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Image: Scene from "Stargate Universe"
Carole Segal  /  Syfy
Hoping for more geeky fare such as "Stargate Universe" on Syfy? Well, forget about it. The network wants you to watch wrestling instead.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 4/27/2010 7:26:17 PM ET 2010-04-27T23:26:17
COMMENTARY

Presumably fulfilling its post-rebranding promise to “Imagine Greater,” the former Sci Fi Channel — now known as Syfy — has imagined its way right out of the niche that made the cable network.

Forget about space operas, tech dramas or B-movie monsters (except for “Mega Piranha” — never forget “Mega Piranha”), programming shake-ups reveal Syfy is ready to live up to its theme-less new name. If the recent announcement that “Top Chef” alum Marcel Vigneron would be joining the network for a cooking show called “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen” wasn’t proof enough, Syfy’s acquisition of “Friday Night SmackDown” should be.

Not that Syfy really wants anyone catching on to that fact. Much like shoehorning the word “quantum” into the title of Vigneron’s upcoming gastronomic offering acts as a symbolic nod to traditional viewers, Syfy’s president, David Howe, hopes he can even convince fans that wrestling somehow fits the old and largely abandoned genre, too.

After all, World Wrestling Entertainment’s “SmackDown” marks “the ultimate in imagination-based sports entertainment,” according to Howe.

Heh. Nice try.

Profit first
Ultimately “SmackDown” marks the devolving of the network for a sweet, sweet slice of that 18-to-34 male demographic that sponsors love so much. That means money.

So move over, nerds! This is the jocks’ table now. Or it will be come October when the “SmackDown” deal takes effect.

Of course, this is hardly the first time cable TV has seen genre-based programming pushed aside for profit. Remember when MTV was all about the music videos? Or when TLC’s educational shows lived up to the network’s full name, The Learning Channel? Maybe Howe should tune in to “Jersey Shore” or catch “19 Kids and Counting” to see where the future lies before delivering a double underhook piledriver to Syfy’s faithful audience.

Then again, given the undeniable success of those shows, maybe not.

It shouldn’t matter anyway. There’s more than one way to make a buck, and the network knows it. “Battlestar Galactica,” Syfy’s indisputable high-water mark, illustrated that during most of its run. Give sci-fi fans quality entertainment and they’ll tune in. Heck, give them subpar special effects and a good plot, and they’ll still turn in sometimes. Got some old “Star Trek: Voyager” reruns lying around? That’ll do in a pinch.

Or, you know, Syfy could always “Imagine Greater” sci-fi shows.

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Shift in priorities
Nah! That’s crazy talk. Why do something like that when a proven ratings grabber and young male magnet like “SmackDown” is available? There may be little in the way of a discernible crossover audience, but who cares? It’s clearly not about the sci-fi fans.

After all, the problem isn’t simply Syfy’s addition of wrestling to its lineup. The network inexplicably welcomed wrestling years ago with “Extreme Championship Wrestling” and more recently with “WWE NXT,” but bringing the bigger budget “Friday Night SmackDown” to the schedule marks a shift in priorities.

Not only was the deal said to come at a premium price tag, with Variety estimating Syfy’s yearly “SmackDown” tab at “close to $30 million” (Yikes! Just think how many “Mansquito” spin-offs could have been produced with that dough), it also relocates the network’s Friday night block of original programming.

Yes, like it or not, all those shows now occupying prime-time nerd night, what was once the beloved “Battlestar Galactica’s” place of honor, will shuffle off to Tuesday to make room for the new two-hour block of bikini-clad men. “Stargate Universe,” “Sanctuary” and “Battlestar Galactica” prequel “Caprica” — some of Syfy’s best current content to make a date-free Friday night seem worthwhile — must simply make way for the guys with the big guns.

It’s as if the core audience, the sci-fi buffs that made the network a success to begin with, just don’t matter any more. It’s their programming that gets pushed aside. They’re the ones expected to alter their longtime viewing habits for the sake of the “Wrestlemania”-loving crowd. No one asked “SmackDown” to make a change.

Maybe they should, but they haven’t.

Imagine the possibilities
If the WWE honchos behind the show would just convince their overacting exhibitionists to don sci-fi costumes, viewers could enjoy a winning and oh-so-appropriate combination.

Just imagine hottie Drew McIntyre sporting an old-school Starfleet uniform while facing off against the beefy Kane decked out in his own reptilian finery. Bring Captain Kirk versus the Gorn captain into the wrestling ring and all complaints are off. Consider the slate clean with an Alien versus Predator matchup. Or mix it up with the Cybermen versus the Cylons — a guaranteed winner. The possibilities are endlessly entertaining.

But, as fun as it is to dream, they’re also extremely unlikely. Alas, the wrestling crowd won’t have to trade what they love for reenactments of classic or imagined sci-fi skirmishes. The outlandish antics of well-oiled good guys, bad guys and those that vacillate between extremes will continue without a hitch.

Sci-fi fans, on the other hand, can get ready to rumble, as the network they once called their own forces them to search out non-wrestling, non-cooking, non-reality TV shows amongst the increasingly sci-fi-free fare.

Ree Hines and her fellow nerdlingers plan to use space-age DVR technology to keep Syfy’s Friday night line-up intact. Follower her on Twitter at twitter.com/ReeHines and let her know your plans.

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