Sci Fi Looks to Future

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Sci Fi Channel has launched an initiative designed to migrate its fans from mere consumers of futurism into activists who are positively affecting what lies ahead.

Executives said they recognize the speed with which yesterday's science fiction is becoming science fact, so they have created the network's first public-affairs initiative, “Visions For Tomorrow.”

“I admire what Lifetime has done on the issues of breast cancer and violence against women,” said Bonnie Hammer, the president of NBC Universal-owned USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, lauding that network for taking those issues beyond programming fodder to become a lobbying force.

Hammer wants Sci Fi to find issues on which it can be an advocate for social change. “I don't want it to be a campaign that sounds good on paper,” she said.

CHILDREN OF THE FUTURE

To create awareness of the initiative, which this year will focus on energy issues, Sci Fi has created a series of public service announcements. In the spots, which feature animated backgrounds, young actors play “children of the future” who thank the current generation for its work in creating that future, idyllic world.

Hammer quipped that the network does a blur of science fiction and fact — “what I call science friction.”

The campaign will focus on that area, where fiction rubs against fact, to identify areas of supposition that can be turned into fact — like concepts for cleaner fuel or more-efficient, less-polluting machinery.

The network has assembled an eclectic advisory board to consult on the campaign, including scientists, designers and actors. The participants: Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine and author of the much-discussed Web economy thesis The Long Tail; Peter Calthorpe, an innovative urban designer; Dr. John Deutch, chairman of the chemistry department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Esther Dyson, editor-at-large at CNET Networks; Joel Garreau, a reporter and editor at The Washington Post; Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman, aerospace engineering professor at MIT; former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison; Dr. Michio Kaku, co-creator of string field theory; inventor Dean Kamen; Dr. Neal Lane, physics and astronomy professor at Rice University; Georgetown law professor John Podesta; product designer Karim Rashid; futurist Peter Schwartz; genome researcher Dr. J. Craig Venter; Edie Weiner, president of a futurist consulting group; and actors Mary McDonnell (Sci Fi's Battlestar Galactica) and Anton Yelchin (Showtime's Huff).

Hammer envisions partnerships with existing organizations. Many have already contacted the network, eager for a media partner to “further their agenda,” she said.

Sci-Fi will direct viewers to a new Web site, www.VisionsForTomorrow.net, an educational portal that promotes the work of “organizations and individuals that have successfully stimulated positive social change in communities” across the country. The site will recommend small steps viewers can take to improve their impact on the world.

The campaign will also include educational outreach in the form of specialized curriculum materials that will be provided for distribution alongside Cable in the Classroom programming.

Sci Fi will create youth summits on futurism issues — dubbed the “Change Academy” — challenging young people to propose solutions to contemporary problems.

A national contest is planned to inspire students to develop lifestyle innovations in their own communities. That effort will be judged by the advisory panel, with awards bestowed on a local and national level.

LOCAL EVENTS

Hammer said the campaign will include local events to be co-sponsored by cable affiliates, but those are still being created.

Until now, Sci Fi was not ready for such a pro-social campaign. “I'm very excited it's finally matured enough to do this,” Hammer said. “It was all about growing the channel at first. Then we had to change the perception of science fiction. It had the negative baggage of being just for geeks. We had to reintroduce the population to provocative literature.

“Much of the present was predicted in brilliant writing,” Hammer said. A desire to change the future comes from the heart of what Sci Fi is all about, she added.

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