Positive Cynicism – The Typo Channel

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

As most of you know by now, the SCIFI Channel (I used to write for them, and they really did capitalize it like that) has changed its name to “SyFy.” It’s the same name, just spelled like a four year-old wrote it.

Because misspelled brand names are hip, the geniuses at the Mansquito network have picked out a new, phonetically identical, trademark-friendly typographical error to represent their fine programming schedule of Next Generation reruns and movies that can’t even get released on video.

The idea behind this stupidity is what you usually get from basic cable programming. It goes like this: “Hey! There’s not a channel devoted to [insert special interest here]! Let’s start one! Now that we’re finally carried on every cable system, let’s sell out the first chance we get to whatever multimedia conglomerate comes along first! Now let’s reconstitute this low-rated basic cable channel that people like into a little niche boutique that we can use to repurpose all of those reruns of old shows we’re syndicating! And something cheap but popular, like wrestling! And now let’s do some original programming! We’ll pay for it by selling more ad space! After all, we only have six hours a night of paid programming, we need more money! Reality shows are cheap – let’s make lots of those!”

But, occasionally, there’s a runaway hit, the channel starts to get some popular attention in the mainstream press, and the people at the parent network lap it up. They want to keep their little boutique channel in the news, so it becomes time to rebrand while pretending not to rebrand. It’s the same reason MTV never plays videos anymore and Cartoon Network has six new reality shows on their schedule.

And that’s what gets us this, from the “SyFy” press release: “By changing the name to SyFy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider range of current and future imagination-based entertainment beyond just the traditional sci-fi genre, including fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure.”

You see what they’re saying? Even though they’re the SCIFI Channel, ostensibly a channel devoted to programming of a science fiction nature, they’ve decided not to “limit” themselves to only showing programming of a science fiction nature. Maddening enough for you?

The funny/shitty thing is that no one would ever consider the SCIFI Channel a, well, science fiction channel. They delved into fantasy and mystery long ago, then lame reality shows with a horror/supernatural/asinine bent, and then took on wrestling in a desperate attempt to capture the all-important superstation demographic. The idea that the SCIFI Channel is the home of science fiction has been a joke among fans for a decade. Granted, SCIFI has been banned in my home ever since they canceled Farscape, but I see the commercials and I know what they’re airing. They’re about as devoted to science fiction as VH1 is to actually playing music. (VH1: We May Not Play Videos, But at Least Women Degrade Themselves for Brett Michaels Here.)

What’s ironic is that SCIFI just had its most successful year ever, mostly due to the critically-acclaimed Battlestar Galactica. Lots of people have theories about Galactica, so here’s mine: this show would not have survived on NBC, the parent network of SCIFI. There’s no way. Bionic Woman didn’t survive. Knight Rider won’t. The Internet would have you believe that Heroes is failing, if “second-highest-rated show on the network among 18-34 year olds” can be seen as a definition of failure. What is a monster hit on basic cable is not the kind of numbers they look for on a major network like NBC. SCIFI is successful because it airs science fiction, and now they want to run away from their image as a network that airs science fiction.

If this channel really wants to make a change in the way they run things, what they ought to do is start respecting science fiction instead of using it to make bank. They’ve claimed for 16 years to be a channel devoted to the science fiction fan, and once upon a time —when they bothered to air programs like SciFi Buzz and Mystery Science Theater 3000, that got what science fiction fans were about — they were. But now their commitment to science fiction is little more than countless airings of X-Files reruns, proud “Sci Fi Originals” like Supergator and treating fans of Farscape and Battlestar Galactica like they’re expendable. So it’s not like they’re really the SCIFI Channel anymore, anyway. They’re the Hastily Cobbled Together Out of Reruns and Cheapo Straight-to-Video Movies Channel. So does it really matter what stupid thing they call themselves, even if it looks like it’s supposed to be pronounced “Sigh-Fee” or “Siffy”?

Personally, I think they’ve picked out the perfect name: in Polish, “syfy” means “crap.”

Welcome to basic cable, Crap Channel!

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

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