The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

An Open Letter to the Sci-Fi Channel Suits

Written by: Sal Crivelli, Special to CC2K

CC2K's Pop Culture Editor has some issues with the not-so-venerable Sci-Fi Channel, and he lays 'em all out here in an easy-to-read list.

ImageI hate the Sci Fi Channel. But we all do, don't we? It's one of those unifying characteristics we all share, as appreciators of pop culture and science fiction/fantasy. This letter is an appeal to those who have the power to grant thankless jerks who have no business being in charge of entertainment media– please grant me executive power over the Sci Fi Channel.


Everyone has a gripe with the Sci Fi Channel. Occasionally Sci Fi hits a mark. You have shows like Eureka and Battlestar. You have original movies like The Man with the Screaming Brain and the Farscape mini. These items of gold, however, are a rarity, and not without its blemishes. The Farscape mini wouldn't have been necessary if Sci Fi had simply given Farscape its last season, and canceled Stargate when Richard Dean Anderson was planning to quit. Again.

I'm not so naive as to suggest I'm the first geek who thought they had a good idea for how to make the channel a viable network. I'm simply playing with that fantasy, and sharing a few of my ideas with the general nerd-public. And if someone in network TV land takes an interest in what's written here, or a few more good people share their own views, ideas, and suggestions with those in charge, maybe some magic will happen and the Sci Fi Channel won't consistently suck so incredibly hard.

Get ready, Variety. Here's my executive mandate order, in order:

Executive Decision #1 – Operation: Free-Up Money

Sci-Fi Channel Original Pictures are henceforth removed. Entirely. No more Mansquito.

ECW is no longer part of the Sci Fi lineup. While wrestling may be fake, it doesn't make it science fiction. It may be a homoerotic indulgent fantasy, but it ain't fantasy.

Executive Decision #2 – Operation: Reorganization

One of the main issues with Sci-Fi's current scheduling decision is the lack of logic or intelligence behind it. It's an issue of cohesion, or more specifically: too much cohesion. We have an episode of Tru Calling on Mondays starting at six in the morning. It doesn't end until three in the afternoon. This is a trend all over this schedule. You want to watch an episode of Quantum Leap? Wait a few months, and then you can watch ten hours of QL… in a row. Then it goes away again.

If you have old science fiction-esque shows that have lasted more than five seasons, put them on a regular schedule. Sci-Fi has enough programming to stack them together, and enough extra cash to buy the rights to replay shows they don't. Here's a few examples of what they've got:

    •    Battlestar Gallactica
    •    The Incredible Hulk
    •    Lost in Space
    •    Max Hedroom
    •    Batman
    •    Dark Shadows
    •    Planet of the Apes
    •    Dark Angel
    •    Transformers
    •    Robotech
    •    Dark Angel
    •    Firefly
    •    Ripley's Believe it or Not
    •    Star Trek: The Original Series, TNG, & Enterprise
    •    X-Files
    •    Ghost Whisperer

While Sci-Fi Channel original series don't normally last as long as an originally syndicated show, they do have a hefty chunk of programming to spread around. In point of fact, the lack of Sci-Fi Channel original programming is one of the issues I would intend to rectify (but we'll get to that).

On a regularly scheduled day, you share the wealth of programming you own. With Sci-Fi, you could do a small group of pre-work/school shows that grab viewers in the nostalgia. Call it Flashblock and do the following:

Right now, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays is just Tru Calling. Gone. Instead, from six to nine, you have (from your own bag of tricks, mind you– no purchase necessary):

    •    6 – 6:30 AM: The Twilight Zone
    •    6:30 – 7 AM: Dark Shadows
    •    7 – 7:30 AM: Lost in Space
    •    7:30 – 8 AM: Star Trek: The Original Series
    •    8 – 8:30 AM: Robotech
    •    8:30 – 9 AM: Transformers

I deliberately placed the Rod Sterling series at the beginning because six a.m. is when Paid Programming turns off. Can you imagine waking up to the theme of The Twilight Zone, this being the beginning of your Sci Fi day? I could re-imagine an entire weekly lineup, reorganizing Sci Fi's own schedule, but I don't work there. This is just to give you an idea of what could be happening if anyone who knew what they were doing, or what they have, were in charge. Obviously, based on the list I just gave you, the possibilities for later programming in the afternoon and evening are endlessly better than the current mandate.

Placing the right programming at the right time is crucial to having a successful channel. I know that sounds asinine in its simplicity, but the people at Sci Fi simply don't understand it. Right now on Sci Fi Tuesdays? Scare Tactics for four hours.

ImageExecutive Decision #3: Make Some Room

Sci Fi has original programming. The problem with that has to do with what the programming is, and when it's on. We've just removed scheduling from our list of problems, so let's move on to the series'.

Like I said, Sci Fi has some original shows. Had a few, too.

    •    Farscape
    •    Stargate
    •    Battlestar Galactica
    •    Painkiller Jane
    •    Tremors
    •    Good vs Evil
    •    Lexx
    •    Sliders
    •    Sanctuary
    •    Mystery Science Theater 3000
    •    Ghost Hunters
    •    Eureka
    •    The Dresden Files
    •    Painkiller Jane

This is not some thinly veiled attempt to get Farscape back, by the way. Farscape is over. It's OK. However, we do have a few shows that are on Sci Fi, which they do have influence over. Two of them in particular:

Scare Tactics and all things Stargate. Two decisions make these shows infinitely better.

ImageCancel Stargate and fire Tracey Morgan.

Scare Tactics is a show that is so simple, yet so effective. Scaring the crap out of friends is a time-honored tradition. Giving those friends a budget and putting their reactions on television is just the next step in the evolution.

Your host, however, is irrelevant. The person could be a horse dubbed by Bob Saget and it could still be more effective than Tracey Morgan. When you get someone like Tracey Morgan bumping your clips, you may as well have placed Jar Jar Binks there. At least Jar Jar is a product of science fiction. Tracey Morgan is a product of bad executive decisions at NBC. Sci Fi has made enough– don't add more to the list. But who do we get? It doesn't really matter who, but I would be completely sold by Mike Nelson, The Crypt Keeper, or Robert Englund.

There are other original shows that are harmless enough to stick around. Ghost Hunters, for one. Battlestar, another (though obviously this show will be ending soon, so in spite of its popularity it will eventually be relegated to syndication). Sanctuary is a revolutionary show in its technical execution. Time will tell if it was worth the effort, but I'm willing to give it some grow-time.

My next step needs money and room. While yes, all I did was basically cancel Stargate, I also removed all Sci Fi original pictures, so we didn't need to cancel too many Sci Fi original shows. Eureka needs to show me something in the next season (if they even want it).

Executive Decision #4: Original Programming

There are two types of original series' I want on Sci Fi: mini and ongoing. Here's the big kicker:
Instead of producing, we'll say, six original movies, we're going to make one mini series that lasts between twenty four and forty six episodes, depending on the source material. A few examples:

    •    Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time
    •    Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game
    •    Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles

These are a few examples of some original mini series that might work. Depending on their budget or length, their episodes would be designed around them. Martian Chronicles might be shorter than Ender's Game, but A Wrinkle in Time could only encompass the first book, making it a shorter series as well.

I'm also not proposing we launch three huge original mini series' at once. This is maybe a five year plan, one after the other. Spread the wealth, and the cost. Of course, Sci Fi gets to produce the aftermarket DVD sales.

As for ideas for ongoing series'… Everyone's got ideas for what Sci Fi should be putting on TV. Hell, it took me a collective second and a half to come up with dream ideas like Firefly: Season Two. I'm not suggesting that, believe it or not. I have my own opinions for why a second season of Firefly, in light of the film's aftermath, simply wouldn't hold the same charm or feeling as the first season did. I also understand that Sci Fi purchased the replay rights for Firefly, and it's within their abilities to resurrect Serenity. My mind isn't totally made up on the subject, but I'll tell you this: Whedon works best, it would seem, when he doesn't have total freedom to do what he wants. Also Tim Minear would have to Executive Produce.

Having said that (and effectively getting me blacklisted by every Whedon-related message board across the interweb), here is one of my flagship Sci Fi original ongoing series ideas:

Star Trek: Excelsior
This chronicles the adventures of Captain Hikaru Sulu and the U.S.S. Excelsior. The crew includes Ensign Tuvok (from Star Trek: Voyager) and a variety of interesting characters, following through with the usual going where no one's gone before stuff.

I'm not even a big Star Trek fan, but I know the draw of Trek. I know the Abrams movie is going to alienate a lot of fanatical Trek fans, I know Enterprise alienated (no puns, please) nearly all of them, and I know they're all hungry for original, interesting shows with deep, interconnecting roots in continuity. It also only needs George Takei and Tim Russ, and allows us to work around Shatner, Doohan, and Kelley's absence. It is for this reason (and the fact that I think it would be a truly interesting show), that I would kick off New Sci Fi with this as our 8 p.m. Wednesday night program.

Executive Decision #5: Add Anime into the Regular Schedule

Anime is mainstream in Geek culture. Anime is popular among some of the most influential minds in the entertainment industry. On a Sci Fi channel, it's only fair to put Anime along with your regular schedules. There's no need for a block of Anime, or a special Ani-Day. Take good shows like Ghost in the Shell, FLCL, and the great Cowboy Bebop, and put them in regular rotation schedules. Surely they beat episodes of Eureka, repeats of Stargate, and old X-Files episodes. By placing them alongside established, popular shows like these (regardless of your opinion of them), you're potentially broadening someone's horizons by legitimizing these series' as being as good, or on par with the shows they have embraced. Anime's part of the culture. It belongs. Acknowledge it.

Executive Decision #6: Web-Based User Content

I've found countless shows online created by dedicated sci-fi fans who need a start. Some of it is silly, some of it is incredibly late, but it's all user-generated, self-funded contributions to the sci-fi genre. Upload your shows to Sci and the users will vote on the best sci-fi pilot. Those will go on through more challenges (kind of like Zuda), until we reach something that can really have legs. We then release said pilot on the channel, and if it's successful, we produce half a season of episodes dependent on continued popularity. It's not a guarantee, but it's more than what's being done today.

In the end, we know this can't work because Sci Fi is owned and controlled by people who have no idea what people want to watch, much less what a "niche market" is. My ideas might be controversial, and I may not have any television executive experience, but it's a damn sight better than how it's run right now.

In the short-term, the good news is this: as DVDs continue to come down in price, we can take these former shows we loved so dear and create our own lineup. But what about original programming? Eventually we're going to run out of show! And with hopeful niche-market shows like Heroes giving the axe to co-creator and scribe Jeph Loeb, the HBO-rejected Preacher mini-series, and even multiple failed Knight Rider incarnations, where are we going to turn to for television that satisfies our interests and fanatical attention to detail?

Probably not Sci Fi, with the current executive staff on board. Although, maybe in another dimension…