Lets look a piece of infotainment most people don’t remember at all, but I loved it so much in it’s day.
Back in the early days of the Sci-Fi Channel (I will not call is Syfy as that is the sound crickets make while fucking) they only had about 30-40% coverage on cable systems around the US.
Sci-Fi had no original programming outside of infotainment series. Years later they would be known for their “Sci-Fi Channel Original Series”, but that would be years down the line.
Prior to that they would have some “Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies” which were not actually originals as until the mid-1990’s all of the “Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies” were nothing more than DTV movies they bought first rights too.
Anyway, before that there was a spat of newly produced weekly programs that Sci-Fi would use to grab viewers and those were news style programs based around subjects Science Fiction fans would be interested in.
Initially there was Inside Space (NASA centric), Mysteries From Beyond The Other Dominion (UFO conspiracies), Sci-Fi Trader (Collectables) and Sci-Fi Buzz (News). There were others scatted about later on such as The Anti-Gravity Room (Comic Books) and SF Vortex (roundtable discussions with Sci-Fi creators), but I want to talk about Sci-Fi Buzz
Sci-Fi Buzz began as the first original Sci-Fi Channel production and aired it’s first episode on September 27th, 1992 (three days after the launch of the channel itself).
Very low budget as most cable programming was at the time but Sci-Fi Buzz felt different. You had charismatic and energetic host Mike Jerrick (long before he went full nutball and became so unstable even Fox News started to kick him off for his views on women and minorities). You had weekly commentaries on whatever he was pissed off about that week by Harlan Ellison. You had news on upcoming films and television series (many of which never came to fruition). Lots of segments on Universal films both old and new (Universal owns The Sci-Fi Channel). You had interviews with the stars and directors of the biggest 90’s films and more than any other show of this type, you had authors.
Sci-Fi Buzz interviewed and featured so many genre authors that it really set itself apart from a typical Entertainment Tonight-style program. The Buzz (as it became known) also dug deep into the past of Sci-Fi to showcase old movie serials, obscure comic books and things more infostyle programming would have never touched.
Side note on Mike Jerrick. I find it kind of hard to watch the old episodes again knowing that Jerrick has many accusations of being “handsy” with his female crew and that he became such a hard right winger that Fox News stopped having him on.
Sci-Fi Buzz started off with a mist and smoke filled office where Jerrick would talk directly into the camera and give is the “Buzz News”. Later on the show would pitch new products that were just coming out on VHS or on CD-ROM (sometimes a comic book) as “Buzz Best Bets”. Harlan Ellison would get his segment and it all felt very slick and cool (and very 90’s, my god if you look at the graphics and editing it’s so early 90’s). They even had amazing (and amazingly dated) updates on future tech advances as “The Cutting Edge”.
Sci-Fi Buzz was produced by Dick Crew of Dick Crew Productions and he gave it a very edgy, and yet safe feel which honestly worked quite well. It was a structured show but gave off the tone of an off the cuff style that appealed to the intended audience. That always made it vibe right for me.
I spoke to Dick Crew many years ago about the series and it’s issues in regards to production and I was more or less told Crew loved making the show but he was also very glad when it was over if that is some kind of indication as to the production of the series.
Appearing weekly Sci-Fi Buzz was a always a hit in the ratings (for a channel that only a portion of the cable systems would carry) lasting over 200 episodes (the MST3K guys even stopped by to crash the 200th episode and eat the crew’s cake). This is quite an achievement given that as the internet started to come into its own much of the weekly news was already old news to tech oriented viewers. But then again Sci-Fi Buzz was always quite good about staying in touch with its viewers via the web.
This would be close to the end of Sci-Fi Buzz as we all knew it though, but it would kind of go on. Around this time the very divisive figure of Bonnie Hammer enters the picture. Hammer has a reputation of being “The Woman That Saves Cable Networks,” as she would often come into a struggling channel and turn it around… financially only.
She would get channels back on track (financially) and make them profitable and where the divisive aspect comes in is she often did this by abandoning what the channel once was. She has left a wasteland of channels that bear no resemblance to their fondly remembered original mission statements in her wake. E!, Chiller, Bravo and many more channels have fallen from grace (but increased in profits) under her intervention.
The Sci-Fi Channel was no exception.
Hammer would quickly erode all of the goodwill The Sci-Fi Channel had made in it’s early years once given command. She ditched all of the classic programming the channel once had in search of younger audiences (one person I can’t name told me she specifically wanted to target NON-Sci-Fi fans to the channel as she felt Sci-Fi fans were not a target audience for advertisers). She immediately ditched all of the informational programs on the channel in favor of flashy and empty clones and she would go on to insult the Sci-Fi audience every chance she got (she made it very clear she did not like Science Fiction).
Now that Inside Space and it’s “news” brethren were discarded Hammer sought to revamp Sci-Fi Buzz (it was too highly rated to just kill outright). Mike Jerrick was gone, Harlan Ellison was gone and Dick Crew had his hands tied even more than before with the newly renamed Sci-Fi Entertainment (This was a match to the Sci-Fi Channel magazine, Sci-Fi Entertainment).
Brought in were Chase Masterson (Leeta on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Scott Mantz as hosts. The set was changed from a freewheeling nerd cave into a static and characterless desk and set straight out of Entertainment Tonight (the show this new rebrand was clearly aping).
Masterson and Mantz had zero chemistry with one another and Mantz looked noticeably nervous on camera (this was in fact his first ever job in front of the camera, although he would later go on to be a regular correspondent with Access Hollywood).
Only a few episodes into Sci-Fi Entertainment, Mantz was ditched and Masterson had to carry the show solo, but this was just not working at all.
Only a few dozen episodes into it and Sci-Fi Entertainment was kaput. Fans were able to easily see it for the shilling ad copy reading program it had become.
Hammer did not replace it with anything else as by this point Sci-Fi Channel original programs such as Farscape were starting to make an impact.
I happened to love Sci-Fi Buzz.
I watched it every Sunday (remember kids, the internet as we know it WAS science fiction so getting all of this news was amazing). I loved the Harlan Ellison commentaries, the looks back at the retro movies and series and hearing from other fans of Sci-Fi from all around the world in the call in segment.
Sci-Fi Buzz died and Sci-Fi Entertainment just was not the same.