SCI-FI GETS WIRED
Up where the channel numbers are high and the ratings are low lies the cable universe’s strangest planet. In this way-out world, The Bionic Woman rubs shoulders with Kolchak: The Night Stalker; The Land of the Giants borders on The Land of the Lost; The Invaders mingle with the Voyagers; and Dark Shadows fade into The Twilight Zone. Here, also, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ripley tries to get us to believe, and, lest we forget, Sandra Bernhard, swathed in Isaac Mizrahi on an Art Deco set, once sent us to B-movie heaven (or was it hell?) with the likes of The She Creature and The Wasp Woman.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this is the territory of the SCI-FI CHANNEL — the high-style, high-camp, USA Networks outpost that wraps horror and science-fiction has-beens (and never-weres) from the ’30s through the ’80s in slick ’90s packaging. In its first two and a half years, Sci-Fi has racked up some relatively stellar successes: Part of its Carrie Fisher-hosted Star Wars marathon earned triple the network’s normal ratings. The channel boasts cable’s highest percentage of 18- to 49-year-olds among its viewers (a very ad-friendly stat), and Sci-Fi captured the exclusive rights to the original Twilight Zone series, now one of its most-watched shows. Other ratings standouts: Quantum Leap, Amazing Stories, and The Six Million Dollar Man. The network also produces original TV movies and a klatch of peppy, half-hour infotainment shows — including Sci-Fi Buzz, whose high-octane host, Mike Jerrick, spouts comments such as ”Get out your laptops, Buzzers.”
Still, Sci-Fi is far from achieving universal domination. It’s beamed into only about 18 million homes (compared with USA Network’s nearly 63 million). And some cult shows that the channel expected to blast off — Dr. Who, The Prisoner, and Dark Shadows — have gone nowhere. ”There was more word of mouth than people actually watching,” laments programming VP Barry Schulman. Hardcore space cadets complain (via E-mail, natch) that the station airs too much horror, but Sci-Fi also has intensely loyal fans. ”Our viewers are very passionate,” Schulman says. ”Now all we need is for them to get some of their less passionate friends to watch too.”