Sci Fi Channel Expands Beyond 'Geek' Origins

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In an effort to reach past its traditional audience base, Sci Fi Channel will offer programming with a more human than alien touch.

A softer on-air look and new series and specials that deal with supernatural occurrences here on Earth will occupy more of Sci Fi's programming lineup over the next year in an effort to broaden its audience beyond, well, male science-fiction geeks.

As it approaches its 10th anniversary on Sept. 24, the network's lineup has evolved from a collection of old 1960s Star Trek
episodes and campy Godzilla
movies into a purveyor of quality acquired and original programming that spans the broad definition of the science-fiction genre, said president Bonnie Hammer.

She said the combination of new original episodes from former Showtime genre stalwart Stargate SG-1,
fresh fare from network favorite Farscape
and repurposed installments of sibling USA Network's
The Dead Zone
helped the channel match its best monthly performance ever with a 1.0 primetime rating in August.

Further, the Aug. 31 finale of Stargate
set a network ratings record for an original series with a 2.0 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

The shows have also helped the network move past its male-dominated, 25-to-54 demographic to draw in younger viewers and more women. In August, Sci Fi's delivery among adults 18 to 49 was up 8 percent from last year.

'Taken' a risk

To continue that transformation, Hammer said the network plans to present a special event each quarter, beginning in December with the premiere of its mega 10-part miniseries Taken, from acclaimed director Steven Spielberg. The reported $40 million project about alien abduction is the network's most ambitious original programming venture to date and is expected to attract both hard-core fans and casual genre enthusiasts, according to Hammer

"It's sci-fi, but it's also dramatic, controversial and soap-opera oriented, which will appeal beyond the traditional sci-fi fan," Hammer said.

During the first quarter of 2003, the network will bow the six-hour miniseries Children of Dune, a sequel to the popular Sci Fi movie Frank Herbert's Dune. Other miniseries in development include a retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel A Tale of Two Cities; The Left Hand of Darkness, based on a novel form Ursula Le Guin; and an update on the classic sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica.

Further reaching out to younger viewers, Sci-Fi Channel will debut an animated series called Tripping The Rift, a spoof of classic genre fare. Other new series include takeoffs of Sci-Fi's Firestarter: Rekindled
original movie and the theatrical monster film Tremors.

Hammer said such programming — along with its "alternative reality" series Crossing Over With John Edwards
and Dream Team
— are science-fiction-based in nature, but offer more of a human element than traditional offerings, which often gravitate to outer space.

"There are a lot of people who aren't into [space shows] but are interested in shows that feature a twist on reality that can be related to everyday life," Hammer said.

To reflect the channel's changing tone, Sci Fi will unveil new image spots in December that are less graphics-driven and "more human and relatable to everyday people," Hammer said.

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