Syfy has been an easy punchline for a while now. Before the dark times, before the name change, they used to be called the Sci-Fi Channel and actually aired primarily — wait for it — science fiction. Sadly, somewhere along the way they let themselves be seduced into going cheaper, easier, and lazier, leaving us with a schizophrenic lineup of wrestling, ghost-hunting “reality shows,” and a few decent original series such as Defiance and Being Human. Gone were the really ambitious sci-fi series such as Farscape and Battlestar Galactica. The premiere of Ron Moore’s Helix is a step in the right direction, but could it be that Syfy has finally decided to be more than a shadow of the channel they used to be? One Syfy executive seems to think so.
Speaking to AdWeek, Syfy executive vice president of original programming Bill McGoldrick says that he’s making it a priority to try and attract talented genre writers and creators to help give the channel’s lineup a renewed luster. “I’m definitely out there pounding on everybody’s door who has a name in the genre,” says McGoldrick. “And we’re open to people who aren’t necessarily associated with the genre but have a great idea.”
McGoldrick landed the evp job this past November, and his renewed commitment to original scripted programming sounds promising…assuming Syfy and McGoldrick stick to their guns. Talk is cheap, as they say, so it will be interested to see if this purported new direction for Syfy is more than just empty soundbites. If nothing else, Helix is a good start: the outbreak thriller’s premiere had 1.82 million viewers — not amazing, but not bad for cable.
Of course, this shift toward more original scripted programming is almost certainly in response to the renaissance of sci-fi/fantasy shows elsewhere on television. The Walking Dead is a monster hit for AMC, a “respectable” network that made its name with critical darling Mad Men. HBO, former home of The Sopranos and Deadwood, has hooked tons of viewers with its adaptations of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones. Starz, which has specialized addictive shows shored up by ultra-violence and naked people, even has a military science fiction series in the works from Spartacus: Blood & Sand creator Steven S. DeKnight.
All those successes have got to sting, because there was a time when Syfy could have been a viable home for those mega-hits. Maybe, just maybe, that will change under McGoldrick’s leadership. The exec says, “[Because] everyone’s doing it, there are a lot of young writers … around town who are thinking about genre but wouldn’t have been 10 years ago.”
It’s easy to want to believe that Syfy might regain some of the respectability it’s lost over the years, but it remains to be seen whether McGoldrick’s walk will match his talk. “You can tell good adult stories in the genre,” continues the Syfy exec. “The pitches I’m hearing … people are approaching [us] as seriously as they would HBO.” That’s good to hear. Now earn it.