Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NBCU and the new Sifee Channel

For a moment, pretend you're a bit of a science nerd. How would you go about sounding out a word that begins with "sy"? Hmm. Well, "system" or "symbiotic" or "synchronous" comes immediately to mind.

Then let's consider sounding out words that end with "fy". This is actually a bit harder, but if we check a rhyming dictionary "iffy" or "jiffy" or "spiffy" immediately come up.

So how will we pronounce the word "syfy"? That's right, "sif-ee", which is the new name the genius team at the SciFi Channel chose to be the new name of their channel.

SciFi is, of course, shortmouth for science fiction. From Wikipedia:
Science fiction (abbreviated SF or sci-fi with varying punctuation and capitalization) is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology.....

Science fiction differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation)....

If you're a fan of science fiction and of the SciFi Channel, you know that the programmers and other powers-that-be at that NBCU operation do not limit the programming to science fiction. They include a broad range of fantasy, occult, and related material. They even offer wrestling. Yep, that's right, wrestling.

So perhaps a less genre-restrictive name might be appropriate. But this is what they came up with:

Apparently they want to be known as the Sifee Channel.

NBCU also owns the Chiller Channel which is a a horror-genre cable channel. It also owns Sleuth, the cable channel dedicated to programming in the mystery/crime genre. It also owns USA, the cable channel that is the home to the World Wrestling Federation's flagship cable TV show WWE Raw. But USA is also the home for the popular crime/mystery dramas Monk, Psych, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, In Plain Sight and Burn Notice, as well as two fairly popular science fiction shows The 4400 and The Dead Zone. Which raises the question: "What's NBCU doing with it's cable brands and where does he Sifee Channel fit in?"

Consider the explantions that came with the new Sifee name announcement:
"We love being sci fi, and we're still embracing that," said network president Dave Howe on Friday. "But we're more than just space and aliens and the future -- the three things most people think of when they think of 'sci fi.' "

"We're going to have upwards of 50 Sci Fi Channels in various territories and yet you cannot trademark 'Sci Fi' anywhere in the world," Howe said. "A new logo design would not solve that particular challenge. We needed a brand name that was own-able, portable and extendable."

"The channel has been around for 16 years, and the world has changed in 16 years," Howe said. "Everybody had to watch as a linear channel, you didn't have downloading and you didn't have international channels around the globe."
That all made sense, more or less. But then we got this:
"Our core audience will use it an opportunity to question our motives -- they always do," Howe said. "But what we're embracing is the total sci-fi landscape -- fantasy, paranormal, action-adventure, mystery ... it's imagination-based entertainment."

So the Sifee Channel is going to offer "action-adventure" and "mystery" programming, along with wrestling. Now I'm truly confused.

This is all occurring in the context of the NBC broadcast network being #4 (or even #5) in ratings.

Yet, irony of ironies, market analysts are now giving glowing reviews to G.E. for not selling NBCU. From the NY Times:
Just last year, it seemed a good idea to many on Wall Street that General Electric spin off, or otherwise dispose of, NBC Universal.

Today, if G.E. were not in the media business, it would be in deeper trouble than it already is. Essentially, it would be more dependent on its troublemaking finance unit, GE Capital.
I guess that's true, if viewer opinions and ratings really don't matter or bode ill for NBCU. But I just can't figure out the management strategy for the cable channels, particularly for the Sifee Channel. It looks to me like someone needs to get organized.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Battlestar Galactica- The Best of American TV

Battlestar Galactica is the best completed series ever shown on American TV. And Friday night's 131 minute finale was befitting.

In the simplest sense, I liked the Mash ending and this one because both demonstrated "life went on" which is always a boring thought. The 1950's I actually lived through, in the case of Mash. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, pre-150,000 B.C. now seems almost plausible.

The whole series is an allegorical tale heavily into mythology (and/or religion depending on your point of view) within the framework of a highly technological society.

The "reality" created by the ending was on "our" Earth in the approximate year 150,000 B.C. Given the limits of what we know in genetics, it offered that mankind has a common ancestor who was "half-machine" and "half-evolved human". It offered an evolving concept of hope, that each time "we" do it over again, there's a chance we'll get it right this time. And it reminded us that we are here again because the passion for vengeance is the "evil" that limits possibilities, even for machines we create "in our image" which is what we are doing now, both for domestic chores and for war.

Series creator Ron Moore did use plot devices to wrap things up. Some fams are disappointed that he didn't explain everything. But he promised only that all would be revealed. There is a certain paradoxical situation that so many expected an explanation when the offer was to reveal - revelation is not explanation. In the context of an allegorical tale full of religion, it seems so perfect. We have a tale biblical in scope (old testament), with moral lessons explained in an illusive manner, something akin to parable using metaphors.

And he did it all within the confines of the early 21st Century American TV medium using the combination of two late 20th Century TV constructs - "action adventure" and "soap opera".

Using the TV medium, no team has as been as successful accomplishing this as the Battlestar Galactica team. And no broadcast network would have let them offer such things as humans worshiping "gods" while machines believe in the "one true god" or even the regular use of the invented euphemistic "frak" term. So I have to recognize level of support by NBCU's SciFi Channel.

My greatest fear is that we'll never see this kind of TV again. ABC's Lost might end up joining Battlestar Galactica as quality allegorical TV science fiction if the creators can thread their way through the complexities of theories of time. And I'm recording NBC's Kings because it has this type of potential but it's so limited by the constraints of being on NBC. If NBC pick's it up for a second season, we'll watch it as a season shifted show.