Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sci-Fi Channel finally does away with the ‘Sci-Fi’

What is in a name? Quite possibly more than even Shakespeare ever dreamt.

The Sci-Fi Channel, which has gone by just “Sci Fi” for most of the decade, announced Monday that it will have a new name as of July 7.

Say goodbye to Sci Fi, and say hello to SyFy — different spelling, same pronunciation. And unlike the generic term “sci-fi,” which was coined by the late Forrest J Ackerman, SyFy has the advantage of being something the network can trademark, said Bonnie Hammer, former Sci-Fi Channel president and current head of parent company NBC Universal Cable Entertainment.

Unfortunately, SyFy has the disadvantage of being lame, if not downright insulting to sci-fi fans. Yet it took marketing geniuses years to come up with it — if they actually did. The name originally belonged to a Web site called SyFy Portal, which sold the SyFy name and reopened as Airlock Alpha.

Sci Fi executives have been looking for a new name and a new image for a long time. In fact, they seem embarrassed by the idea of being associated with science fiction.

TV Week cites television historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch the Sci-Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network, Sci Fi’s sister channel.

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” Brooks said.

So, in case you were wondering what Sci Fi’s executives think of their core audience — the geeks and “dysfunctional” fanboys who have watched the channel religiously since it started up in 1992 — now you know.

Current Sci Fi President Dave Howe was a little more diplomatic.

“If you ask people their default perceptions of Sci Fi, they list space, aliens and the future,” he said in a New York Times story. “That didn’t capture the full landscape of fantasy entertainment: the paranormal, the supernatural, action and adventure, superheroes.”

Well, we certainly can’t have a TV channel devoted to space, aliens and the future, now can we? In fact, during her tenure as president, Hammer pretty much let everyone know of her contempt for real science fiction. She canceled “Farscape,” a popular series set in space and loaded with extraterrestrials, and packed the schedule with “reality” and paranormal programs like “Crossing Over with John Edward.”

From the beginning, Sci Fi aired a lot of horror and fantasy programming, and most sci-fi fans accepted that. In the publishing world, science fiction, fantasy and horror have always been linked. But then Sci Fi aired “Braveheart,” a movie that isn’t sci-fi, fantasy or horror. It’s just bad history. After that, nothing was off limits. Not even professional wrestling.

With the new name, SyFy, Hammer finally has what she always wanted: something that sounds like sci-fi and looks a little like sci-fi, but isn’t sci-fi.

Sure, SyFy will still air science fiction, with “Caprica” — a prequel series to “Battlestar Galactica” — and a new “Stargate” series yet to come. But I would expect more wrestling and action movies if I were you. Toss in some “C.S.I.” reruns, and SyFy would probably look a lot like Spike TV.

Along with the new name, the channel is also getting a new slogan, “Imagine Greater,” and you have to wonder how long it took the marketing guys to come up with that.

What does it even mean? Greater than what? Maybe they mean “Imagine More” or “Imagine Better.” Is there a language on Earth in which “Imagine Greater” even makes sense? Maybe it sounds better in the original Klingon, or would if SyFy didn’t hate aliens.

Hey, SyFy executive folks, how about trying to “Imagine Grammar” instead?

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