Tag Archives: Star Wars

Sci Fi Channel: When Branding Goes Stupid

Sci Fi Channel is trying a new branding idea that is seriously going to backfire on them. Really, I don’t watch TV but I’ve heard enough, including comments on my writers’ groups that say this is one big dumb idea.

The executives, those guys who get paid the big bucks, decided that the term sci fi (pronounced sie fie) which people everywhere identify with science fiction was just too geeky and they wanted to distance themselves from that overly geeky image.

“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,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

Anti-social boys as opposed to the general public and the female audience? Urr, have any of these guys actually paid attention to the changing world of science fiction in the last fifty years? Have they noticed that the stories and characters are farther reaching, that perhaps they’re thinking cliche here? Yes, the demographics will still have a majority of men but I’m thinking not as big a margin of difference as they might believe. Hmm, well they want to broaden their audience. That’s a good thing, right? “We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”  They wanted to distance themselves from what they were selling. How odd. The execs must suffer from a lot of split personality disorders.

So, in their infinite wisdom, they have decided that a rebranding of a channel that shows science fiction and fantasy programs will be better if it doesn’t look like sci fi, even though that’s what they’re selling, sci fi shows. The think tanks specialists of NBC worked long and hard I’m sure, trying to find the right name. Over 300 ideas in fact.  And guess what they came up with: SyFy. Yep, if you think that sounds the same as sci fi, you’re right.

“When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said.

Hilarious. I mean, if I was being techno savvy and texting I would use SF, pronounced ess eff. My techno-savvy friends would figure that out and it takes fewer letters. And aren’t they trying to bring in new viewers besides those techno-savvy viewers who are already watching? But “SF”, maybe the general public can’t recognize what that stands for so SyFy will look better and “cooler” as the execs proclaim. Cooler. Yeah, way cool. And of course more identifiable as umm…science fiction but not science fiction.

I wonder why they didn’t go for “skiffy,” one former pronunciation of the term sci fi, which I was told once was what the nongeeky people called SF. It just sounded too goofy to me. In the world of speculative fiction where we who are female or older than sixteen but perhaps still geeky tend to say sci fi, or SF or science fiction even. We even say speculative fiction to encompass horror, fantasy and science fiction. I’ve not noticed people at the theaters worrying about what category the films like Wall-E, Watchmen or Star Wars fit into. In fact, Vancouver’s top grossing movie last week was Watchmen. But then:

Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

And that’s the point. They don’t think sci fi, SF or SyFy. They look at what they think they will enjoy. A rose by any other name? But hey, if these big execs want to spend their time mixing letters up, well that shows what’s important. I wonder what their programming will be like. I’d like a job like this, to spend time thinking up a new way to spell the same word.

Oh and I really hope they haven’t gone international with this. If they have, people in Poland may not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon as “syfy” translates to something like heretical and unclean. The full article is below and people’s comments are worth reading as it indicates how well the brand change is going over.

http://www.tvweek.com/news/2009/03/sci_fi_channel_aims_to_shed_ge.php

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Genre vs Literary Works

Now that movie technology has advanced, movie makers create worlds with all manner of special effects. There are a great number of fantastical, science fictional works. There is the whole gamut of superhero movies from the various comic books. And then there are movies based on books. Back in the sixties, science fiction movies went way out on a limb when 2001: A Space Odyssey was filmed. And then there was Bladerunner, based off of P.K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (an awesome title by the way). There were many others, which ran the range of B and lower–the Godzillas and Blob and other somewhat campy horror flicks.

And then came Star Wars, an epic story with star spanning special effects. Full steam ahead and there are many movies now out at the same time. For example, right now we have Hell Boy II, Dark Knight, Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Mummy III, to name a few. So, a lot of these are good fun and not particularly deep. Hollywood does love to turn speculative fiction into only eye and mind candy. When you look at the evolution of speculative (SF, fantasy, horror) novels, we’ve gone from bug-eyed aliens to very complex stories and worlds that look at the human condition, ethical and moral tales and what-ifs of future technologies.

On top of covering a host of possibilities with humanity, an author has to often create a viable, believable world that works. It must still follow rules and must be shown enough to paint dimensions so the reader can see it. This is of course, much easier in a movie, and yes a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe even five thousand. Good speculative writing is not for the faint of heart, nor for the undisciplined and uneducated.

All of these skills that one must learn for speculative writing apply for any type of writing. Know your market, which means read, read, read. Then write, write, write and learn and perfect. This never stops, ever. I tend to lump all the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and even the myths of long ago under the umbrella term of speculative. In reality, anything that is not considered a history or telling of true life events, is in fact speculative.

Now the truly interesting thing is that a speculative writer can write science fiction and it will be looked down the long narrow noses of literary academics and called “genre” (said with nose in the air, as if smelling bad, and with an English accent). But a literary writer can write something that is speculative fiction and it will be praised and lauded and given awards. Case in point; Margaret Atwood has written two speculative novels (at least that I’ve read): Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale. They are sometimes claimed to not be speculative, or speculative but not science fiction, getting to the fine hair splitting of genre names. But she takes those technologies and does a what-if into the future. That is indeed speculative and even science fiction.

When I was slowly progressing toward a degree in Creative Writing at UBC, one had to specialize in three areas: I chose short fiction, children’s fiction and poetry. In my kiddy lit class, the instructor didn’t like it when we wrote anything to do with fantastical worlds. She said they didn’t sell that well. Well, Ms Alderson, are you eating your hat after the fame of Harry Potter? This attitude was reflected throughout the department. However, George McWhirter who was the department head, and the only person worth his weight in gold, understood that writing well came first and what you wrote came second. He was not of the opinion expressed in The Boston Globe: “[T]he genre of the comic book is an anemic vein for novelists to mine, lest they squander their brilliance.” Ow.

A champion for blending or removing the snobbery borders between genres (or lowbrow and highbrow as some put it) is Michael Chabon. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. For his most recent book The Yiddish Policemen’s Union he was award the Nebula and the Campbell Awards. He was purported as saying the SF related Nebula meant more to him than getting the Pulitzer.

Perhaps with such writers as champions, we’ll see “genre” fiction being treated as writing and not drivel, where the best of all writing will rise to the top and more “genre” works will be nominated for awards. I’m not holding my breath…yet.

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