Craig Engler has been in the business long enough to remember when not just science fiction but the whole Internet was considered nerd property, where tech-savvy guys argued about who was better, Captain Picard or Captain Kirk.
When Engler, who serves as svp and general manager of Syfy Digital, formally joined the NBCUniversal property in 1999 (he’d freelanced there since the early ’90s), it was still known as the Sci-Fi Channel and its signature program was the beloved comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
A lot besides the overhaul of a cable brand has come to pass since then, including a prestigious Hugo Award for Engler’s baby, an e-anthology of sci-fi stories he edited with writer Brooks Peck (about the Hugo trophy, Engler grouses, “It falls apart”), and technological developments that make sci-fi content from just a few years ago look dated. There’s also been a shift in the geekosphere to accommodate a wider variety of fan life, and Syfy has approached near parity between men and women viewers.
A serious, trim guy with a neatly manicured beard and an insanely organized office at 30 Rock, Engler is something of a rebuke of the geek stereotype. He has a treadmill where a desk chair ought to be, having slimmed down and having written a book about the experience (“Sitting for hours on end is horrible, horrible, horrible for your body,” he says). And while perfectly tidy, the shelves on his wall boast an assortment of some of the oddest fan gear any Syfy viewer could hope for.
Besides his Hugo, there’s a stuffed “Sharktopus” (the villain of the network’s original movie of the same name) and props from the two movies Engler has written for Syfy, Rage of the Yeti and Zombie Apocalypse. “Only watch Rage of the Yeti when you’re drunk, because it’s one of the worst movies we’ve ever produced,” he cracks.
For all the emphasis on writing in Syfy series like Alphas and Battlestar Galactica, the channel is terribly proud of its ridiculous movies. After all, Syfy made its bones in the ’90s by picking up show-without-a-network MST3K, so perhaps Engler and his colleagues feel they have standards to live down to. Whatever the reason, flicks like Engler’s are oddly popular, particularly among young men who may or may not be inebriated or stoned.
In his post, Engler serves at least partly as brand ambassador in chief. He holds court on Twitter amid the clamoring throngs who want to know why Eureka was canceled, why Syfy keeps renewing Ghost Hunters and whether there are zombies in the network’s future. It’s a key role for a channel that gets a major boost when its evangelistic base takes to chattering about its programs. (Taking a cue from corporate sibling Bravo, Syfy branded its audience “igniters” this past upfront season, reasoning that those early adopters are a more desirable demo because of their propensity to really dig things and then turn other people onto them.)
Thus, Engler has to manage some of those young men—and the network still skews slightly male, even though Being Human attracts mostly women—who come to him demanding answers. His Twitter feed is essentially a running FAQ, shooting down an errant theory about a dropped show here, explaining the math behind TV ratings there. Engler has some 133,000 followers on the network’s official feed, more than TNT or Syfy’s big-sister net USA.