Now that sci-fi and speculative programming is no longer relegated to Trekkies who practice Klingon in their spare time, cable channels with a related remit are popping up in need of product. But, for Ismž Bennie, director programming and acquisitions at Space: The Imagination Station, a new Canadian specialty service, the very market saturation which facilitated this genesis also proved the trick to watch.
When Bennie went hunting to fill the Speculative strand (8-9 p.m. weeknights with occasional weekend specials) in time for the channel’s October 17 debut, one of her main requirements was programming which stood out from the pack. ‘There is a huge amount of it out there,’ she says of the speculative genre, which covers the paranormal, parapsychology and unsolved mysteries. ‘A lot of the material has been covered by many different series that I’ve seen, so I try to find the best-produced and the most diverse and go for that.’
Miracles and Other Wonders, 13 x 1 hours on ‘miraculous intervention’ produced by PKO Television, Sun International in association with Newberger Entertainment Group, Artoko Film Productions and gmbh, contains subject matter uncovered by other shows, but remains part of the paranormal genre . Another project which fits Bennie’s requirements is UFO Diaries, 13 x 30 minutes from Artoko. With high production values, the series covers a range of fact-based UFO mysteries from the Bermuda Triangle to crop circles.
Aside from high production value, Bennie also looks to see that individual series complement each other without becoming too repetitive. ‘[I want] new information on the topic,’ she says, using the 50th anniversary of the alleged UFO landing at Roswell as an example. So she purchased Roswell, a 90-minute special from Hollywood’s Associated Television (producer John Romanovich) which explores the incident from the latest angles.
Bennie also went to Associated Television (whom she’d dealt with when programming for Access, the educational station in Alberta) for Mysteries, Magic and Miracles – 26 x 30 minutes of guardian angels, healing waters and sacred places produced by Dan Goldman.
To fill Space, Bennie dealt primarily with Canadian distributors (Kaleidoscope, Filmoption, Motion, Tanglewood Media), but went to all sources including trades in her search. ‘I was trying to find material which would be exclusive to me for my channel. Nothing that would come through on, say, A&E.’
However, this didn’t preclude her buying Ancient Prophecies, 4 x 2 hours on ‘apocalyptic prophecies from notable seers’, produced for nbc by Coast to Coast Productions and Greystone Communications. The series has its first Canadian cablecast on Space.
Space also has a strong Canadian bent; Bennie makes a concerted effort to acquire Canadian content, ‘because we are a country for documentary producers.’ Canadian-produced shows representative of Bennie’s programming tastes are Mysterious Forces Beyond, 26 x 30 minutes from Toronto-based Forces Beyond Productions (Gary Blye, Margaret Roberts, John Migicovsky, Drew Levin), and Life After Death, 10 x 30 minutes from Sleeping Giant (Toronto). Although neither will have their first Canadian window on Space, Bennie felt both represented the genre well: ‘Life After Death in particular deals with a subject which hasn’t been seen much elsewhere. It adds another dimension to the whole speculative thing.’
The Speculative strand plays a crucial role in the programming of Space as a whole in that it stretches the demographic reach to appeal to women. ‘Overall, the skew of the channel has been male 18-49, but I imagine the speculative programming will broaden the base.’
In terms of budget, Space, being a start-up service without tested advertising revenue, is working with ‘low dollars.’ But, says Bennie, ‘If you came to me with footage that had never been seen before, I’d probably pay premium.’ According to Bennie, the low-end rests at about CDN$1000 an hour and goes up to an unspecified maximum which ‘really depends on a lot of things: first run, is it exclusive, is it something we put some financing into.
‘It is a variation because something we’ve put development dollars into the at the beginning will have a different value to us than something we buy off the shelf,’ explains Bennie. ‘I am trying as much as I can to set the benchmarks, so that whatever I’m doing can be rationally defended and that I am being fair across the board.’