Nary a day goes by in Science Fiction writing and fan groups that a Netflix original show isn’t mentioned, typically with high praise. In those same groups, there is much lamenting and keyboard gnashing about mainstream network shows that were dropped and favorite books that need to be turned into a decent series or movie. But they have to be “done right”. A few years ago, the question was “Who could make it without screwing it up?”. We used to answer, with some wariness, “Maybe SyFy channel could do it?”
But no more.
Netflix has done such a steller job with Marvel heroes like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”, along with other Non-SciFi shows like “Longmire”, “River” and “House of Cards”. So well, in fact, that they are the first “network” that comes to mind when talking about doing something right and with the respect it deserves. They can be edgy, dark, adult and they don’t seem to be worried about splitting the script into commercial fed drivel.
They get high praise from fans that can be a little rough on folks that stray too far from the original. Do you want to start a 120 comment thread in a Scifi group? Just mention the 1984 David Lynch travesty of “Dune”. It will be a bloodbath. Netflix is proving to have the better production value, better writing, more intense character driven material than their competitors. They’re making “fans”, not just “viewers”. One reason Netflix gets an almost universal thumbs up is the ability of the subscriber to BINGE watch a new season from the get go. The entire series loaded in one shot. I really love that. I watched “Daredevil” in two sittings. That was six months ago, and I still rave about it. I watched “Jessica Jones” straight thru. Same with “Longmire”, “River”, etc.
Netflix truly is what SyFy should have become. We originally had high hopes for the SyFy channel. A channel that was to be ours (the true fans). When SyFy snagged “Stargate:SG1”, we were elated. Over the years, they have pushed out other series, and mini-series/movies, that we liked right away or learned to love over time. They let things simmer a bit…in the old days. Kinda’ hard to believe they didn’t pick up Firefly, but that particular equine discussion has been beaten to death.
So what happened? In 2006, SyFy became part of NBC Universal…and it morphed into “just” another channel serving Universal and a place to stream NBC’s non-SciFi/fantasy programming. Law and Order? Wrestling? Reality TV? Come on. Bad move. Then they made some seriously stupid programming decisions. Cancelling “Dominion”? Yeah, that told me they just don’t get it. “Defiance” was just getting interesting, after two “meh” seasons and then they cancel it. So what next? Well, they still have “Killjoys”, but it is on the edge of becoming formulaic. That seems to be standard operating procedure for network execs, vs a true geek, when they think about a series. “Can it get the contrived dilemma introduced and solved in 42 minutes, leaving us time for commercials? If not, we’re not interested.”
Have they ever talked to a Science Fiction or Fantasy fan? The novels we read start at 100,000 words and go into multiple book sequels. Comic books are read over years and hundreds of editions. We like the long game. Proof? “Game of Thrones”. That is a long, long game, but look at their following. Writers and producers can present the EPIC tale to us, as long as the characters are interesting, the genre true and the story intriguing. We don’t need everything bottled up in 42 minute bursts. But that means that the execs have to risk limiting their audience. The average mainstream “Chicago Mercy Medical ER Stripper Doctors On Call” drama crowd is not going to wait around for a long story to develop, nor are they going to appreciate the genre specific nuances. They wouldn’t make it through most of our reading material (“450 pages…are you kidding. Give me that coloring book instead.”).
If SyFy can’t get its programming projects together, and decide who they are trying to appeal to, maybe they can change their name to “SyFySumTyms” and their motto to “Imagine greater…because we aren’t going to show it to you”. I’ve always thought they could do numerous 5-10 episode mini-series, made from new books (Indie-authors) shown in one or two week bursts. That would be a wave of great new story lines and multiple time slot fillers. Production costs could be kept in check and the new material might lead to an actual series or two. WE LIKE NEW AND INTERESTING and we HATE FORMULAIC!
The ball that NBC Universal dropped has been picked up by the execs at Netflix. Now, we’ll see if they can actually press hard to become the drama/scifi/fantasy monster we all hope they can.
(PS: If anyone at Netflix reads this, I have some great new material for shows.)
(PSS: If anyone at SyFy reads this and was considering turning one of my books, WEBisodes or short stories into a movie…I was totally kidding. You rock.)
Nuff Said. Ride Safe, Ride often.