Syfy chief on his plan to make the network 'genre-heavy as opposed to genre-lite'

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Dec 11, 2014, 6:07 PM EST (Updated)

After riding high on fun hits such as Eureka and Warehouse 13 the past several years, it’s easy to see Syfy is putting some development muscle back into hard sci-fi. So what does the man behind the would-be renaissance have to say about the process?

Syfy’s chief David Howe (Syfy is the corporate owner of Blastr -Ed.) sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about the network’s renewed push into more ambitious titles such as Ascension, 12 Monkeys, The Expanse and Childhood’s End. According to Howe, the widespread success of the sci-fi genre across other networks (i.e. AMC’s ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead) has shown that it’s viable for the network to double down in this space and (hopefully) find success.

Howe used the ambitious 2002 Steven Spielberg miniseries Taken as a touchstone — noting that Syfy is capable of competing on that level (the miniseries wasn’t perfect, but it was still great) — adding that the network wants to once again be the home of transcendent shows with the cultural cachet of something like 2004’s Battlestar Galactica:

“Comcast recognizes we need to be in the high-quality content space and is prepared to invest in that and give us what we need in terms of owning this space in a way that we haven't since Taken. The other thing that's gone on in the last three or four years is that there's been an explosion of this genre across pretty much every broadcast and cable network. We have to position ourselves as the experts in this space, and we have to be seen to be tackling the smartest projects: genre-heavy as opposed to genre-lite.

You cannot be in this space and not step up. From a sci-fi/fantasy perspective, you're competing with Game of Thrones, Walking Dead and a lot of those more expensive series. The Expanse, which we greenlighted straight to series for 10 episodes, is by far our most expensive series. We had to compete to get it. HBO was in the mix; Netflix was in the mix.

We clearly aspire to those [Walking Dead] numbers, and I do think that we have the capability and the potential to get them. We talk a lot about Battlestar Galactica, which was the smartest, most pro-vocative show on TV before its time. Six or seven years ago, heavily serialized shows didn't play, there was no social media and there was very little in the way of nonlinear catch-up. If we had Battlestar Galactica on our air now, it would absolutely be a Breaking Bad, a Walking Dead, a True Blood. The aspiration is, we want to get back in that space.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s been perfect. The network has been making the sometimes awkward transition for a while now, and Howe touched on the cross-media experiment Defiance as an example of an ambitious idea that didn’t exactly go off as planned. The series (which is coming back in 2015 for a third season) ties in to a MMORPG videogame, but the extremely expensive game side of the equation hasn’t actually been much of a hit (and the show itself pulls in good-but-not-great ratings):

“We built a video game together with a series — it was a very risky, long-term project, but we need to be in the business of what's new and what's next, storytelling beyond the linear experience. The series has been very successful, the game less so, and the learning curve around immersive storytelling was incredibly powerful for us. So, the Defiance experience was incredibly fun and incredibly frustrating.”

If you’re interested in the network, the shows or even just the television business as a whole — the full interview is well worth a read. Do you think Syfy can once again find its own Walking Dead or Game of Thrones-level cultural hit?

(Via The Hollywood Reporter)