's not an encouraging point of view for the head of the country's most visible source of science fiction to have. You'll get some good programming out of it, but, man, could you get any further from John W. Campbell?
 

SpenceJT

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[Sci-Fi president Bonnie Hammer] says. "People don't care about the future that much but about new perceptions on the here and now. We're trying to develop products that deal with that."
So SCI-FI Channel kills of Farscape, which is not set in some distant future nor does it try to predict anything. It is a simple adventure of a guy who has been "displaced" into a different galaxy.

That would be like taking someone from the most primitive part of our world, and leaving him in the middle of Los Angeles with no guide or understanding of local customs & protocol.

This is not a gripe at SCI-FI Channel and the reason Farscape was canceled, but rather how it was canceled without an opportunity to wrap things up.

I consider myself great fan of Farscape, but am not boycotting SCI-FI Channel because of it's untimely demise.

At the same time, with the loss of Farscape, I find myself tuning in with less frequency (only to catch Stargate SG1 and that's about it).

I just think that it is hypocritical that Bonnie Hammer states that SCI-FI wants to develop more programming that deals with the "Here & now" at the expense of shows that have such a vast canvas of story possibilities, they can deal with "here & now" issues in the ways that Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek.

...I'm rambling and I've got to get back to my Sunday projects. I hope what I've typed makes sense (I haven't yet gotten to my Sunday morning coffee and paper).

Before I cut out, I just wanted to compliment you Jason. I enjoy your posts man! You do a good job of intelligently adding to the discussions. We share many of the same view! While I am no saying these views are correct or popular, you do a great job of making them known.

Regards,
Spence
 

Rex Bachmann

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I haven't had a chance to read the Globe story yet, so I'll have to limit my comments for now.


SpenceJT wrote (post #2):

Note, you say "programming", while her emphasis lies on "product".

Ms. Hammer, like most MBA business-executive types, is not in the business of producing programming, she is in the business of producing revenue (and, hopefully, profit) for her company. In the tv biz, that's done by selling advertisers on your company's "market share". "Market share" is calculated in terms of "viewer ratings" (both qualitative ("coveted demographic") and quantitative) of programming. If she, her predecessors, or successors can produce continued streams of revenue by raising "market share", that will satisfy the corporation that employs them, and that's about all they'll ever care about.

Much as we'd like it to be different, that's the way people like her (that means anyone who will ever be allowed to occupy her position) see it and the basis on which they operate, now and in the future.

Note also that the emphasis on the "here-and-now" is a direct outfall of the "me"-generation thinking of 1980s America (the "Al Franken decade") and is the perfect conduit for the heightened self-centeredness and, not coïncidentally, the greater level of gratuitous consumption of our times. If I'm thinking always about "me" here and now, my life, my feelings, my wants and impulses of the moment, naturally, I'll be more inclined to think about indulging thoses feelings, impulses, and wants now! ("Will you take fries with that?") The advertisers and marketeers count on it.


More, perhaps, after I've read the article.
 

Jack Briggs

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Jason, I wonder how many members here know who John W. Campbell was. Care to enlighten them? (My wrists are tired.)
 

Rex Bachmann

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So, I've read it. Disheartening, but not unexpected.

I can't help making these small comments on what's actually nothing. (It's a sickness.) Please bear with me.


Quote:



Sci Fi officials, pointing to flagging ratings, say Farscape must go to make room for new and higher-profile programming





Translation: "more easily marketable programming".



Quote:



"Tremors looks like it's going to stink."





And you were expecting from a series about bug farts . . . ???


Quote:



"And just what does Scare Tactics have to do with science fiction anyway?"






Absolutely nothing. But it has everything to do with what they're really after: "market share", i.e., the highest viewership possible, "science-fiction purity" be damned. (Ir)reality-tv is "hot", these days. Haven't you heard?

Do you watch professional football at all? I used to watch it religiously. And over the time that I did I began to see fashion shows (first via Phyllis George), mini-"rock" concerts, stand-up (actually "sit-down") "comedy" (via knuckle-headed announcers, almost all of whom were (and are) ex-jocks or washed-up coaches), and more creep into the network sportscasts. Why, why, why, you ask? To draw in larger audiences composed of a whoooole lot o' people who aren't particularly interested in football. The same's going on here. It's no mystery. The object of businesspeople is to make more revenue and more profit. There is no loyalty among them to "ideological purity". ("'Niche' schmiche.")


As the article says:


Quote:



"[Scare Tactics] will pull in more random viewers who aren't science fiction fans but will tune in because it's a reality show."







Quote:



"Many of the top-grossing movies of all time are science fiction. We're realizing there is a huge audience to explore," says Bonnie Hammer, president of the 24-hour basic-cable channel, which is available in 81 million subscribing homes nationwide. . . . . While in the past, Sci Fi was primarily a rerun channel, Hammer says, the mandate now is to "define ourselves as a front-runner in original programming."





Bugfarts, weepy crystal-ball gazers, and screaming teenies or co-eds; reeeallly "original".



Quote:



In April, Sci Fi will premiere Scare Tactics, a Candid Camera type reality show in which friends will stage elaborate science fiction-style hoaxes on other friends, from a Bigfoot sighting on a campground to a baby-sitting job in a haunted house. Shannen Doherty will host the show.






Doherty's a totally repugnant personality, but just the fitting host for the no-shame ("See my boobs. See my buns.") generation.



Quote:



. . . . director Greg Yaitanes says [Children of Dune] is really a story about powerful women and a dysfunctional family.

"I looked at this as a story of a family, not a science fiction film," says Yaitanes, . . . . "What's great about the film is there are empowered women in it. Science fiction traditionally has had a male appeal to it. . . . There are real human emotions, which is very, very rare in science fiction."

That's just what Sci Fi executives want to hear.






"It's not really science fiction . . . " Hmmmm. Now, where have I heard that before? . . . . .

"Dysfunctional family", "empowerment of women", "healing"; real "here-and-now" issues. Now everyone can relate to that, can't they? "Worm holes" (NOT the kind in Tremors or on Arrakis!!!), "folding space", "immortality" (and its consequences for human evolution and society), etc., etc., etc. . . . those are just incidental to the story (!)



Quote:



To be sure, the channel has not abandoned the space odyssey. In December, it is rolling out the four-hour miniseries Battlestar Galactica based on the 1970s show. But the reality, Hammer says, is that Sci Fi must expand its reach.





So, let me get this straight: Sci-Fi management's idea of "original programming" is a revival of a simply terrible, juvenilely insulting program from the late '70s/early '80s that was itself a(n, at the very least, spiritual) rip-off of that other thoroughly original Star Wars epic??? It is to laugh.



Quote:



The channel has realized, Hammer says, that traditional science-fiction shows that attempt to portray the future via space odyssies and gee-whiz technology are no longer as appealing to tech-savvy viewers as Earth-based twists on modern-day reality, such as "The Sixth Sense" and "The Matrix."





Could some scientist- and/or engineer-types help me out here? My understanding of "tech-savviness" would lead me to believe that, in opposition to Sci-Fi Channel management's interpretations of these things, the audience they actually want is not "tech-savvy" at all. If a tool, instrument, or machine is hard to use because one needs a bit of technical know-how to operate or manipulate it, then it's what is called "high-tech", while, contrarily, technology that requires no special technical training to use is "low tech" (e.g., an F-16 fighter jet vs. a sports car). After, all, how "tech-savvy" does one have to be to use a cell phone? A bit of training ("Press button Z for . . .") should do it, I think. As a consumer item, it's designed not to require lots of training, no?

I think they want the sports-car audience. That's the audience for which "traditional science-fiction shows that attempt to portray the future via space odyssies [sic] and gee-whiz technology are no longer as appealing . . . as Earth-based twists on modern-day reality", 'cause that audience has never been much interested in it.


Quote:



"Years ago, science fiction was based on all of these predictions about technology. Well, there is nothing new out there for kids who are so used to technology," she says. "People don't care about the future that much but about new perceptions on the here and now. We're trying to develop products that deal with that."





Translation: today's young audiences can't think about anything but themselves ("here and now"). Their lives, their feelings, their this and that. ("'Science'?!? I've got my cell phone. Who needs science?!?") The kids have the "products"---to use a Hammerism---of technology, but how many of them have even the faintest idea of how most of it works? "Tech-savvy"? I don't think so.

I have no love in me for Farscape, so I won't pretend I care about its demise. Nevertheless, even though I think it's been vastly overrated by its proponents, I'd still rather see a thousand Farscapes than this river of drivel (Tremors) or outright sewage (Scare Tactics, The Dream Team (with Screwball and Wimpy)---which seems, mysteriously, to have vanished from Sci-Fi's schedule) that is flowing our way from the "new Sci-Fi". Ugh!

Haven't these people even a single clue from the fact that a (sort of) "space show", Stargate SG-1 is Sci-Fi channel's "top-rated show"?????

Oh, it should be noted that almost all this "original" (scripted) programming is owned by Universal Vivendi or its subsidiaries. No accident.
 

TheLongshot

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Oh, it should be noted that almost all this "original" (scripted) programming is owned by Universal Vivendi or its subsidiaries. No accident.
Course not. It was part of the reason Farscape was let go. (Not a major reason, but they would have had more incentive to market it if they were wrapped up deeper in it.)

Sci-Fi's policies shows where the network's minds are about Sci-Fi TV now. I call it the curse of "X-Files". Chris Carter figured out how to do a "Sci-Fi" show, and not set it in space, which characters that don't need hours of makeup to reveal, that don't require heavy model or CGI use.

So, why take on an expensive, high concept Sci-Fi show ("Firefly"), when you can do it on the cheap and keep everything earthbound ("John Doe")?

Good Sci-Fi, that the general public will accept (Not BBC quality), is very expensive, and not guaranteed to work. The networks know this, and there is many a carcass of failed Sci-fi shows on the roadside for proof of this.

All of this is why I think the Sci-Fi channel is doomed to failure. They can't afford to do real Sci-Fi type programming. They don't have simple sitcoms (or reality shows) to bring in the money to fund these behemoths that a lot of us love. I mean, around the same time, Comedy Central and Sci-Fi started up around the same time, and in similar fashion. CC (Comedy Channel at the time) showed tons of comedy clips from standups and movies, and ran a lot of HBO's old comedy stuff. Sci-Fi ran old, sometimes failed, Sci-Fi series. Years later, CC is quite healthy, with its own original programming. Sci-Fi is still struggling with it, producing more stinkers than successes.

Actually, it is a wonder they canned MST3K. That couldn't have cost that much to make. Maybe they were starting to make fun of the movies they run on their channel, and the viewer was getting confused. :D

Jason
 

Jeff Kleist

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So, let me get this straight: Sci-Fi management's idea of "original programming" is a revival of a simply terrible, juvenilely insulting program from the late '70s/early '80s that was itself a(n, at the very least, spiritual) rip-off of that other thoroughly original Star Wars epic??? It is to laugh.
Bzzzzt, sorry got you there Jason, but as the HTF's resident BSG scholar, I hate to inform you that Larson was pitching pretty much the same series that hit air in 1978 back in 1974, and it was proven in court. YES Dykstra and crew were working on the show, but who wouldn't want them to? Why was BSG commissioned? Star Wars. Was BSG a rip? Nope, it was inspired by the same stuff SW was.

Blame the "juvenilely insulting" episodes on A-Network meddling and B- changing the format in mid-production from 4 miniseries to a full-on season.
 

Bill Street

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Another example of Lowest Common Denominator at work.

Why should Sci-Fi show science fiction, why should American Movie Classics show classic movies, why should the The Nashville Network show country music programming?

Grrr... I'm not saying they should show programming that loses money, they're not charities after all, but why be 105th channel to carry general interest 18-49 programming, rather than having a large niche audience, who have money and buy lots of things pretty much to themselves!

They will tell you that they are trying to skew programming to the demographic advertisers want to buy, but I think it's ultimately just laziness. Why do real salesmanship and sell advertisers on your unique audience when you can program shows that will fool enough teens that they are watching USA long enough to last a commercial break?

Oh well, didn't realize I was gonna rant, till it happened.

Bill S.
 

Rex Bachmann

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And was "network meddling" also to blame for his other plethora of kitsch or fluff hit (or, more often, just shit) shows? For example,
  1. Alias Smith and Jones (1971)
  2. Get Christie Love (1974)
  3. Quincy (a.k.a. Quincy, M.E.) (1976)
  4. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977)
  5. BJ and the Bear (1978)
  6. Battlestar Galactica (1978)
  7. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)
  8. The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1979) (a.k.a. Lobo (1980) (new title))
  9. Galactica 1980 (1980)
  10. Magnum P.I. (1980)
  11. Knight Rider (1982)
  12. Automan (1983)
  13. Manimal (1983)[/list=1]

    And the list of fluff & kitsch goes on . . . . (Note: Mr. Larson scripted some of the episodes for these series, as well as serving as their executive producer.) With the exception of Magnum P.I., which was enjoyable in its earliest 2 or 3 seasons, but was still as light as cotton candy, and light and sweet Quincy and Alias Smith and Jones, this is "dramatic" (i.e., non-sitcom) television at its kitschiest, in my opinion. And most of these listed here are the successful shows he produced. (And even most of those were short-lived.) Blame all those on the network(s)!!! ("Hey, they put a hex on the man!")

    I can't remember whether BSG made John Javna's "best" or "worst" of sci-fi tv critics' poll (of real science-fiction writers)---my copy of the book, The Best of Science Fiction TV (1987), is, unfortunately, in storage somewhere---but I'd bet it's the latter.

    "Juvenilely insulting"? Make that "insultingly juvenile"! Mr. Larson-y was the Irwin Allen of his era. Rehashing the kitsch won't improve the Sci-Fi Channel, and, hopefully, won't save it either, if that's what it's looking for.
 

Jason Seaver

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At least they realised that and changed the name of the station to "The National Network". (Whatever the hell that means...)
Right - they had a niche market that they absolutely owned, and were consistently profitable, but they threw that away to just become another USA Network clone.

Of course, that seems to be working out for them, to a certain extent. Just hope Sci-Fi doesn't go too far along that path.
 

Bryan Tuck

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What's more, he says, his film offers a lot more than ''just hardware and monsters and explosions. There are real human emotions, which is very, very rare in science fiction.''
Now, I may be contradicting myself here :rolleyes:but unfortunately, this is often true of science fiction films. However, science fiction in general has for a long time included "real human emotions" within its stories. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and yes Frank Herbert were all very adept at blending the sci-fi elements with real emotional content in their work. This continues today, with writers like Ray Bradbury and Ursula K. Le Guin (who are still producing quality work years into their careers), and relative newcomers like Stephen Baxter.

So, I guess it's good that the "character and story" elements of CoD are being talked up. I just wish that they didn't have to degrade the label "science ficiton" to do it.

As for the channel itself, when it was first created, it was established that it would feature science fiction, fantasy, and horror programming, so I can allow them a little leeway there. A Tremors series is a bad idea, and Scare Tactics is a blatant attempt to hitch a ride on the reality show bandwagon, but at least they could vaguely be included in the fantasy/horror genre. SciFi used to feature shows like Inside Space and various bumpers that featured quick science facts, so I don't even have that much of a problem with them showing Apollo 13. At least it is science-related, even if it's not technically sci-fi (we have been to the moon, you know).

I'm going to give the channel a little more time. Cancelling Farscape was not a great idea, but that's not enough for me to quit watching them. If something is on that I like, I'll watch it, and I'm looking forward to some of their upcoming programs. I think they've got some good ideas (and some bad ideas); I hope a balance can be achieved that will please longtime viewers and newcomers.

Braveheart is pushing it, though. :D
 

Jack Briggs

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Well, the Sci-Fi Channel has never really been about science fiction. It's the Offbeat Channel slowly morphing into another USA, TBS, WOR, WGN, AMC, et al.
 

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