Thanks to the Sci Fi Channel, audio plays are cool again, with new works from the likes of Clive Barker, Mark Hamill and more

By Gillian Flynn
Updated May 14, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

You know when indie-cool actors like Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Dylan Baker (Happiness) lend their voices to radio shows that there’s some new twist. The twist here is the Internet, which is zapping an old-time genre back to life with all-new productions.

Of course, the Web’s massive reach and around-the-clock availability also make it a natural forum for rebroadcasting classic radio plays. Sites such as Radio Spirits ( post entire shows in RealAudio splendor — from The Great Gildersleeve to The Jack Benny Program — while The Shadow RealAudio Radio Theater ( offers a different episode of the classic mystery-drama every week.

But it’s the SCI FI Channel’s ambitious Seeing Ear Theatre ( that’s blazing a new trail for this old medium, with 27 plays having hit the cyberwaves since SET’s inception in October 1996. The latest is Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil, which airs in five parts through May 17 and stars Happiness‘ Baker as a Satan seeking readmission to heaven. Seeing Ear is also the place where Lili Taylor voiced Alice for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and where Star Wars‘ Mark Hamill and Star Trek‘s Walter Koenig have sat at the mic for previous dramas. What’s in it for Sci Fi? A hip property, increased hits to the website, and, hopefully, more interest in the cable channel itself.

For producer Brian Smith, who’s helming the all-new shows, audio plays are nothing less than a mission. “Listening to radio drama takes a personal investment of your imagination,” he says. “You create the world — the detail is as rich or as barren as your imagination allows.” SET is clearly reaching some fertile imaginations: The site gets between 1,500 and 1,700 hits a day, and Smith has received e-mails of appreciation from as far off as Bangkok. Will Seeing Ear bring back radio as we knew it? Stay tuned…