SciFi Is Dead; Long Live SciFi! – The Resurgence of Genre Programming



By | Posted on 09 October 2012

Image courtesy Syfy

I’d like to start with a little commentary regarding genre programming over the last few years.  I’m going to do my best to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about, but I’m really just making this stuff up while sipping single-malt through a silly straw.

It wasn’t so long ago that genre fans were lamenting the apparent slow death of their favorite programming.  I think people really began to get nervous when the Sci Fi Channel changed its name to Syfy.  Pitchforks were sharpened and torches were lit when Syfy announced the addition of wrestling to their programming schedule.  To be fair, the blame can’t be aimed solely at Syfy because while they may have canceled Stargate: Universe just as it was hitting its stride, the broadcast nets were killing shows with promise like Flash Forward, Journeyman, and The Event just to name a few.

For the first time in decades, fans found themselves without a hint of staple franchises like Star Trek or Stargate on their screens and it began to look like the “Dark Ages of Genre” were here in earnest.  It’s not as if all genre programming was gone, but many pointed out there was not a single series on television set on a spaceship/starship for the first time in what seemed like forever.  As much as this pains me I have to say the blame, if there is any, must be shared between the networks and the viewers.  Like it or not, television is first and foremost a money-making business so if an expensive show, say one set in outer space, isn’t getting great ratings the profit margin is going to be low and therefore subject to cancellation while a cheaper, Earth-based show with lower ratings will survive.  Syfy told the fans they needed less expensive shows like wrestling and other reality programming to help make money so they could bring more scripted programming to the air.  We fans didn’t like hearing that and I wasn’t inclined to believe it even though it made business sense.  But after thinking about it and trying to put myself in Syfy’s shoes it started to make sense, even if I still didn’t trust their motives.

As a crappy analogy let’s say Syfy was a specialty gelato shop and they served nothing but gelato 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Gelato’s great, I love the stuff, but I know more people who’d rather eat regular ice cream and snow cones simply because it’s familiar, cheaper, and they grew up eating it.  Okay, so from “Syfy Gelato’s” business point of view, they’re missing out on customers by only serving a pricey and expensive to make product to a niche market.  They’re looking at maybe having to close the doors because business isn’t what they need it to be.  What do you do to increase your profits and get customers to hopefully try the gelato?  Simple: give the people what they want!  So we’ve got our beloved channel offering up the television equivalent of soft-serve and snow cones, but it got eyes on the screen.  The best part?  Many of those eyes stuck around to try the “gelato” and it’s beginning to pay off, and pay off big as we’re now seeing a rise in the number of genre shows coming to TV and in the development phase.

This isn’t meant to be a critique of Syfy because other cable and broadcast networks are doing the exact same thing, but since Syfy’s goal is to bring us genre programming I felt they were the best singular example to make my point, assuming I have a point.  I have been very vocal on Twitter and via email about Syfy’s programming decisions in the past and I want to say right here, right now, and very clearly I Was Wrong About Syfy.  They’re making good on their promises and are developing many new scripted series and a couple of miniseries.  Their list of new offerings is a bit later in this article, but trust me, you’ll want to know more about what Syfy is up to.

Photo courtesy TNT and Turner BroadcastingLast year we began to see a quiet return of genre programming and like any television programming some succeeded and others not so much.  The most successful addition to science fiction programming came from TNT with the extremely popular Falling Skies.  Now having aired two very successful seasons the cast and crew are hard at work on a third that promises to top the first two with new aliens and new twists.  Syfy brought us Alphas, taking a slightly more realistic approach than Heroes did, then we have the broadcast successes of both Grimm and Once Upon A Time.  It was looking like fantasy was a flavor of gelato the snow cone crowd found pleasing and this turned out to be a great way to get those folks interested in trying more.  Judging by this year’s influx of new genre programming the networks believe it’s a good time to introduce a host of new shows and (hopefully) make converts out of all those people we scifi/fantasy geeks have been trying to indoctrinate for so long.

Here’s a list of genre shows that have either started airing, will start mid-season or are in development.  The hyperlinked titles will take you to each show’s webpage:

Image courtesy ABC Television Network

Hot on the heels of the success of Once Upon A Time, ABC has come out of the gate with the thrilling Last Resort, eerie 666 Park Avenue, goofball alien comedy The Neighbors, and the mid-season action thriller Zero Hour.  Unfortunately, The Neighbors probably won’t stay long and 666 Park Avenue has promise, but needs to make good on the promise soon or suffer a rapid decline in audience interest.  I’ve only seen the first episode, but Last Resort was easily one of the best new shows I’ve seen in a long time.  If you haven’t seen the trailer for the mid-season Zero Hour I highly recommend you give it a look-see.  It’s got a little Da Vinci Code, a little National Treasure, a lot of Nazis…and mysterious clocks!

Image courtesy NBC Television Network

It’s been many a year since these guys have had much in the way of “Must See TV,” but where genre’s concerned it looks like the peacock is working hard at making up for that.  They’ve already got a bonafide hit with Revolution which recently got a full season pick-up.  The “coming soon” list is loaded with titles like Hannibal, Do No Harm, Crossbones, Dracula and Save MeHannibal is a prequel to the character we’re so familiar with from Silence of the Lambs, but has Dr. Lecter teamed up with a profiler in order to catch serial killers.  Do No Harm is another take on the Jekyll and Hyde story and centers on a gifted neurosurgeon afflicted with dual personalities, while Crossbones explores the pirate Edward Teach, better known to the world as Blackbeard.  Dracula has the iconic vampire arriving in late 19th century London posing as an American entrepreneur whose outer motives are to promote technology, but whose real motives are revenge.  Finally, Save Me is a comedy about a woman whose near-death experience apparently gives her the ability to talk to God.

Image courtesy CBS Television Network

The Eye has a lone entry that sits on the edge of Genre City in the form of Elementary.  There is already the excellent Sherlock, but Elementary aims to separate itself from it’s BBC-produced cousin in a few ways.  It’s set in New York City, Dr. Watson is a woman, and unlike Sherlock which is using classic stories for plot elements CBS’ show is going for completely original story lines.

Image courtesy FOX Broadcasting

Another network with only one entry that even remotely fits the genre category, FOX brings us The Following.  This is the story of an escaped serial killer being pursued by the FBI agent who first caught him nine years earlier.  Not only is this serial killer brilliant and ruthless, but he has formed a following of other serial killers who do his bidding.

Image courtesy The CW

The CW has three new entries this year in the form of Arrow, Beauty and the Beast, and CultArrow is a retelling of the comic book hero The Green Arrow while Beauty and the Beast is a reboot of the classic tale most recently done by CBS in the late 1980s.  Cult is a mid-season show about a journalist & a production assistant on a crime series called “Cult” who begin to investigate suspicious events surrounding the show.  It looks as if some of the shows’ die-hard fans may be recreating crimes shown on the show-within-a-show and there may indeed be a cult behind “Cult.”

As I promised earlier, Syfy is bringing back scripted shows in a big way with no less than 14 series or miniseries in the works.  Already scheduled to launch in April 2013 is Defiance the post-invasion series connected to an online MMO game where events in each are supposed to affect the other.  Syfy has smartly acquired the rights to air the Canadian-produced Primeval: New World (Facebook site) which will also begin airing in 2013 and whose official website will launch some time in mid-October.  We also reported several weeks ago that Syfy is developing a revival of the British cult series Blake’s 7.  There isn’t much news on the other projects at the moment outside of the press release from Syfy covering the huge slate of scripted projects in development.  While many of these may not see the light of day, it’s encouraging to see just how much energy Syfy is putting into scripted genre programming.

SCRIPTED DEVELOPMENT/DRAMAS
Rewind – Rewind revolves around a team of military field operatives and civilian scientists who must use untested technology to travel back in time to alter events and change the future — and avoid a devastating terrorist attack. Shane McRae stars as Sean Knox, ex-Special Forces who ranks as a field operative in a special division of the Department of Homeland Security. The pilot also stars Jennifer Ferrin, Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), Robbie Jones and Keon Mohajeri, and is currently in production in Toronto. Jack Bender (Lost, Alphas) is directing the pilot, written by Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li), who will also executive produce with Tom Spezialy, Gail Berman, Lloyd Braun and Gene Stein. A production of BermanBraun and Universal Cable Productions.

The Adjustment Bureau – In this drama, based on the hit movie starring Matt Damon, guardian angel-type agents work to keep the world according to The Plan. They create everything from plane crashes to coffee spills in order to steer people to realize their true destiny. But there is one thing the operatives and their Chairman can’t control — free will. Writers: Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer (Melrose Place, Smallville). Executive producers: George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau, The Bourne Ultimatum), MRC, Slavkin and Swimmer. A production of Universal Cable Productions.

High Moon – Based on the novel, The Lotus Caves, by John Christopher, this imaginative, out-of-this-world series explores a world where the countries of Earth have established colonies to mine the Moon’s resources. When a new life form is discovered, chaos erupts as various factions race to uncover its powerful secrets. Executive producer: Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies). Co-executive producer: Jim Danger Gray (Pushing Daisies). Writers: Bryan Fuller and Jim Danger Gray. Executive producer: Granat Entertainment. A production of Universal Cable Productions.

Untitled Booster Gold Project – Based on the best-selling DC Entertainment Comic, this is the story of a washed-up athlete from the future who travels back to the present in hopes of becoming the greatest superhero of all time. But instead of chasing criminals, his main priority is chasing fame and money. Booster Gold discovers that being a hero takes more than just a megawatt smile. Writer: Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow, Warehouse 13). Executive producers: Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern, Arrow) and Andrew Kreisberg. Producers: Greg Berlanti Productions in association with Warner Horizon Television. The Booster Gold comic book series is published by DC Entertainment, which will also act as an executive producer.

Grave Sight – From the best-selling author of True Blood, this Charlaine Harris book series follows Harper Connelly – a young woman with a unique gift. After being struck by lightning as a teenager, Harper can sense the location and last memories of dead people. She teams up with her protective stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, to help find a missing teenage girl — only to uncover a network of lies and murders throughout a small town in the Ozarks. Writer: Kam Miller (Law and Order: SVU). A production of Universal Cable Productions.

Seeing Things – Based on the comic Grey Legion from Platinum Studios, after a cop meets his violent demise, he returns as a ghost to close his last case. But the only person who can help him is a socially awkward man who is realizing for the first time that his hallucinations may not be all in his head. Writers: David Slack (Person of Interest, Lie To Me) and Gabrielle Stanton (Haven, The Vampire Diaries). Executive producers: David Slack, Robert Cort and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. A production of Fox Television Studios.

Defender – In the aftermath of an intergalactic war between humans and transhumans, the starship Defender, populated by a combustible mix of former enemies, is sent on a seemingly simple goodwill mission, which turns into a fight for their lives and for the safety of the Universe at large. Executive producer/writer: Robert Hewitt Wolfe (Alphas). A production of Universal Cable Productions.

The Family – For generations, an alien family has hid amongst humans in plain sight using their advanced intellect to carve out a life for themselves as their family grew. But when the family patriarch that kept peace amongst the factions dies, a war begins to brew with some members believing the time has come to reveal themselves, and their superior power, to the inferior human race. Writer: Dan Harris (Superman Returns, X2). Executive producers: Neal Moritz (21 Jump Street, Total Recall), Mark Verheiden (Falling Skies, Battlestar Galactica). A production of Sony Pictures TV.

LONGFORM SCRIPTED DEVELOPMENT
Eyes Of The Dragon – Based on Stephen King’s best-selling novel. A kingdom is in turmoil as the old king dies and his successor must battle for the throne. Pitted against an evil wizard and a would-be rival, Prince Peter makes a daring escape and rallies the forces of good to fight for what is rightfully his. Writers: Michael Taylor (Defiance, Battlestar Galactica) and Jeff Vintar (I, Robot). Executive producers: Michael Taylor and Bill Haber. A production of Universal Cable Productions and Ostar Productions.

Darkfall – When, without warning, modern forms of power and technology become a thing of the past, Los Angeles, and the world at large, becomes a place where magic rules and life as we know it is turned upside down. Writers: Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (Kung Fu Panda, Sleeper Cell). A production of The Jim Henson Company and Universal Cable Productions.

One Mile Straight Down – When a powerful earthquake hits California and opens up a chasm bigger than the Grand Canyon, it reveals an enormous hidden ocean lying deep beneath the earth’s crust. Billionaire adventurer James Exeter works with the government to take an advanced nuclear submarine down to explore it and discovers more than he ever could have imagined. Writers: Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Naren Shankar (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) and Deran Sarafian (CSI: NY). Executive producers: Skip Woods, Naren Shankar and Deran Sarafian. A production of Universal Cable Productions.

Related articles:

Syfy To Remake Cult Classic Blake’s 7

Behind The Scenes: The Making of Defiance Video

Elementary – Are Two Holmes Better Than One?

Syfy’s Defiance Begins Production In Toronto

Syfy Announces Two New Pilot Projects

Syfy Update: Rewind Casting News

Rewind – Syfy Greenlights 2-Hour Time Travel Pilot

Defiance – Syfy Unites Television & MMO Gaming With New Drama


Editor for Three If By Space. Tom first became interested in science fiction & science as a very young child thanks to his parents. His earliest memories of enjoying scifi were sitting with his dad watching first-run episodes of the original Star Trek. Although a rabid fan of nearly all forms of scripted television, some of Tom’s favorite shows are Firefly, Falling Skies, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, the X-Files and all versions of both Star Trek and Stargate. He also has a particular love for British television and dearly hopes to one day visit the UK.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.drummey Matthew Drummey

    I for one will always believe SYFY cancelled SGU not because it was expensive but simply because it sucked – The show was an abomination and a stain on the undergarments of the STARGATE franchise.

  • themaingmaster

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion
    no matter how WRONG they may be! First of all Science Fiction is
    alive and well no matter how hard SyFy tries to kill it by showing
    “camcorder productions” and mindless game shows, and that’s just
    the tip if the iceberg, SyFy has ENDLESS shows that hunt for things
    which do not exist … (ghosts, lake monsters, mermaids the lost sock
    you name it) IF <
    it is only a question of when! Thank you all, and I hope that every
    Science Fiction Lover that reads this will be a part of the
    “Post-Fest” on October 28th Stargate's Birthday, where
    the lovers of quality Science Fiction will have a chance to speak out
    for their favorite show! Details can be found in the “notes”
    section of the Facebook page known as “Save Future Stargate Travel”
    .. A community of good folks who believe that a world without a
    working Stargate is not an option! :) Cheers! J.S.

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