I started going about my day, finishing prep for the “Slice of SciFi” shows to be recorded this week, and to get to my many other projects, when this particular tweet threw my morning off the tracks:
Q) @Gleeky_MikaBoo Why have you replaced great shows with reality tv A) We haven't. Reality primarily replaces reruns of older series.
— SYFY (@SYFY) July 31, 2013
Craig Engler’s answer caused all other thoughts in my head to come to a screeching halt, collectively turn and look at the computer screen and yell, “WHAT?!”
Forsaking reruns for “reality” programming, especially for television shows that fall into the scifi, fantasy and horror genres, seems to be a profit-slashing move, not a profit-making one. If this is truly how Syfy Channel considers reruns, maybe that’s a big factor in the disconnect between the people running Syfy and us TV addicts who want more scifi on Syfy, or any channel.
Reruns of almost any scripted programming make money, while reruns of reality shows don’t. If they didn’t generate income, we wouldn’t be inundated with endless reruns of a dozen sitcoms from the 80s and 90s. The guarantee of viewers is why you could always find a rerun of Friends, or M*A*S*H, or Angel, or something else you’d watch at 2am, but never ever see a rerun episode from Survivor Season 4 or Big Brother Season 2.
If it weren’t for reruns, TBS would have had nothing on except Atlanta Braves baseball, and maybe wrestling. If it weren’t for reruns, TNT wouldn’t have built an audience to pitch “We Know Drama” to for their excellent new scripted series over the past 6-7 years. I don’t think I can count how many times I stopped channel surfing at 1am because the movie “The Beastmaster” was airing on TBS, or at 3am because 2 episodes of Angel were about to air on TNT. As much as I enjoy the shows Face Off and Hell’s Kitchen, I am not going to do that for their reruns.
For years, many of us scifi fans wondered why Scifi Channel (now Syfy Channel) stopped airing reruns of the older shows. Why not run the classic Battlestar Galactica episodes again in conjunction with the episodes of the new version when those were airing?
Reruns created scifi fandom. Where would Star Trek be if it hadn’t found new life and new fans through reruns on different channels all over the country, the world? Would fans be clamoring for more Buffy and Angel from Joss Whedon if those shows hadn’t been consistently aired in mini-marathon blocks for the past 12 years? Why would Science Channel air reruns of Firefly and FRINGE if the fans weren’t going to sit and watch, again and again? The X-Files thrives in mainstream memory, while Babylon 5 languishes… wonder which show had a richer rerun history?
Marathons of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits are all well and good, but those aren’t the shows that will hook fans and viewers to keep coming back to your channel. Jumping on the Twitter bandwagon and airing “Sharknado” a few extra times might be good for a short term bump, but building a better connection with an audience that wants to watch their favorite shows over and over again (we’re geeks, remember? that’s what we do) means giving them the shows they will watch over and over again. The shows they grew up with. The shows they fell in love with. The shows they’ll watch on TV with commercials even when they have the DVD sets a few feet away on a shelf.
We’re scifi fans, remember? It’s what we do. We watch those shows over and over again because we love the characters and the adventures and the humor and the pain. We obsess on what the rest of their lives and their worlds are like when we can’t see them in new episodes, and as an outlet for that, we either write up our own stories, or make up our own costumes so we can live vicariously in those worlds for a time. I believe Syfy now has a new reality show that showcases that kind of fandom passion, so I don’t think the connection is completely lost on them.
Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t think you can build new generations of geeks who will continue to come to your door without hooking them on a passion and feeding it. That means airing reruns of the shows that connect with their particular passion, and using that to keep bringing them back home.
Those shows we love have story. Reality shows have manufactured tension. They may both be entertaining, but at the end of the day, there’s a big difference. That story is the reason why we keep coming back to those shows, and almost never give a second thought to watching the same episode of that reality show again.
Watching reruns is the heart and soul of scifi. It’s what formed the bonds that matter to us as we grow older, it’s what makes us enjoy comparing new favorite shows to old favorites, and it’s what drives us scifi geeks to want more of both. Hint: it’s why a lot of us read our favorite books over and over again, too.
Not all shows are available on DVD or for streaming, and not all reboots can be as amazing as the new BSG was. There’s an overflowing pot of gold to be uncovered, and lots of scifi fans hoping that someone will bring reruns of the old shows back to the airwaves. And maybe a few more seasons of Warehouse 13 or Sanctuary, just for good measure?