Starting in July, if you tune to the Sci Fi Channel to watch reruns of Star Trek The Next Generation or Star Trek Enterprise or Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica you will notice that the channel has a new name ‘SyFy.’ NBC Universal announced the change this morning saying that it will ‘broaden the appeal’ of the network. Really?
Taking the Sci-Fi out of Sci Fi
The Sci Fi Channel has been the spot for genre television for decades, including reruns of various Star Trek shows, currently with Enterprise and Next Generation in the schedule. It has also been the home to original science fiction programming, including the much lauded Battlestar Galactica created by Trek vet Ron Moore (and will be home to the BSG prequel Caprica). However the channel seems to be trying to move away from branding that so closely associates it with science fiction. In the official release SCI FI President David Howe stated:
While continuing to embrace our legacy and our core audience, we needed to cultivate a distinct point of view with a name that we could own that invites more people in and reflects our broader range of programming
The new home of Syence Fyction
As of now it is unclear if this new branding and planned ‘broader range’ of programming will impact Star Trek, which is as quintessentially ‘science fiction’ as you can get. Trek is probably safe, especially as SyFy is still planning a new Stargate show, which (no offense to my fellow Gate fans) is perceived to be even more nerdy than Trek. But is this change really necessary? Is science fiction really that bad of branding message? And if so, then why go for the homonym? Why not rebrand as ‘If’ or ‘Imagination’ or some other generic name?
Also there is a bit of a Trek irony here. Back in 2001 Paramount launched its new Star Trek show without ‘Star Trek’ in it, calling it just ‘Enterprise’. This too was used to ‘broaden the appeal’ of the show, by dropping that nerdy connation. ‘Star Trek’ was later added to the name of the show anyway and it is now one of the more popular shows on Sci Fi.
I am not the only one asking this question. Entertainment Weekly (as mainstream as it comes) is also asking the same question, noting that science-fiction is actually growing in popularity. EW cites the return of Star Trek to popularity as part of its evidence…
let’s reject the notion that sci-fi isn’t mainstream. In the last decade, two Star Wars movies have been the top-grossing films of their year. If we use an inclusive definition of sci-fi, we can add Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Return of the King to our list of box-office winners; The Dark Knight, Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 3 aren’t too far off. The top five grossing movies for 2005? Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; War of the Worlds; and King Kong. In 2007, Transformers, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I Am Legend were in the top six. Last year, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and WALL-E were among the top five. Star Trek is coming back. Lost and Heroes have generated buzz on TV. But tell me again about how many people would never watch sci-fi.
Of note, popular genre news site SciFiWire will not be changing its branding according to a post on the site.