j’s Soapbox: You Can’t Be Successful If You’re Self-Loathing, Syfy

syfyI get on twitter today and see someone saying something about the Sci-Fi channel changing… its image?

Its name?

So I hop on the news and see this headline: Sci Fi Channel Aims to Shed Geeky Image With New Name.  I read that the new name is Syfy.

And my blood pressure skyrockets.

Look, I know the term “science fiction” has always had some people up in arms.  Many feel it’s too limiting, and in the 60s and 70s people in the genre started calling it sf instead.  I had a former hippie professor who pounded the term sf into me.

But that’s not why network heads are changing the name; they just don’t want to be considered uncool.  In the linked article, Tim Brooks, one of the guys who helped launch the channel more than 15 years ago, says some of the most damning things about sf culture that I’ve read in awhile.

The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” he says.

Et tu, brute? With this kind of support, no wonder the Sci-Fi channel took over a decade to come into its own.

How can something succeed when the people behind it don’t embrace it?

Brooks adds some additional insight into how they viewed the channel all these years:

“We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”

Right.  It still didn’t stop them from putting wrestling on the channel, even though the link between it and sf is tenuous at best.  Time and again, they’ve shown that the people making the programming decisions are have only the most vague notion of what sf fans want.

Now, in the last few years, the network had gotten considerably better.  They have Doctor Who and Sarah Jane.  Their little surreal station IDs have been adorable.  And, perhaps most importantly, they’ve had Battlestar: Galactica, probably the grittiest show that’s not on a movie channel.

And it’s paid off – apparently they’ve just had their best year.  Naturally, then, it’s time to re-assess, and destroy every bit of progress they’ve made.  Evidently the success of the show has not been due to network heads that loved and nurtured their product; they just lucked out with a couple of good writers and artists.

The Sci-Fi network wants to get into that cash cow, the teen demographic.  Hence the change to Syfy, which, they’ve determined, “is how you’d text it.”  If you’re ten.   Only, they aren’t saying they’re aiming at teens.  What Dave Howe, president of the Sci-Fi Channel, is saying is even worse:

“We’ll get the heritage and the track record of success, and we’ll build off of that to build a broader, more open and accessible and relatable and human-friendly brand.”

Human-friendly.  Because apparently the success that those geeks in basements have wrought is no longer good enough.  Being a top-10 network is great and all, but imagine how well we’d do with real people! Bring on the text-speak!  And this from the president of the channel.

And it’s probably doomed to failure.  Because it’s clear, from the trendy Syfy name and the way they’re talking about it, that they know as little about the young demographic as they do about the geeks.  Young adults can sense when they’re being condescended to, and they don’t like it.

They could have talked to a geek or two and determined that sf would be a far more sensible and catchy change.  Instead they’re listening to some marketing professional, and making a switch that sounds like the Sci-Fi Channel mixed with Nick Jr.

Let me know how that self-hating works out for you, Syfy.

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