Radarscreen: Syfy bumps up reality

NBCUniversal-owned cable net Syfy has amped up its non-fiction content with a development slate rife with reality, in a move to give its viewers what they want, says president of programming Mark Stern (pictured).
May 25, 2011

NBCUniversal-owned cable net Syfy has amped up its non-fiction content with a development slate rife with reality, in a move to give its viewers what they want.

“We have found that our audiences are really responding to our reality in increasing numbers, and with our rebrand a couple years ago [and] the ‘Imagine Greater’ tagline, it’s allowed us to really explore more of this creative space,” says Mark Stern, president of original programming.

The net is once again dipping into the paranomal investigation genre, combining it with the collector craze via Haunted Collector, which follows John Zaffis and his family as they look into paranormal objects. The Gurney Productions series launches on June 1.

Also on tap is Legend Quest, premiering on July 13, which Stern describes as having an “Indiana Jones/Da Vinci Code sensibility.” In the BASE Productions/Universal Networks International series, symbologist Ashley Cowie travels the world looking for artifacts.

Elsewhere, the fall premiere of Paranormal Witness is notable as it marks a directional change from Stern and Syfy’s initial reluctance to feature a recreation series on the network. It took a meeting with Raw TV (Locked Up Abroad) to make him reconsider. “They really busted the whole thing open. They took a new approach to recreation that made it very intimate and very real.”

The net has also revealed a development slate featuring its highest amount of unscripted programming to date, with programming that pushes the envelope of what many would consider to be Syfy-friendly content.

Stern cites Gurney Productions’ docusoap Monster Man, featuring Cleve Hall and his family business that creates creatures for Hollywood films, as a unique way to explore special effects makeup, while a more distinct departure is Dinner with Deepak. The series will feature author and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, dining and chatting with notable guests.

“It’s going to be something that captures the essence of what our genre is, questioning the mind-blowing questions and exploring the most famous tropes of science fiction with fascinating people from all sorts of disciplines,” says Stern.

On the opposite end of the pop culture spectrum, Culture Shock with Tommy Lee sees the Mötley Crüe drummer investigate secret societies, inspired by his father’s freemason status.

Stern says the net is “agnostic” regarding genres or categories of unscripted programming, as long as the content takes viewers on a ride and uncovers the truth behind the paranormal and supernatural.

“I think the execution is secondary to the general concept. We’re really trying to make sure that we’re covering all the various areas that this genre lets us explore,” he says.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.