The SciFi Channel was created by Viacom as a sister network to The USA Channel. It would act as a place where syndicated SciFi TV and movies could be re-run. It was the only place on television to see campy 60s vampire opera Dark Shadows. The channel was meant to be a place for all the SciFi entertainment in existence to converge and bind a major, if cult-ish, demographic. SciFi wasn't compelled to remain purely in the realm of Science Fiction as many of its demographic were also concerned with Fantasy and Horror as well. As a result a significant chunk of the programming on the channel is more Fantasy/Horror related. Over the past decade and a half of being on the air Scifi has had its share of rousing successes, major failures and blistering idiocy, much like any other channel on the lines. But SciFi is fairly unique as it wears its purpose on its sleeve. USA and TNT and so on, mainstays of the late 80s/early 90s television era were not exactly clear about their purpose. But in 1992 Scifi came along and no one expected it to show wrestling programs. It isn't quite unique, around the same time the Cartoon Network made its debut as well.
The SciFi channel is an interesting mix of the good and the bad. as a whole I would say it has had a positive influence on the fandom; its website has brought together writers and its original programming as far as shows have been ~50/50 really great and at worst mediocre. But somehow it manages to make decisions that are frighteningly stupid: the cancellation of anime shortly before it became blisteringly popular, early removal of some of its most popular shows, most notably Farscape and its entire line of Original Movies. Its successes have been able to make up for its failures somewhat. SciFi routinely creates with the help of notable film-makers some of the best Mini-series style movies that have show on television: Battlestar Galactica, Taken, Farscape, Dune, and the horribly retitled Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King.
With the shows that have been created for the channel: Farscape, The Invisible Man, Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, the new Battlestar Galactica and the other shows produced outside the channel shown on its Friday night block of high quality programming, there has been overwhelming success. In the late 90s the channel began producing great SciFi programming that had previously been the station of the Fox network with Sliders, Mantis, Brisco County Jr. and others. Scifi took over many shows from Fox and other networks that had become defunct and used them to pad its viewing block. It took in considerable numbers of viewers, for instance, when it began showing Babylon 5 reruns. It produced many great shows all on its own, like Farscape and The Invisible Man. And up until the early naughties, Scifi was riding high on its success.
And then in 2002, 10 years after it made its campy and shaky beginning, it canceled its most popular show at least one season away from a definite finale. The president of the company cited production cost and loss of growth in the market; this brought flak from viewers and critics who wondered what in the world the executives were thinking. Those same executives have masterminded the commission of dozens of creature-feature, low budget movies. They noticed that for the cost of an episode of Farscape they could get better ratings producing shoddy B-movies and this has been their business model. Where Farscape was high in quality and polish, it hadn't drawn enough viewership and was thus cut. The outcry led directly to the creation of a Miniseries that wrapped up a number of the major sticking points within the series.
Lately however the SciFi channel has simply been a dumping ground for a lot of its parent network's programming. While USA was showing the US Open Tennis, the regularly scheduled WWE and Law and Order:SVU had its programming moved, strangely to the Scifi Channel. One of the WWE's spin-off programs has become a regular part of the Scifi line up that has people scratching their heads over whatever strange forces have control over the executive boards at Scifi. It is evident from the past few years that Scifi has been relegated by its corporate masters to the place of cash cow. While it could be pushing the envelope with more original content it produces another movie about deadly alien sparrows or something.
At the behest of those same executives the channel has taken up the slack for the WWE to move one of its programs to the Scifi channel. To explain this I'll simply quote the release made by the head executive who has been the heart of a number of these recent decisions:
"Research tells us that there's a healthy appetite for wrestling among SCI FI viewers," said Bonnie Hammer, President, USA and SCI FI Channel. "With ECW, we're able to deliver to those fans unique action with a twist that's perfect for SCI FI."
I think that quote sums up how the channel is being run these days. The innovation that characterized the Scifi channel in the late 90s has been replaced by the overwhelming drive to market cheap crap. That same Bonnie Hammer was part of the force that cut Farscape in favor of running Tremors: The series in its place and has championed the production of low-budget movies on the Channel. Why has she done all of this? Because it is her job to make money not television and Scifi fans get to enjoy watching them make money with nothing but crap on TV.
This diatribe brought to you for the purpose of SciFiQuest 2107.