What made the Sci-Fi channel good?
What made the Sci-Fi channel worth watching back in the day?
Exactly As Advertised
The Sci-fi channel's content was heavily oriented towards sci-fi. Anybody who had no knowledge of the schedule could turn it on and be fairly sure that there would be a sci-fi story going at that time.
Variety / Reruns
Space 1999. The Prisoner. UFO. The Incredible Hulk. Swamp Thing. The Sci-Fi channel ran the gamut of nearly every sci-fi show ever produced, even the bad ones like Galactica 1980. There was always variety.
Novelty / Original Content
The Sci-Fi channel had short bits of original content between shows, the most notable being a fake future-news show from the 25th century that ran for a few years. Other original content included short movies and graphics demonstrations that looked like student projects.
Well-targeted off-topic content
Sci-fi ran anime at a time when nobody ran anime, and it worked. In their defense, most of the selected anime was sci-fi: Akira, Venus Wars, 8-Man, Armitage, etc.
What makes Syfy bad?
Poorly-targeted off-topic content
You can never tell when anything is going to be on.
You might not know what is on Syfy, but you know that it will run on for several more hours. If it doesn't catch your interest, you won't wait around for the next show and you won't be coming back.
As a result of the daily marathons, there is a very small number of different shows on the channel.
A rocketship blasts into a starry sky...
I would fly you to the moon and back
If you'll be my baby
I've got a ticket for a world where we belong
If you'll be my baby
- Savage Garden
Escape to Saturn.
We won't even have to change the logo.
Core elements of the rebranding will include:
Science fiction and fantasy are often grouped together even though they are two different genres. A common theme between them is the escape from our world into a new world of someone else's manufacture where the problems that people deal with are completely different from what we have to deal with in real life. While the Saturn channel will still lean heavily towards sci-fi, the rebranding will place in Saturn's advertised scope such fantasy content as The Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.
Returning to roots
Show loads of science fiction. This will still be the channel's core programing.
Bring back the reruns. They haven't been shown in over a decade, so there is a new audience that has never seen them before.
Bring back the short art demos between shows. Additional novelty programming might include 15-second spots with trivia about the shows.
Have a weekly 2-hour block for foreign programming, which will start with anime and could later include anything that was not originally in English.
In general, do what worked for the Sci-Fi channel.
The new programming should attract families in addition to the core young adult audience. Move the R-rated content until after 8 PM. Bring back the Saturday morning cartoons block that every channel used to have. For the hours when children are most likely to be watching, the station will generally favour shows where the heroes and storylines promote good moral character and social responsibility.
Science Culture / Education
In selecting programming, the station will have biases towards showing the types of sci-fi that include some element of actual science, and towards the types of shows where the heroes solve problems through thought and well-applied effort. Fantasy programming will be biased towards shows that explain the rules of the fantasy world. A small fraction of the station's content could be explicitly educational. Such programming might subtly encourage a culture of thought, analysis, experimentation, and achievement.
Mythbusters is the perfect example of the type of educational programming that would be shown if the rights could be acquired. For an example of the more subtle encouragement of science culture, Saturn might show the old Scooby-Doo cartoons where the gang solves problems by identifying a rational explanation for the supposed supernatural mysteries, but would skip the new cartoons where the ghosts and zombies are real.
About once a month, the channel might show a "how they made it" special showing how the special effects in movies and TV are done. The station could also run short 30-second spots between shows for the same purpose.
The station may also consider showing off-topic content that appeals on an intellectual level, for example the comedies Murder By Death and Hot Fuzz which respectively deconstruct the murder mystery genre and the modern police action genre. Neither is sci-fi or conventional fantasy, but both are escapist and fairly intelligent.
Variety of content + Consistency of scheduling
Show a different show every hour, but consistently schedule the genres of show so that viewers know when to tune in to see the Star Trek hour; when to see the fantasy show; when to see the half-serious comedy; when to see the soap-opera-ish serial; when to see the half-hour shows from the '70s and '80s; when to see the bad monster movie of the week; when to see the family-friendly movie of the week; when to see the family-unfriendly movie of the week; and so on. When one show has run its course, it can be replaced with another show that fits the genre for the slot. Along that line, the same genre-slot can be filled by different shows on different days.
Weekday targeted programming blocks might include:
- 6-8 AM - Morning Family - The audience is people of any age watching a bit of TV before going to school or work. Shows should be half-hour length at most, preferably quarter-hour length like some cartoons. Programming could be interrupted with a brief 30-second news report about what is new in the world of science and an ad saying what will be playing that night.
- 8-12 AM - Kids' Borderline - G/PG-rated programming to meet the needs of two distinct audiences: parents with young children present, and anybody else who is at home in the morning and wants to watch a dose of sci-fi. Here Saturn might include reruns of family-friendly shows from decades past and a censored version of a movie that will be shown in full the same night.
- 12-4 PM - Housewives - Include a few shows with a serial format for an audience that will be watching at the same time next week.
- 4-6 PM - Middle School - Content targeting the young teen to young adult audience. Content will be more action-oriented, with more plotlines about power and belonging. The shows' maturity level should increase as we get closer to prime time.
- 6-10 PM - Prime Time - Best content goes here. A standard night's fare might might include a classic syndicated show, an original production, and a good movie.
- 10 PM - 12 AM - Uncensored - Shows that are definitely for adults.
- 12 AM - 4 AM - Nighttime - Anything can go here, most likely reruns and further uncensored content.
Dealing with existing programming
- Bad Monster Movie of the Week -- Keep it. It's a good fit. Instead of producing one movie every week, the channel may produce one movie every two weeks and show old monster movies in the same time slot during the odd weeks.
- Paranormal programming -- Discourage, but keep. Our audience is likely to have an interest in the paranormal (particularly the escapist viewers) and equally likely to not like to be lied to (particularly the hard sci-fi viewers). Most paranormal shows today unfortunately tend to err on the side of bullshit because it tells the more interesting story. Limit the supernatural to 1 hour per block and 2 hours per day.
- Original shows -- Limit each show to 1 hour per block unless running a scheduled, advertised marathon.
- Wrestling -- Kill it. One could make an argument for pro wrestling being both fantasy and science fiction, but this has no place on the channel.
New original programming
New original programming could include:
- Saturn News - A serious half-hour news show focused on science and technology. Hire professional journalists and let them consult science professors and take the time to get their stories right. Schedule it for either before Colbert or after Stewart; we are aiming to pick up the same audience.
- Monster Mythbusters - A show that attacks the paranormal programming head-on. The show would discuss some legend or hoax to the same level of detail that the paranormal shows do, but would then concentrate on the skeptics' arguments against the subject being paranormal. Follow the Mythbusters formula: have two guys looking into these things and chattering about them. The show will rely heavily on its art department making simple diagrams and animations for what the hosts are discussing.
- Kitchen Experiments - Cooking with science, targeted for the housewives block and rerun on weekends. One of the show's themes is experimentation and comparison of a test recipe to the original recipe. What happens if we leave out an ingredient? What happens if we double an ingredient? What happens if we replace an ingredient with a substitute? Every other show should have a Failed Experiment to laugh over. Another focus of the show is in trying new cooking styles. There was a news article about cooks in France cooking hardboiled eggs to a specific temperature level. Kitchen Experiments would try to duplicate the process with standard home kitchen equipment. The show would also have someone explain how the chemistry of cooking works and have an art department produce animations to visualize the explanations.
- How They Made It - A monthly special explaining the special effects in movies and TV, including the obsolete methods that people used decades ago. Go over the long tail of predecessors to any technique. Consider converting into a weekly "how stuff works" show with a wider focus.
- The Players - A few goofy clowns act out short 15-minute sketches parodying other television shows and movies along the lines of "Abbreviated" stage plays. Their shows will include extraordinarily cheap special effects on the level of Hardware Wars, so simple that the audience can see how they're done and that's part of the joke. Each episode begins with a short introduction describing the source material and the characters that they will be playing.
- Indie Theater - Live-action interpretations of little-known stories from random sources like webcomics, unused scripts, and previously published short stories. Use unknown actors and try to do the stories well on a limited budget. Acquire the story rights on a non-exclusive basis because it will be cheaper and easier to get the stories licensed from indie authors if the authors can keep the rights. Story selection will towards escapist fantasy drama with lighthearted comedy. The idea started as "TV versions of my favourite webcomics" but on reconsideration this sounds like a retread of Amazing Stories.
- CNET - Remember CNET? A news show about computers. Bring it back.
New types of programming
In summary, Saturn will carry these new types of programming in addition to sci-fi:
- Fantasy - As mentioned above, fantasy shows will be geared towards those that let the viewer escape into a new world with new rules.
- Kids' shows - The channel will have childrens' shows at specified times. Program selection will be biased toward shows with futurism, Mad Science, and strong world-building. Programs should be highbrow enough that parents will enjoy watching them with their children, and young adults will watch them for fun. Examples of programming that Saturn would run if the rights could be acquired might include Codename:Kids Next Door, Dexter's Lab, and Metajets.
- Education - Educational programming will be hard science focusing on real-world experimentation and explanations of how things work. Mythbusters and Top Gear would be perfect fits.
The proposed relaunch is going to cost a lot more money than they're apparently putting into the channel now. With advertising being a dying revenue stream, Saturn will need to find other ways to stay profitable.
Associated media sales
Have DVDs, clothing, toys, et cetera available for sale through the Saturn website. Make deals with the content owners and their distributors to take a cut of each sale.
Incorporate the channel and sell stock. A large enough stock purchase will earn a different trinket each year. There may be enough sci-fi fans willing to pay lots of money each year for a tiny model of a spaceship to put on their bookshelf that this might be profitable. Turn the annual shareholders' meeting into a party that resembles a convention, and consider the costs an advertising expense.
Plain old advertising
In this scenario, the network pushes hard to get Saturn a larger audience by creating a focused lineup of quality programming, encouraging TV carriers to include it in their basic plan, and advertising it everywhere. Once the larger audience arrives, raise advertising rates and hope to get the investment back.
Tease advertisers by offering a slight discount if there is a sci-fi aspect to the ad, and be liberal in giving out these discounts so that even the ads contribute to creating a distinct culture about the channel that will increase the fanaticism of the channel's audience.