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Sci Fi Channel goes for High-Concept TV Movies

The New York Times has an interesting article about Sci Fi Channel’s attempt to earn ratings on Saturday nights. Apparently, the strategy is to produce “high-concept,” low-budget, made-for-TV movies like ATTACK OF THE SABRE TOOTH that appeal to their target demographic.

What’s interesting is the nature of that demographic. According to actor Bruce Campbell (who wrote, directed and starred in SCREAMING BRAIN, one of the channel’s lineup), “I think they’re micromarketing, which in htis fragmented world makes sense. They’re saying, ‘Who’s at home on Saturday nights?'”

The answer appears to be women. Although science-fiction is thought of as a genre for little boy’s, the article states that nearly half of Sci Fi Channel’s audience is female, “int he highly sought-after 25-54-year-old demographic category.”

Low-budget films had always been a part of the lineup, but in recent years, fewer of them have been produced, so Sci Fi Channel has started making their own, working with producers whose films they have purchased in the past.

The films are shot for $1-2 million in places like Bulgaria and Romania (to save costs), with familiar faces like Luke Perry in the leads. Sci Fi Channel pays three-quarters of a million dollars to broadcast the films on U.S. television, and the film’s producers turn a profit on home video and international sales.

With little money, the films rely on catchy titles lke MANSQUITO. They also try to emphasize topical elements like stem cell research or mad cow disease, which are blamed for the monster-of-the-week. “And we add emotinal content, so the audience can feelf or the characters,” says one producer.

Unfortunately, the results leave something to be desired. The article quotes one reviewer who goes above the the call of duty trying to find something nice to say about CHUPCABRA: DARK SEAS. After criticizing its “broad cliches” and accusing the film of being “overacted and clumsily blocked,” Virginia Heffermna wrote that the casting of John Rhys-Davies and Giancarlo Esposito “provides evidence of self respect,” that “someone has tried to make a coherent, passioante and traditional B movie.”