Syfy exec opens up about the network's ambitious plan to lure back sci-fi fans

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Oct 30, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT (Updated)

In case you haven’t noticed, some of the best sci-fi shows on the air these days are on networks like AMC and HBO. The execs at the Syfy network (NOTE: Syfy is the parent company of have also noticed — and here’s their plan to regain some relevance in the marketplace.

The network has already ramped up development on a boatload of high-concept sci-fi properties, including series like 12 Monkeys, Ascension, Childhood’s End and The Expanse. But Syfy’s new programming chief Bill McGoldrick tells Entertainment Weekly that’s just the beginning of the network’s new direction.

McGoldrick did an extensive Q&A, touching on everything from the state of the genre overall to exactly how they plan to recapture the critical buzz the studio once enjoyed back in the award-winning heyday of Battlestar Galactica, along with the rabid fan love of Farscape. He acknowledges that the “lighthearted” direction worked well for a while, but now they’re trying to refocus on serious sci-fi drama:

“In terms of where it was before with original content and some of the series that were on the air, maybe they were more procedural, more lighthearted in tone—and by the way, those shows worked really well for a long time. I’m referring to the Warehouses and the Eurekas. What we have in development now is more of a serious tone, more back to our roots. You’ve seen and probably heard about our desire to get back up to space. We have a couple really big shows that are trying to accomplish that—Ascension, The Expanse in particular, which play more toward I think the harder core sci-fi fan who used to be perceived as niche but is now mainstream and commercial in a way they have never been before. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish …

We have bigger budgets now. We have budgets that could compete with anybody else in basic cable. Premium cable is a different story, obviously. The budget that HBO has—they’re playing a different game. But when you look at The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad or anything that I worked on at USA, we are at least at that level, if not above. We are trying to bring in directors, producers, you name it, that can execute. I certainly think our shows are already looking better than they have in the past because the corporation supporting us [Comcast], and the corporation understands that we should be investing in genre right now. That’s been the biggest pleasant surprise I’ve had since I’ve arrived — the amount of resources Comcast is providing and kind of everybody up the food chain is recognizing that to pull off sci-fi in the way that we really want to pull it off, you do have to spend. You don’t have to be a reckless drunken sailor, but you do have to sometimes even outspend basic cable competitors for the shows to look the way they will.”

As the initial trailers for Ascension seem to indicate, not to mention the footage we’ve seen of 12 Monkeys, the projects definitely have a different feel than what the network has been cranking out before the current development cycle. They feel like the natural evolution of shows like Defiance, which is a good thing.

McGoldrick also addressed the sweaty elephant in the room: Wrestling programming, and the long-running Ghost Hunters franchise (and its various spinoffs) that have made up the brunt of the network’s reality TV fare. Though it sounds like they’ll be keeping the reality programming around, McGoldrick indicated the network will take a hard look at what they’re doing and what can be done to change things up in the future:

“I definitely feel that ire from time to time. I hired a new head of reality who I worked with at USA Network. She’s going to come over and be taking a look at things. The demands we get from our audience in reality are a little different than the demand of other channels, where some of those tried-and-true formats are very much what they want. On our channel, it’s going to have to be more distinctive. We are going to have to invent formats that are specific for our network. I think Face Off is a great example. It’s had a long run of success because it plays to the core [audience]. It’s not a show where people are screaming at each other in a house or some of the other things you associate with reality TV. We had a long run with paranormal shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness. Our audience really rejects those derivative filler reality shows. We have to work harder with smart producers to give them a different flavor of reality TV.”

What do you think of the network’s new direction? Are you looking forward to any of the new shows?

(Via Entertainment Weekly)

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