Since the Sci Fi Channel rebranded to Syfy in July of 2008, the channel also expanded its programming to fit the new tagline, ‘Imagine greater.’ Syfy’s Damona Resnick-Hoffman, director of alternative programming, and Tim Krubsack, VP of alternative programming, explain to realscreen how the tagline also relates to producers, who must imagine much greater to get their programming on the network. Makers of ‘fan-boy’ programming need not apply.
What is the strategy behind Syfy’s non-fiction programming?
Tim Krubsack: The big news from last year is that we did a rebrand. We’re doing programming that appeals to a much wider audience and we don’t want people to think that it’s limited to a very tiny core group. The shows that we do appeal to a wide range of people; we are number six in 25 to 54 adults, number seven in 18 to 49s and we’re very evenly balanced between men and women. Many people have a misconception that [we have] a very young teenage boy audience and that’s not the case.
Certainly with the reality shows, we’re very strong in the paranormal space. Ghost Hunters [pictured] is the number one paranormal show on television; it has been growing every year. Ghost Hunters International is doing incredible and Ghost Hunters Academy, the new show, launched strongly and we’re really excited about that show. Destination Truth grew by leaps and bounds last season.
At the same time with the rebrand, we’re expanding into other genres – I think that’s probably the biggest headline – but we’re still staying true to what Syfy is, which is a network about imagination and about creativity.
Damona Resnick-Hoffman: Beyond that, we’re finding what really works for us are personality-driven shows. And all of those shows that Tim mentioned are very immersive, first person and strongly based on the talent that is taking you through the journey. A lot of the shows that we’re looking to develop from this point forward are really focused around an individual or a team that is doing something extraordinary.
Do you see Syfy’s non-fiction programming as different from other networks?
TK: Definitely. There are certainly plenty of other networks that try to do the types of shows that we’re doing. There are a lot of other paranormal shows out there now but none of them do it in the way we do.
We’re still looking at ways that we can go into other genres of reality as well. We think there are ways with imagination and creativity to tackle genres that are on other networks but aren’t on ours and we can find interesting ways to do them. We’re looking at makeover shows, cooking shows, dating shows and dance shows; anything you can possibly imagine in the reality genre, we’re open to finding our own unique way of doing that type of show.
DRH: Scare Tactics is that type of show; at first blush, you wouldn’t expect to find a hidden camera prank show on Syfy, and yet we found a way to do a show like that. We’re asking ourselves how do we find a Syfy food show, how do we find a Syfy dating show. It’s really about the brand evolution.
How would a food show still be a Syfy show?
DRH: It actually couldn’t be a food show that lived on the Food Network or Bravo or any other network. It has to come at it from a way that is extraordinary, that is unusual, that is so imaginative and bigger than what you would come to expect from a traditional show in that format.
What are you looking for right now?
TK: We’re pretty much series-focused right now and most of our shows are an hour long. Scare Tactics is the only example of a half hour show on our air, although we pair it with another episode to create an hour long block.
How many hours of alternative programming do you have?
DRH: I think we were somewhere in the 70s last season and that number is just going up.
What would your advice be to interested producers looking to pitch?
TK: I would say we’re definitely not into science-based shows or shows that are simply kind of different versions of what we’re already doing. We get pitched a lot of Ghost Hunters-type shows and if we’re going to play in the paranormal space it definitely has to have a new unique angle for us to find room for it.
DRH: A lot of times people think that we’re a network that appeals to 14-year-old boys, which is true, but we also appeal to 40-year-old women and 22-year-old men. Anything that’s kind of niche or fan-boy focused – a lot of times we’ll see things that are celebrating or mocking the hard core sci-fi fans – we tend to avoid those shows. We don’t want to offend our core audience and we don’t want to turn away a broader audience that doesn’t relate to that sort of thing.
What sort of new audiences are you trying to target?
TK: We’re looking at getting a slightly younger audience and we still want to keep it evenly balanced between men and women so we’re not trying to target one group over another.
Is that the main challenge you face, letting people know about Syfy’s rebrand?
DRH: I wouldn’t say that’s a challenge, I think it’s actually kind of exciting. The challenge we have is we’re growing and we have to fill programming for that. We’re really moving forward aggressively on a lot of exciting developments. We’ll be taking some big swings in the next year and hopefully they’ll all be hits. You never quite know and when you do something risky you take that leap and hopefully it comes with a great reward.
Anything else producers should know?
DRH: We are still heavily looking for personality-driven shows and it definitely helps if a producer has a format in mind. If they have that talent [and] we are able to see that talent in person or on a tape, that process helps us figure out if they’re right for Syfy a lot faster.
TK: We develop year round and we always take pitches.