SyFy and the Absence of Integrity: A Case Study

At TV.com, there is a fascinating account of the evolution of the Sci Fi Channel, once cable’s reliable source for science fiction programming, into SyFy, which is nothing of the sort. As the article points out, the two individuals who have run the channel since 2002, Bonnie Hammer and Dave Howe, appear not to like, understand, or trust the genre their channel supposedly was dedicated to advancing. Now, having cancelled the two shows its science fiction fans most enjoyed, “Caprica” and “Stargate Universe,” SyFy is a bona fide whatsis, with a schedule that includes professional wrestling, cheesy horror movies, ghost hunter and psychic reality shows, and whatever else Hammer and Howe think will attract what they regard as a non-geek audience.

Here is the problem: if a project, enterprise, or mission has to turn into something else entirely to achieve what its management considers success, then it has already failed. If the original objective was worth pursuing, then integrity and honesty requires that either new leadership dedicated to the core mission be recruited, or the project should end.

It is clear from the various comments in the article that neither Howe nor Hammer ever respected either the Sci Fi Channel’s core audience and genre programming. That being the case, it was unethical for them to accept the challenge of running it. If Disney has to become a porn company to stay in the black, it has an obligation to just fold its tents and start a new company with a different mission. Having the Cartoon Channel run by people who don’t like cartoons, or the Soap Opera Channel run by people who think soap operas are stupid, or the History Channel operated by suits who think history is boring, is unfair to the vision, the mission, and the audience of those channels.

Yet the Sci Fi Channel was placed in the hands of executives who looked upon science fiction and its fans as obstacles to profitability. As a result, even if their business model “succeeds”, the mission of having a science fiction cable channel will have failed.

The absence of integrity is fatal.

[Ethics Alarms thanks Professor Bainbridge for the link.]

10 thoughts on “SyFy and the Absence of Integrity: A Case Study

  1. Cartoon Network has a block called CN Real, with reality programming with kids in it. They have some Ghost Hunters knockoff with teens or something. Apparently, it’s doing well.

    There is almost nothing that makes me sadder than when you come up with a preposterous example of the most lurid lapses in ethical judgment as an asymptote that surely we could not actually reach, and it has ALREADY HAPPENED.

      • Dear Jack & Michael:
        Jack, you’re saying here almost the exact same things I’ve been saying. The now retitled SyFy Channel started out as a haven for us long time buffs of the genre with a mixture of both newer examples and nostalgic ones, including films, TV series and even serials spanning the decades. Much of them were both cheesy and dated, of course, but they had something that modern fare increasingly does not. They were fun! And they took us back to a time when we were just discovering the imagination and fantasies inherent in science ficti0n and science fact.

        The new SyFy has, as you mentioned, degenerated into professional wrestling, flying saucer wackos, occultism and turgid melodramas. It has lost its way… or been led there by the two individuals you mentioned. So, unfortunately, has the History Channel, as Michael points out. In fact, it’s getting difficult to tell the two apart! Both used to be my favorite cable locations. Now, they’ve become emblematic of the entertainment industry’s decline in quality and in mission statement.

  2. One of the beauties of cable television has been that networks could turn a profit by catering to niche markets. ABC, CBS, and NBC have to attract one heck of a lot of people if they are to stay on top. But cable networks could get by with smaller, because more loyal, audiences and still turn a profit. History buffs could get their fill of history, the History Channel could make money and everyone was happy, almost. Now it seems that a lot of channels have decided that the path to serious money lies in attracting a broader, if less passionate, audience. Homogenizing. A crying shame, too.

    • And stupid, I think. If you appoint someone to run a science fiction channel who doesn’t like science fiction or believe in its market appeal, naturally you will get homogenization. Appoint a pacifist to lead your army, and you get surrender. In a word, “Duh!”

      • Your logic, sir, is unassailable, not as always, perhaps, but often enough to keep me reading your, your…hey is this a blog, a website, or something else?

        • Good question. I’d call it a niche website in blog form, since it is limited as to subject matter, and meant to be a resource as well as stimulus for discussion. The Ethics Scoreboard was a website, and couldn’t move as fast as the area of ethics demands. Sometimes the blog format, in contrast, is TOO fast, forcing me to post on complex topics with less than appropriate consideration.

  3. After viewing the final 5 episodes of Caprica on dvd I sincerely believe we have been played. I don’t think SyFy pulled the plug on the series. It appears a natural segue into Blood and Chrome. Write it hard, write it fast, leave ’em begging for more. Its all part of the plan.

  4. I didn’t enjoy Caprica and Stargate Universe (sleepfest,) but yeah, syfy has been devolving for some time now. So much in the scifi genre to develop: space (westerns, alien based, near/far future), time travel, mechs and techs, mutants and gene engineering, and my favorite and least developed sub genre, scifi-fantasy(like Thundercats and Avatar). So many high quality books and other entities to choose from. Syfy really has gotten dumb.

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