Space isn’t the final frontier for the Sci Fi Channel. With its galactic-driven Friday-night original programming slate in place, Sci Fi Channel wants to teleport fans of supernatural broadcast TV shows like Lost and Surface to the network with more alternative reality and earthly fare, network executives say.
The network will launch at least one supernatural-themed original series next year, as well as at least one alternative reality skein, to broaden its audience appeal beyond traditional, loyal Sci Fi geeks.
That’s not to say Sci Fi isn’t holding its own with audiences. On the strength of its trio of “Sci Fi Friday” primetime series Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, it averaged a 1.1 rating during the third quarter of 2005, even with the same period in 2004, according to ABC Cable Networks Group analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. The NBC Universal-owned channel said last week the full casts are returning for both Stargate shows — SG-1’s 10th year, a record in the sci-fi genre, and spinoff Atlantis’s third season — while Battlestar was recently renewed for a third full tour of duty.
CASUAL FANS GALORE
But while Battlestar and the Stargate franchise keep space-oriented fans glued to Sci Fi, casual voyeurs of the genre are migrating to the broadcast networks for their supernatural TV fix. ABC’s macabre island castaway series Lost and NBC’s sea-monster-driven drama Surface are among the top rated broadcast television shows of the season, drawing both male and female viewers to the genre.
The success of such genre-tinged broadcast shows are a testament to the strength of science fiction — but a potential threat to the network’s genre dominance, said Sci Fi senior vice president of original programming Mark Stern.
“Obviously we’re a little concerned” about the broadcasting successes, Stern said. “We’d like to own this genre and we like to feel like we’re the big purveyors of it. But I think there’s plenty of opportunity to be part of a larger world in which people are watching this stuff.”
As a result, the network’s original programming slate for 2006 revolves less around galactic battles and more around earth-based phenomena.
Toward that end, the network next month will bow The Triangle, an ambitious six-part miniseries revolving around one of the world’s greatest mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle.
“Projects like The Triangle are the pinnacle of really challenging the narrow perceptions of who we are and what we’re capable of,” Sci Fi executive vice president and general manager David Howe said. “The more unique and experimentally fresh content like The Triangle we can offer, the more we will demonstrate the huge untapped potential of the genre and the network.”
Sci Fi hopes to convert at least one of two “back-door pilots,” or films that could be parlayed into a full-fledged series: the Nicholas Cage-produced Dresden Files, about a detective with wizard-like powers, and Painkiller Jane, a series based on a comic book heroine who has super self-healing powers.
Stern said a new series could anchor a third night of original programming for the network, joining its juggernaut Friday lineup and its reality-tinged Wednesday evening slate.
As for Wednesday nights, Stern said the network is looking at a few alternative reality pilots he hopes will shake up the otherwise ratings-challenged night of originals.
'RIFT’ NOT RENEWED YET
While Sci Fi’s paranormal-tinged reality series Ghost Hunters will finish its sophomore season of rousting haunted-house spirits early next year, the network’s sexy animated space show, Tripping the Rift, has yet to receive a green light for a third season, despite averaging a respectable 0.9 rating.
This past August, Sci Fi cancelled a third reality series, Master Blasters, after averaging a paltry 0.4 rating during three primetime airings.
Stern said the network is working on several new alternative reality series for its Wednesday lineup, but would not reveal specific plot lines.
Despite mixed results from the reality genre, Sci Fi president David Howe said such programming helps the network broaden its appeal to younger viewers.
“Strategically, Wednesday night is about experimenting and taking risks,” he said. “Everyone says to us that there’s a disconnect between the sci-fi genre and reality content. But for us, reality is about bringing in new eyeballs.”