The president of the newly renamed Syfy Channel took the time, in a conference call, to address our concerns about the change - and answer the question: what would Asimov think of the new name?
One of the channel's founders, Mitch Rubenstein, called the name change "just plain dumb" in a letter to hollywood.com. Rubenstein recounted how he, Laurie Silvers and Isaac Asimov strove to convince fans to accept the Sci Fi Channel - and how difficult it was when he was booed off stage for merely calling the new channel "Sci Fi," instead of "science fiction" or "SF". But it was Isaac Asimov who wooed the crowd:
Then Isaac started to speak and said that the name had to be Sci Fi Channel and not the SF Channel, in order to draw a wide, diverse audience and be successful. To be in a financial position to acquire and produce the best programming. That's really what counts, right? The writers came around and agreed. Heck, it was Isaac Asimov saying "Sci Fi Channel" was OK, and that was that.
What would Isaac have said if the name was instead SyFy Channel. He would have said (we believe): That's just plain dumb.
Yesterday we got a chance to speak with Sci Fi president David Howe - who said he loved our proposed "yo9" redesign, from Garrison Dean. We asked Howe if he thought Asimov would approve of the channel's name change. He replied:
I honestly suspect not. I wasn't around and I wasn't aware of the genesis of the network and the name. But I think when I read that piece... the thing that struck me most about it is, I suspect [that] if we took them through the rationale as to why we were changing, they would probably get it. If you read that piece, it kind of says that when it was launched, it was launched as the Science Fiction Channel, exclusively. And that it was primarily about space and technology, and the future, and essentially Star Trek. That is something we in no way shape or form want to get away from. But I think what we want to move to the position where we can move into the broad scifi fantasy landscape and include in there fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, super-hero and some of the speculative action-adventure. I think that's sort of the object of this exercise. So it's about: "How do we embrace the broader scifi-fantasy landscape," as opposed to, "How do we escape our past?"
Maybe Howe's right and he could have won Asimov over. It certainly sounds like Howe and staff are incredibly dedicated to the idea of selling this new branding to the world, and he seems pretty darn smooth. But is changing the name from Sci Fi to Syfy going to bring in more viewers, who were previously deterred by the "scifi" stigma? I'm not too sure. If they keep making things on a par with BSG then sure, but finding that kind of content is pretty impossible these days.
But what else could Syfy have been labeled? According to Howe they were also tossing around the names Beyond and SFC, but even the word Beyond was deemed by a test group as being over John Q. Public's head. That's incredibly depressing - maybe they should have called the channel Not Sci Fi - that way, no one would be challenged or scared by us geeks.
But Howe reassures us all that this isn't about shoving the channel's loyal viewers into a locker, so Syfy can hang with the cool kids. Howe is still dedicated to those not afraid to think for themselves, who won't run away from the words "science fiction."
This is not about alienating our existing core viewers because frankly we are still the scifi-fantasy channel and will continue to be so. This is absolutely about embracing our heritage, and embracing our future, and figuring out how we can bring even more people into the camp. The thing that I think disturbs us most was, people, as we expected, saying ‘Well this is just another opportunity to put more ECW on the air.' Or, ‘This is another opportunity to do even more reality.' That isn't true and recent announcements [prove otherwise]. We've picked up Caprica, it'll launch in the new year. We've picked up Stargate Universe, the next exciting chapter of the longest running space opera in TV history. This isn't about retrenching, this is about absolutely embracing the totality of not just our core audience but actually, a new audience in the future."
So there you have it, it could have been Beyond, so that makes Syfy look a lot better in my opinion. I know we fear change, but I'm curious as to what you guys think what kind of content Syfy will be hosting two years from now.