- Mar 20, 2004
Looks like we're going to be seeing more diverse original programming on the Sci-Fi Channel in the days to come. Personally I think it's because 'space' shows are more expensive to make but, hey, that's just my theory.....
Sci Fi universe colonizes brave new worlds
By Gary Levin, USA TODAY
Sci Fi Channel got a rocket boost from space series, and the cable network now hopes to lure new viewers by embracing a broader range of fantasy, pointing to the success of Harry Potter, top-selling video game Halo and TV's Lost.
The makeover is aimed at "redefining and changing the misperception of what sci-fi is," says Bonnie Hammer, president of the NBC Universal-owned channel. (Related story: Attack of the 'B' horror flicks)
"It's speculative fiction, it's escapism, it's fantasy. It's not just space and aliens."
Adds general manager David Howe: "This is a very broad, popular mainstream genre. This isn't a niche, narrow network."
Taken, an ambitious 20-hour miniseries from Steven Spielberg, gave Sci Fi new prominence, averaging a record5 million viewers over 10 nights in December 2002.
The ratings halo has persisted. Sci Fi is averaging 1.3 million viewers in prime time this year, its biggest three-month period since the one that included Taken.
Among the 18-to-49 age group prized by advertisers, Sci Fi is up 11%, ranking seventh among all basic-cable networks.
"They've been really successful in the shift toward more general but distinct entertainment," says analyst Tom Weeks of Starcom, an ad-buying firm.
"They are reinvesting a lot of their profits into original programming. The strategy is working," says Kagan Research's Derek Baine. Sci Fi's programming budget has nearly doubled in the past five years, supporting three nights of original programming: reality shows on Wednesdays, space dramas on Fridays and original movies on Saturdays, Baine says.
And the network has reeled in a broader audience, including more women, than the stereotypical male sci-fi fan who lives in his parents' basement.
Actor Michael Douglas is behind one of several new projects being considered for next year. He is executive producer of a drama series about the late author Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House). Described as a cross between Desperate Housewives and The Twilight Zone, the series mixes supernatural tales with Jackson's own saga, "a family drama about the unconventional life of an urban clan living in small-town Vermont," says Mark Stern, chief of original programming.
Other pilots vying for spots on the schedule include a remake of Time Tunnel, ABC's short-lived 1966 series, and several superhero tales. Heroes Anonymous is based on the comic-book series, about a team that forms a support group in a quest to discover their true identities; Painkiller Jane has a butt-kicking action hero; and action drama Those Who Walk in Darkness is based on John Ridley's novel about a SWAT team that hunts rogue superpower types.
The six-hour miniseries The Triangle (as in Bermuda) is on tap for December, and another Spielberg saga, Nine Lives, remains in development.
Sci Fi's best ratings remain on Fridays, when Battlestar Galactica and two Stargate series, SG-1 and spinoff Atlantis, have sometimes bested UPN's better-known Star Trek: Enterprise saga, which is ending next month. The Sci Fi series all return for new seasons in July.
Wednesdays are led this summer by a new season of Ghost Hunters, a reality series featuring a team of plumbers turned nighttime ghostbusters. Also due: a second season of animated Tripping the Rift, a sci-fi sendup that adds Carmen Electra to its voice cast. New Master Blasters is about "two teams of amateur rocket scientists who launch strange things into space," says Stern — as in a Mini Cooper, a La-Z-Boy and an outhouse.