By Lisa Fary
I thought it was OK for me to be a chick and like space ships and aliens and rayguns without being weighed down by feelings and relationships. However, a recent article in Adweek, “Sci Fi, Feminized“, implies otherwise. It implies that I am as my high school crush, Justin, once said, not a real girl.
Bonnie Hammer, the president of the Sci Fi Channel since 1998, has been actively courting women as viewers since she came on board. Being a chick who likes sci-fi, I’m appreciative of her efforts, but I’m feeling like Ms. Hammer and the gang are stepping over women who genuinely like this stuff to get to women who might kinda like it if there isn’t too much of that science-y, outer space stuff that they don’t get.
“The whole feel of the [Sc iFi] channel was more male and visually darker,” she says. “Its graphics and promos were a little more monster driven. What we’ve done is make it more human, warmer, friendlier.”
People said the same thing about Hillary Clinton’s infamous tears in New Hampshire after being asked how she does it and who did her hair. That moment made her more human, warmer, and friendlier (and possibly less monster-like).
You can’t have a good television show without human drama and character development; it can’t all be about the action and the tech. But, there comes a point when the human drama overshadows the speculative fiction, and that’s when these “girlified” programs lose their way.
Case in point: Battlestar Galactica in the mid-second season after Admiral Cain was killed. The season two episode that really stands out as a human drama boner was “Black Market”, in which Apollo investigates said black market and has Lostbacks about some girl he broke up with on Caprica. A girl we had never heard of before and have never heard about again.
I suppose the point was that Captain WhinyPants has commitment issues. (You got yourself a real catch there, Dualla. Almost as good as Commander Riker, I’d say). By the time the season finale rolled around, I had nearly lost interest in the ragtag fugitive fleet and their little election. Thank God the Cylons invaded New Caprica.
That episode, and several others in seasons two and three stopped the plot awkwardly as if to say, “OK, ladies! We’re going to have some human drama now! Get your slippers and some cheesecake!”
A program’s channel of residence affects the perception of it – channels have histories that are hard to break. For example, there was one main reason I didn’t watch Blood Ties. That reason was Lifetime: Television for Women, which, for years, I’ve found to be repugnant. Their programming strikes me as overly emotional, stereotypical “female” drivel, all about believing in yourself and finding your true beauty on the inside. I didn’t imagine that a network like Lifetime would do well with vampire mysteries. From what I hear, I may have missed out on something that I would have enjoyed – all because of my perception of what Lifetime is, and is not.
I was just as unlikely to tune in to Blood Ties as I would be to tune into something like Caddy Spacestation, the Golf Channel’s re-imagining of Caddyshack, complete with Chevy Chase (because he’s not even doing the Aflac commercials anymore) and a space gopher dancing to Kenny Loggins (because Loggins is universal). Caddy Spacestation might well be awesome, but it’s on the Golf Channel, and if there’s anything guaranteed to plunge me into immediate coma, it’s golf.
I’m not against human drama, relationships and complex character development. I’m against focusing on that to the detriment of the overall story to lure in the Gray’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives set. That set isn’t likely to tune to to a channel that’s outside their comfort zone simply because it has human drama. There are already channels doing that much better than the Sci Fi Channel.
David Howe, Sci Fi’s other president, says, “We might say that something seems alienating to women and the writers might need to focus a little more on relationships than space battles.”
I really wonder what the Sci Fi gang considers alienating toward women. Space battles certainly aren’t alienating to women, or they shouldn’t be. Space battles don’t objectify or dehumanize women. You know what is alienating to women? The subtle gender stereotypes that are rampant on Battlestar Galactica.
The virtuous and honorable gals, such as Callie Tyrol and Dualla Adama, get to live; however, if a girl doesn’t follow a few simple rules, she’s toast, such as Cat and the often abused Starbuck.
One has to question how well this strategy is working for the Sci Fi Channel. In courting this female audience as aggressively as they are, they risk hemorrhaging and alienating longtime viewers and fans of science fiction programming, many of whom are also women.
Viewers experienced this with Sci Fi’s Flash Gordon. The premiere pulled in 2.1 million viewers, a number which dropped off significantly after that first week. Many of those early viewers who tuned out will not give the program another look even though it’s now something they may like. Their good faith was spent in those early episodes in which the majority of the story took place in Earthly suburbia and there was little actual science fiction going on.
On that point in a recent interview, Consulting Producer Gillian Horvath said, “In the spirit of the original Flash Gordon, which was aimed at a broad audience, we spent more time transitioning between the familiar and the foreign, so that a broader spectrum of viewers would get the baseline information in order to come along with the show. That was the plan. Whether is succeeded or not, time will tell.”
Time will also tell whether Bonnie Hammer’s strategy for getting women to watch the Sci Fi Channel will succeed or not. “Sci Fi, Feminized” says it is. But, if that’s true, why am I having such a hard time finding something I want to watch?
Lisa Fary is a graduate of the creative writing program at Florida State University and holds an advanced degree in Special Education. Her early exposure to classic Battlestar Galactica in 1979 is largely responsible for her lifelong interest in science fiction and her childhood ambition of being an intergalactic space cowgirl.