Experiments in Ontological Relativism

and Other Brain Farts

To the “SyFy” Channel Executives

Posted by Jason on March 16, 2009

[Note: If you haven’t already, you should read this article. This post is a comment that I tried to post over there, but it seems to be timing out and not actually posting the comment. As you can probably tell, this really upsets me. I’ll try to write some more coherent thoughts on the issue once I’ve calmed down a bit.]

Dear Idiotic Executives,

Thank you for finally making overt what your programming choices have implied for years: that you hate your core audience.

I might (and I emphasize might) have considered watching the new channel, despite it’s absurd and meaningless name. Not, however, after I read this article. It’s full of quotes that are not only stupid, but actively insulting to the very people who should be your most loyal supporters.

You continue to perpetuate the very stereotypes from which you wish to distance yourselves. Instead of acknowledging what the literary and academic worlds have known for at least two decades, that SF is more than just “space, aliens[,] and the future,” you’d rather continue to sucker audiences in with lowest-common-denominator drivel and derivatives of ideas that intelligent audiences were calling inane ten years ago.

Thank you for letting me know that I am not welcome in your new, hip channel. If you need me, I’ll be spending my money in my local bookstore, exploring the real, thought-provoking cutting edge of SF.

– Jason Ramboz

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36 Responses to “To the “SyFy” Channel Executives”

  1. snipe said

    Jason – your comment actually did get posted – several times (I think their site may be buckling under the geek-traffic). I agree 100%. Stupid, stupid idea. This is like the Tropicana rebrand all over again, only more offensive. And I might add that Tropicana is pulling ALL of their new branding because it was such a disaster.

    While I am a tech geek (and a woman, part of the audience they seem to be trying to gain – little do they know, they already have us), I work at an ad agency. We’re all just shaking our heads at this one. Way to forget where you came from. Geek is the new jock – and the sooner they realize that, the better off they’ll be.

    • Jason said

      Very well said! If there’s one thing that the proliferation of social media has shown, it’s that there are a lot more geeks out there than people realize. And geeks can hold a grudge like no one’s business. Things like the Jericho “NUTS” campaign, the petitions for the making of Serenity, and even (going waaaay back) the write-in movement to name the first space shuttle Enterprise all show that geeks have a powerful voice when united. In short, we are not a group you want to alienate.

      Besides, living in our parents’ basements means we get to spend all that money we’re not spending on rent on other stuff, right? *grin*

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. And sorry for the multi-post on TVWeek. Whoops!

  2. Tara Maya said

    Wow, what lame-butts. Thanks for alerting me to this. I’ll try and add my voice to the list of disenchanted.

    • Jason said

      You’re not the only one disenchanted. Then again, I’ve been largely disenchanted with the Sci Fi Channel for a while now. Anyway, thanks for commenting!

  3. snipe said

    Not your fault about the multiple post on TVweek – seems to have happened a lot, so I think the problem is on their end :)

    You’re so, so right about geek_grudges. We are rabidly devoted, but easily spurned as well, and we *don’t* forget. More importantly perhaps, we also tend to be quite prolific, so we voice our discontent faster, more consistently, and to wider online channels than those less geeky.

    The geeks of today aren’t the pasty-faced basement-dwellers of yore (tho your comment made me LOL.. hehe). We’re professionals with one of the few career lines that are recession-resistant, and we *spend* our money on the things that make us happy. (Speaking as someone who just got a $150 order from Thinkgeek and had earned enough Geek Points to get the sunglasses with the camera built-in, I think I’m qualified to say that… lol)

    The D&D dorks of the 90s (myself included) have grown up into the web developers, sysadmins, network administrators and tech support of today, and the geek ties that bind are stronger than most. We grew up being misfits, and we’re not misfits anymore – we carry our banner high and proud, and spend millions of dollars every year to let the world know we are a member of this club that has somehow, miraculously, become cool.

    But I digress – the fact is, the channel was started as a SCI-FI channel. A channel that plays only (or largely) Sci-Fi. They created this channel banking on us, the geeks – and it worked. Amazingly well. Of course we’re going to be pissed when they show their contempt now that we’ve made them huge.

    Asshats.

    • Jason said

      I only wish I could put it half as well as you have! I think the internet has been the great equalizer in terms of giving a voice to misfits. The great strength (and weakness) of online media is that anyone can say their piece and be heard by a sympathetic audience. We geeks, being already of a technological bent, have probably taken the best advantage of this fact.

      We’re also the most likely to be willing to abandon the traditional TV model entirely in favor of internet distribution, webisodes, or what have you. I think that’s where the Sci Fi Channel’s reasoning falls apart. I’m guessing someone, somewhere along the line said “oh the geek will watch no matter what, because what else are they gonna watch?” Well, if there’s one group that’s able to abandon TV altogether, it’s us. We may not be entirely willing to do that yet, but things like this certainly push us in that direction.

  4. snipe said

    That, Jason, is an *excellent* point. We *are* the most likely to abandon TV for web first – in fact I have several friends who have done so already and I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

    I have been saying for years that the internet is the great equalizer – using that exact phrase, actually! Although I have generally used it when discussing gender issues in geek environments, I mean it all across the boards. Everybody looks the same on IRC – male, female, basement dweller or hipster geek (not that there are many hipsters on IRC, but…)

    You’re so totally right. The Sci-Fi channels logic is inherently flawed, regardless of how much money they have dumped into focus groups.

    • Jason said

      They also seem to be starting from some very flawed assumptions. One of their core ideas seems to be that women don’t like SF. One wonders what kinds of research they did into their current audience. I know it’s anecdotal evidence, but of the BSG fans I know, I’d say about 55 to 60% are women. If that’s not enough, consider that there has been an explosion of SF & Fantasy books by female authors in the last decade. Feminism and SF is one of the hottest topics in the literary blogosphere and in academia. And let’s not forget that whole “paranormal romance” subgenre (which still falls under their umbrella), with its large female readership, that’s burning up the bestseller charts.

      To say that women don’t like SF and that it needs to be altered (read: dumbed down) to appeal to them is not only demeaning, it’s completely out of touch with reality.

  5. snipe said

    Agreed – I (and many of my female friends) have been big fans of sci-fi/fantasy for decades. The reality is, a well-written story will be gender-agnostic. True human drama can be enjoyed by men and women. It’s what makes BSG such a great show – it’s not a sci-fi show – it’s a well-written human drama, that happens to take place on a space ship. It wasn’t written *for* men – it was written *for* humans, and that’s why the response to it has been so positive. And when it comes to Dr. Who, 90% of the people I know who watch that show are female, although that may have a bit to do with David Tennent being such a weirdly cute geek.

    Good programming will cross-genres because the story isn’t about the setting. It should never be about the setting. The story is about the characters in it and the challenges they face. If the challenges are sci-fi themed but still innately *human*, you’ll get the crossover audiences. Good storytelling is good storytelling, period.

    • Jason said

      Ah yes! Dr. Who is a good example of a show that successfully “rebranded” (so to speak) to appeal to a wider audience without losing its core. I’ve been a fan of the good Doctor since… well, since I was about 10 and caught a late-night Tom Baker rerun. I’ve been nothing but thrilled with the new series. I think the focus on more human elements, and the vulnerability of the Doctor and his companions, has added new levels to an already great show. It still has the adventure plots, cool gadgets, witty banter, and fun logic puzzles that the old series did, but it’s added much more. A marriage of solid SF elements and good storytelling: this is what the SciFi Channel should be shooting for!

  6. snipe said

    I couldn’t agree more. I used to watch Dr Who years ago, and while the geekiness (and yeah, cheesiness) appealed to me, the stories were less human. The new version retains all of the elements that made the original fun, and added new dimension to the characters – and you’re right – that’s absolutely what’s given it the new found success it’s enjoying. The effects are still cheesy (toilet plunger anyone?) – which I think was a risky decision for the producers to make. Keeping the Dalek’s exactly as they were in this time of CGI super effects took some balls – but it’s paid off big time, because the die-hard fans appreciate the nostalgia, while the new fans appreciate the kitsch. THAT’S how you do it. Add new value, but retain your core.

    • Jason said

      Absolutely. Ah well, I expect this will all come back to bite the SciFi Channel in the ass in a big way. Really, they were already looking at a major ratings drop with BSG ending, and this is certainly not going to help them. I give it roughly six to eight months after the rebranding goes into effect before they’re changing back and groveling at geeks’ feet.

  7. H.E. Roulo said

    Thanks for sharing the article.

    I worked for a company that went from a name that made sense to something made up by an expensive PR firm. As I followed orders and dumped all company branded items in the garbage I just shook my head. They did stick with it, and it signaled the change from private company to IPO to something unrecognizable. I expect that the Sci-Fi channel’s name change also signals a dramatic change of tactics.

    I agree that they insult what has been their core audience. As someone who apparently isn’t considered core, since I’m a woman, I don’t think it makes the company friendlier. It is more searchable and recognizable as a brand, though.

    It’s ridiculous. It might just work for them. But whatever they become, it won’t be the Sci-Fi channel any more.

    I hope someone comes to fill that gap.

    • Jason said

      Arguably, the SciFi Channel hasn’t been an actual sci fi channel in a long time. But I think they’re taking this in the wrong direction entirely. See, there’s ways they could have done it and still retained their core audience–made us enthusiastic, in fact!

      Like I posted over at tor.com, they could have said “Hey guys, we need to do this for copyright reasons, and we want to show the world that there’s more to SF than just aliens and spaceships. Help us out, and in the meantime here’s some more good stuff like BSG.” If they’d done that, I think we’d all take it a lot better.

      Instead, they felt the need to stereotype their longtime fans and pretend a huge demographic (i.e., female SF fans) doesn’t exist. At least other networks are making some good, real SF programming.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts!

  8. snipe said

    I agree, Jason – and perhaps the blow would have been softened if they had bothered to find out any real demographic info from the people who actually watch it. As a viewer since the channel first aired, I have never once been asked to complete a poll or survey so that they could learn more about me. Certainly, if any cable channel has an audience that would embrace being recognized and would appreciate being able to contribute, no one has that more than the Sci Fi channel, with the exception perhaps of G4. The viewers would gladly have helped Sci Fi learn who we are (and that many of us are women), if they had only asked. I think that’s what makes this pill even harder to swallow. They’ve misspent a lot of money to try and learn something that we would have given them freely (and would have resulted in a more accurate dataset) – money that could have been spent on improving their programming.

    • Jason said

      Y’know, I’m a little curious if they presented this idea to their sponsors before moving ahead with it. I know very little about the marketing world, so I don’t know if that’s usually (or at all) done. I guess I’m just curious how many bobbleheads nodded approval to this thing.

      I remember back in high school, I had an English teacher whose first rule for writing was always “know your audience.” I guess someone must have slept through that class!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I don’t really have much more to add right now, but your input and perspective has been absolutely fascinating.

  9. […] Not much I can say about the Skiffy Channel Snafu that hasn’t already been said. If I didn’t already not watch TV, this would compell me to […]

  10. Matt said

    I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of disapproval. It is absurd to change your name to try to be something else when they just had their most successful year ever. Here is an idea: If you, Mr Network Executive, think your channel’s content is too geeky, go work for a different channel.

    I’ve seen hundreds of comments on blogs, and guess what, not a single one is positive. Not. Even. One.

    Why, oh why, would they so blatantly want to piss off us nerds? Nerds are also the people who can switch to bittorrent without blinking and not support the channel in any way. Why should I give ad revenue to a network who obviously hates me and wants to phase out the science fiction I love?

    • Jason said

      Absolutely. The most positive responses I’ve been seeing are “Meh. At least they’re not pretending to be real sci fi anymore.” When that’s the best thing you can say, it’s pretty sad.

      And yeah, I already almost never watch live TV (I think hockey games are about all I catch live). It’s all either torrents or dvr for me. Either way, I’m already not watching commercials or visiting your sponsors.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  11. […] And Jramboz says exactly what I’m thinking, but more coherently and with less swearing. Nice. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The lack of female Einsteins is all down to numbersRecession Beauty – Save ThousandsDonations Needed […]

  12. Mike Cane said

    Bravo. I smelled that odor too:

    This Is Called Contempt

  13. […] Not much I can say about the Skiffy Channel Snafu that hasn’t already been said. If I didn’t already not watch TV, this would compell me to […]

  14. Jason, just read your comment on the TV Week article and wanted to say thanks for saving me the time and energy of coming up with it myself. ;)

    • Jason said

      Thanks for the comment, Bill. I’ve actually been floored by how many people have said that my initial reaction was exactly what they were thinking, too. I thought I was just venting my own spleen!

  15. cindy said

    You wrote exactly what I had been thinking… Those execs finally made it clear why the programming has always sucked… they’ don’t like scifi and have no understanding of nor respect for those who do. To me, this is like the Food Network moving away from food and cooking because they think it is too associated with fat people. I only watch their show for BSG (and the occasional Star Trek reruns) and after this Friday I won’t need to tune in for either (I already own most of Trek series I like on DVD). I hope Ron Moore and company move their new show, Caprica, to another network. I am a woman and I love scifi. And judging from the crowds at Wondercon in SF, I’m far from the only female to enjoy scifi. What a bunch of asshats they are! This from the bunch that brought us Mansquito, Supergator and Ice Spiders! PUHLEEZ

    • Jason said

      Surprisingly (to the suits) or unsurprisingly (to anyone with a finger on the pulse of reality) the majority of the most heated responses to this news that I’ve heard have been from women. These people totally misjudged their audience; had they taken the time to do any research, they would have found that they already had a large part of the demographic they’re trying to capture. Instead, they came across as schmoozy, condescending, and manipulative, and probably are driving off a large chunk of the audience they already have.

      I don’t know if there’s any hope of Caprica moving to a new network. I don’t know how much has already been produced, what contracts have been signed, etc. My guess is that they’re stuck with the SyFy people for the time being. I will be curious to see Ron Moore and crew put out any kind of reaction to this whole debacle, though.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Cindy!

  16. J said

    Hi, Jason. :) I linked to my fluffy, sparkly, female thoughts in the website info. I too would love to see a public reaction from Ron Moore and co. It’s funny; the name change alone would have been annoying enough, but those execs just had to open their big mouths…

  17. Lex said

    I totally agree with you Jason.
    I posted an article on my blog about it even ( http://tinyurl.com/syfyrebrand ).
    SyFail. :(

    • Jason said

      Thanks for the comment and the link! I don’t think I’ve ever been quoted before, either. It’s pretty cool.

      I think you’re exactly right about the BSG thing. They were already due for a ratings slump from that ending, and this is only going to make it worse. I suspect they’ll come back groveling in a few months, and I just hope no one falls for it.

      These were the people who were supposed to “get” us, y’know? They were the ones who were supposed to be giving us the best stuff, the stuff we really wanted. Instead, they’d rather just go for the quick buck and disown a thriving community.

      I can only hope that someone else picks this time to step in and fill the gap with a real SF/F TV channel!

  18. […] To the “SyFy” Channel Executives […]

  19. Blake said

    It’s not the first time geeks have elevated a television channel only to be left behind when the channel became “too popular to hang out with YOU anymore.” Does anyone remember the G4/Tech TV debacle? Separate, these channels were amazing. 24 hour gaming! Hellz yeah! 24 hour tech! HELLZ YEaH! But combine them, and somehow you have watered down Spike TV? I don’t get it. I stopped watching when they got rid of Leo Laporte. I’d been watching Tech TV since they were ZDTV (with the cube-head-guy as the mascot).

    Then again, Hollywood’s been doing this to books for SOOOOOO much longer.

    Oh, and Sci-fi Channel? Everytime you showed a “Sci-fi Original Movie” and I said, “Yeah, that’s a cool movie.” I was FAKIN’ it!

  20. Gary S said

    Jason
    Right on! Sci Fi has just now put into writing what long time viewers have suspected since NBC took title to Sci Fi Channel.
    NBC hates sci fi.
    As a little aside to the a$$hats at SyFy, apprently my wife and I are penniless geeks living in one of our parents basements.
    Odd since we own a home travel extensively (primarily to sci fi conventions HORRORS!!) and have spent somewhere in the area $2.000 to $2,500 outfiting ourselves with screen acurate SG 1 offworld costumes for conventions.
    Guess your sponsors don’t need any of our nonexistant cash anyway.

  21. Tamara said

    The idiots at SciFi/SyFy that pulled this are probably the ones who cancelled great shows like “The Dresden Files” and think 18-25 year olds have lots of money to spend. I wouldn’t mind the name thing so much but, as has been said, it’s the attitude that rankles so much. And it’s that attitude that explains the wrestling and non-SF horror movies (“Spring Break Shark Attack”). Absolutely frakkin’ amazing how stupid some executives can be.

  22. David said

    Hey! Why did SciFi change its name to SyFy – because insanity is one side-effect of syphilis.

    They claim that they tested the name, maybe they should have tested for gonorrhea.

    Should we call the CDC, because obviously there’s an outbreak at their headquarters?

    Maybe we should protest the name change by sending them syringes?

  23. […] like how there’s a mas­sive back­lash going on around regard­ing the change, and for good […]

  24. […] like how there’s a mas­sive back­lash going on around regard­ing the change, and for good […]

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