Containing Channel Drift: A New Development Strategy for SyFy

Recently, Roger Ebert resurrected this article by Ursula K. Le Guin on how SyFy (then Sci-Fi) made a mockery of everything important to Earthsea with its woefully terrible miniseries.  It got me thinking about the channel generally and how much it has changed over the years.  I started watching it fairly regularly around the mid-90s and gave up about ten years ago, so it was an important part of my youth.  Enough has been said about how terrible the channel’s re-branding as “SyFy” is and I won’t comment on that here.  I’m more interested in examining how a niche channel succumbs to channel drift and what its operators could do to accommodate the desires that lead to channel drift while still pandering to the base.

Drift is what happens when a channel that caters to a specific base realizes one way to make more money is to move outside of that base toward programming that captures a larger or better targeted audience.  MTV is a perfect example of this.  Its long odyssey from a channel that played music videos exclusively to a channel that plays reality television exclusively is basically the definition of channel drift.  However, SyFy deciding to play WWE Smackdown is also a pretty good example.  Unfortunately, from what I’ve been able to find by looking around on the internet, there doesn’t seem to be an example of a channel successfully reversing drift and reverting back to content that caters to its base.  What seems to happen more often is that a channel jettisons its old base entirely in favor of the new, more marketable content it has been phasing in.  So if SyFy keeps adding more wrestling programs and Law and Order series reruns to its line-up, it could conceivably just purge all of its sci-fi content and become what would essentially be TNT 2. Continue reading

Re-Imagining The Straight Story as a Hopeless Trek through a Mechanized Agricultural Wasteland

(Yeah, it’s been forever since I wrote in this, but whatever, that’s me.)

Earlier this year I watched The Straight Story, an atypical David Lynch film from 1999 about an elderly farmer’s several hundred mile journey on a riding lawnmower to visit his sick brother.  I was mostly ambivalent about it but after reflection I would say I did not like it.   There were a few really good scenes and for every one of those there were three or four I thought were too hokey or goofy to convey any deeper meaning.  After having seen this, I can certainly understand David Lynch’s professed admiration for Ronald Reagan despite the content and tone of his other films.  The Straight Story is essentially a paean to a rural, white and presumably Christian United States.  It is decent white folks doing decent white things.  The antagonists of this film are old age, distance, and the slow approach of death–universal elements that everyone must face.   It is a feel-good film meant to warm your heart–but only to a lukewarm temperature.  After all, we’re probably going to do some bad things during our lives and then we’ll eventually all be dead.  Also, you might get pregnant when you don’t want to be and since abortions don’t exist in rural America, it’ll be okay since an old man will say nice things to you about family.  Or something like that.

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Down and Out in the Google Empire

I’ve been thinking about the Google Book Settlement (for background info, I suggest checking out what Cory Doctorow and io9 have to say) because a friend of mine recently wrote about it on his blog.  While the idea of having all of these books easily available to me is certainly neat, I have problems with the deeper implications of the settlement.

i actually found this image via google

I believe that people deserve access to information, even if this information is literature (considering literature to be everything from traditional classics to 50s pulp novels.)  However, given the circumstances under which the world currently operates — no matter how unjust they may ultimately be — I think that writers should have some degree of control over their work.  It’s not that I think millionaire writers like Stephen King or J. K. Rowling somehow “deserve” every gold-plated penny that they make, but I think that it’s more important for them to be controlling what they own rather than a single corporation.  It’s not because they’re the best judges of what should be done with their work (the best judges, I’d say, would ultimately be the public) but because they’re much better and more deserving judges than an annoying company.

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What to Make of Michael Moorcock

“What I’d like to know is,” said Engelbrecht, cutting suddenly to the chase, “who gets into heaven and why?”

There was a bit of a pause in the air, as if everyone felt perhaps he’d pushed the boat out a little too far, but God was nodding.  “Fair question,” he said.  “Well, it’s cats, then dogs, but there’s quite a few human beings, really.  But mostly it’s pets.”

— Michael Moorcock, A Slow Saturday Night at the Surrealist Sporting Club


I recently finished reading The Best of Michael Moorcock, a collection of short stories edited by John Davey with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.  I first picked it up for a couple of reasons: partially because Michael Moorcock is a towering figure in sf that I was largely unfamiliar with, but mostly because he influenced and worked with a lot of writers I like (China Miéville, Jeff Vandermeer, M. John Harrison.)  This post is a collection of thoughts on Michael Moorcock himself as well as the book rather than a straight review.

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Disappointed by an Old Friend

This season of 30 Rock has not been the best, but at least it’s been better than The Office. I’ve seen a lot of people attribute 30 Rock‘s decline to the fact that it’s often veered into the surreal.  I don’t think this is necessarily true.  While I enjoy the more character driven first and second seasons the best, I don’t think a move into weirder humor would be categorically bad for the show.  Really, I just think the problem is that the writing this season has been a lot weaker.  Episodes often feel like the writers came up with a couple of strange concepts and threw them together.  (I don’t want to sound harsh — I have enjoyed this season.)

somehow this makes me uncomfortable

But at the end of the Valentine’s Day episode (which I don’t see why 30 Rock really needs to do every year), they show three of Liz’s ex-boyfriends (or Liz’s three ex-boyfriends?) speaking as if they were the black female Jamaican receptionists at her dentist office.  This is a reference to Liz’s earlier confusion of people due to the aftereffects of a sedative given to her for oral surgery.  While I’m sure it was intended as some weird little throwaway at the end of the episode, it made me uncomfortable.

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Some Presentiment of My Future

“For neither the Utopia nor the Dystopia is open-ended.  Utopia is an extreme example of the impulse to order; it’s the word should run rampant.  Dystopia, its nightmare mirror image, is the desire to squash dissent taken to inhuman and lunatic lengths.  Neither are what you’d call tolerant, but both are necessary to the imagination.”

— Margaret Atwood, Writing Utopia (2004)

I created this blog last November because I had conceived of several short essays I wanted to write and I needed a place to put them.  I never wrote those essays and I never used this blog.  This was due to a variety of factors–laziness, the fact that I had papers due, and the realization that even if I wrote these essays and posted them no one would read them.  Now that several of my friends have started blogs on this website, I figure I have more reason to use mine.  I’m not sure if the essays I originally intended to write will ever come out.  They may, in some changed form, or they may not at all.  We’ll see.

I am an M.A. student of political science studying international relations, but I also have some background and interest in anthropology and history.  My politics are an attempt to reconcile socialism (or perhaps anarchism) with certain post-structural ideas.  More simply, I consider myself a member of the left.  I have a deep interest in fantasy literature (fantasy in the sense of the fantastic rather than, say, D&D)  that influences my thinking on just about everything.  I am a (amateur?  unpublished?) writer working within this tradition, writing fantasy that is heavily influenced by science fiction and, to a lesser extent, horror.  I have an interest in film and television that is more difficult to describe, but should become clearer if and when I begin to write about it.

I don’t expect anyone outside of my close circle of friends to read and comment on this, but I certainly don’t mind if others do.  I just ask that you remain courteous and refrain from personal attacks.  I’m not going to provide an e-mail address and I don’t really think it will be necessary for me to have one for this blog, but if that changes I will make one.  I’m really not sure where this thing will go.  I have a feeling I will talk about international relations, politics more generally, fantasy, science fiction, film, television, gender, and feminism.  I’m sure I’ll talk about other things, too.  If I end up talking about anything at all!