SyFy is finally back to doing epic sci-fi again with space operas THE EXPANSE and ASCENSION

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Once upon a time, there was a TV channel called The Sci Fi Channel. It had Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, other kickass series that may or may not have “star” in their titles, and it was generally the place to be if you were a fan of… well, sci-fi. Then the Sci Fi Channel became SyFy Universal, and what was initially just thought of as really silly spelling turned out to be much worse. In trying to attract new audiences, they started expanding the diversity of the content, but in so doing nearly completely ditched what had built them up to where they were: Science-fiction. Soon, instead of now seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, you could now see make-up and cooking reality shows.

Yes, SyFy still had their B-Grade creature features a la Sharknado going, but they had lost a lot of their most ardent fans. What’s more, due to the popularity explosion of geek culture, sci-fi is now a very lucrative market. And five years later, their paymasters at NBC Universal have realized this, and have decided to try and rectify it, as SyFy President David Howe explained to THR:

“We want to be the best science-fiction channel that we possibly can, and in some respects, that means going back to the more traditional sci-fi/fantasy that fans often say they feel we’ve exited. We’re going to occupy that space in a way we haven’t for the past few years.”

And “space” is the operative word here, as the intention is to revive the epic space opera, just like they did with Battlestar Galactica in 2009. To that effect, the network has now given a straight-to-series greenlight for The Expanse, an hour-long, 10 episode adaptation of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck’s (under the pen name James S. A. Corey) best selling trilogy, The Expanse Series (via ComingSoon). The first novel, Leviathan Wakes, was nominated for both a Hugo and Locus Award in 2011, and its sequels, Caliban’s War and Abbadon’s Gate, have both been received very favourably. The plot is set 200 years in the future, when mankind has colonized most of the solar system, and follows a hardboiled detective, Miller, on the case of a missing rich girl, and a rogue ice miner ship captain, Holden, who stumbles onto a massive secret on a scuppered ship, the Scopuli. When Miller’s case also leads to Holden’s discovery, the two start to unravel “the greatest conspiracy in human history”, forcing them to work together to stay alive and figure out what’s going on before this secret results in an interplanetary war.

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Academy Award-nominated screenwriting duo Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men, Iron Man) have been brought on as executive producers, and they will also be penning several episodes, including the pilot.

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This is not the only big deal sci-fi series that SyFy are doing though, as they will also be focusing on high-profile, big-budget miniseries, like the recently renewed for a second season Helix, and the upcoming TV adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 feature film, Twelve Monkeys. They have also given the go-ahead on Ascension, a “part Battlestar and part Downton Abbey” sci-fi limited series that SyFy is looking to air in November, through to December. The event mini-series, created and written by Philip Levens (Smallville), follows a “100-year-long space shuttle of colonists fleeing an Earth threatened by the early Cold War. Nearly 50 years after their covert 1963 mission launched with the intention of colonizing a new world, a young woman is mysteriously murdered, prompting the population to question the nature of the mission as they near the point of no return.” While now only a mini-series, SyFy are hoping that Ascencion can springboard into a full series, much like what they did with Battlestar back in 2009.

Syfy’s new executive vp original content, Bill McGoldrick, reaffirms the network’s new commitment to getting back into the outer space adventures business, with big profile event series like Ascension and The Expanse:

“That’s the way to send a message in a big way that we’re back and we care about sci-fi. There is enormous pressure to get that back, because we used to own it. And we’re going to own it again.”

And because I know some of you are very concerned about this change in direction, I’m here to assuade your fears: Yes, there will be more Sharknado. Although Howe says the shark movie – which became a social media phenom when it aired – will probably be an annual event, you can expect to see a lot less of those type of no-budget shlockbusters though, as SyFy has committed to cutting down heavily on the 20 to 24 films they currently air per year.

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As a bonafide sci-fi geek, who has been desperately craving this type of epic science-fiction for the last few years, I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see SyFy once again trying to do what they did best.

Last Updated: April 15, 2014

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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