I was thinking about the Syfy Channel recently, about how great it was that they were finally introducing a lot more genre shows after a long period of trying to move away from being, well, the Sci-Fi Channel (they even once aired wrestling — it wasn’t a good time). But then I began to realize that Syfy was actually airing more genre shows now than they had been when I was a teenager — and then I began to remember all of the other genre shows on right now. And I began to think that perhaps we’re in a Golden Age of sorts, a Golden Age of Genre Television.
First, a definition of “genre television”: genre television isn’t just television that’s set in a genre (that would be all of television), but rather shows that are set in a few very specific genres, namely science fiction, fantasy, and horror, although I would also add “superhero” to that list.
Back in 1999, when I was fourteen years old, the Sci-Fi channel was pretty much the only place on television that would air the movies and shows I wanted to see. Fox had The X-Files and the WB had Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and then Angel), but those were only on one night a week and often took weeks (and sometimes months) off. And I didn’t care about Charmed or Roswell.
The Sci-Fi Channel, on the other hand, had Farscape and Sliders and Lexx and First Wave. And then it got The Invisible Man and The Outer Limits and Stargate SG-1. And had so many movies and shows I hadn’t seen, imported from other countries. And every Halloween, they had a Twilight Zone marathon.
As I grew up, so, apparently, did the Sci-Fi Channel, shedding their old name for the more trademarketable “Syfy” in 2009, which also marked their move away from science fiction and other genre television, reducing the number of new television shows they produced and incorporating wrestling and reality shows like Ghost Hunters (of which Syfy made two spin-offs — TWO).
Today, however, Syfy has a nice stable of shows, including Dark Matter, Killjoys, 12 Monkeys, Wynonna Earp, The Expanse, The Magicians, Channel Zero, and more. But what brought about this resurgence after years of drought? Well, we’re not only getting a lot more genre television from Syfy, but from everywhere.
Back in 1999, when the big networks aired a science fiction show, they either disguised it as a procedural (The X-Files) or they lumped it with the WB or UPN (the two-hour pilot for Star Trek: Voyager was the first thing UPN telecast).
Today, however, Fox actually has the most genre TV shows, with the upcoming 2017-18 season having Ghosted, Last Man on Earth, Lucifer, The Gifted, Gotham, The Orville, The Exorcist, and The X-Files (oh, how things have changed). And the CW (the amalgam of the WB and UPN) has practically made genre TV its forte, with the upcoming 13th season of Supernatural, as well as Arrow, The Originals, The 100, The Flash, iZombie, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. ABC has flirted with genre shows, even with their stable of prime time soap operas, with Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the upcoming Marvel’s Inhumans. And NBC has probably the best genre TV comedy, The Good Place, as well as the time travel drama Timeless and the supernatural soap opera Midnight, Texas. Only CBS seems to be lagging, with their only genre show currently being, uh, Zoo.
But that’s just the basic cable channels. Since 1999, the varieties of cable networks have only increased and with them, they have brought an increase in genre shows. AMC currently airs one of the world’s most popular shows, The Walking Dead, along with Fear the Walking Dead, Humans, Into the Badlands, and Preacher. HBO has the other most popular show in the world, Game of Thrones, as well as Westworld. Showtime has Twin Peaks, which might just be the weirdest show on television, beating the past winner, Twin Peaks. Starz has American Gods and Ash vs. Evil Dead. TBS has People of Earth. Heck, USA, who use to move all of their genre programming to their sister channel, Sci-Fi, even has Colony.
Which doesn’t even bring us to the fact that we are still only talking about television channels and not streaming. Which brings us to Netflix, which has so many genre shows, like Stranger Things and The OA and all of the Defenders shows and even co-productions, like Travelers and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and From Dusk Till Dawn and cartoons like Castlevania and even comedies like Santa Clarita Diet. Add Hulu to that (with shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Dimension 404) and Amazon (The Man in the High Castle) and suddenly we not only have more shows, but also more avenues to watch them in.
Perhaps this is why Syfy has started producing (and co-producing) more and more shows. In which case, the internet really has improved if not our lives, then our viewing habits.