In Brand Reboot, Syfy Doubles Its Scripted Series and Broadens Scope to Include Superhero Programming

Superman prequel could bring in new audiences and advertisers

Krypton, which will center on Superman's grandfather, will debut on Syfy early next year. Aleksander Letic/Syfy
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NBCUniversal is giving Syfy a brand refresh ahead of this year’s upfront, expanding its news division and the channel’s genre scope to include superhero and comic book-themed programming.

The network—which celebrates its 25th anniversary this fall—will be doubling its original scripted content, and picked up a pair of new series, including a Superman prequel called Krypton, which will debut on the network early next year. NBCUniversal will spotlight Syfy’s new direction during Monday’s upfront presentation.

With Marvel and Star Wars films dominating the box office, “genre content is more popular than ever,” said Chris McCumber, president, entertainment networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “There’s a massive audience out there for this, which really presents a growth opportunity for Syfy.” Now the network will celebrate all things genre—from Harry Potter to Game of Thrones—across its platforms.

These days, “owning the genre is much more than just simply making great science fiction shows,” said McCumber, who added Syfy oversight in February 2016. Previously, Syfy “would spend the bulk of its time just talking about its own programming. That’s great, and we’re still going to do that, but we want to talk about the entire genre.”

"We’re always looking to bring in iconic IP, and I can’t think of bigger iconic IP than the origin story of Superman’s planet and his grandfather."
Chris McCumber, president, entertainment networks, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment

At the same time, the network is doubling its investment in scripted programming, across four categories: core sci-fi and space programming (like The Expanse), fantasy (The Magicians brought a younger, more female audience to the network, and grew its ratings in Season 2), paranormal and supernatural (like Channel Zero), and in a new addition, superhero and comics.

While other networks like A&E and WGN America have recently announced that they were throwing in the towel on scripted series, “we believe the only way to move forward is to make the investments in more programming,” says McCumber. “It started with The Expanse and The Magicians. Both of those shows were able to bring in new audiences to Syfy. We know our bread and butter is doing these high-end scripted originals, which is why we’re going to continue to roll them out. That’s what the fans want, and we need to be servicing those fans.”

Its biggest swing will be Krypton, which is set two generations before Superman’s home planet was destroyed, and follows his grandfather as he tries to bring honor back to his family’s House of El.

“We’re always looking to bring in iconic IP, and I can’t think of bigger iconic IP than the origin story of Superman’s planet and his grandfather,” said McCumber of the show, which will debut early next year. “There’s such a big, massive fanbase around that.”

With superhero franchises more popular than ever in film and TV, Krypton “is an important one for us,” said Mark Marshall, evp of entertainment group advertising sales for NBCUniversal. While some people might not like movies and TV shows set in space, “everyone loves superheroes.”

Syfy also picked up Happy!, which is based on a graphic novel about a corrupt former cop turned hitman (Christopher Meloni) who encounters an imaginary, blue-winged horse named Happy, voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan.

The nework’s reboot, which rolls out on June 19 (and globally later in the year) will include a new logo and typeface, but is much more than just surface level. “This is a wholesale change, top to bottom,” says Alexandra Shapiro, evp, marketing and digital, entertainment networks, for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment.

The network will expand its news division, Syfy Wire, as part of “an editorial-first approach,” said Shapiro, that will amplify its genre voice across all platforms, with breaking genre news, analysis and other original content covering TV, film, books, comics, gaming and technology. In addition to digital and social platforms, that content will pop up in interstitials and lower thirds on linear programming, and Syfy is developing a news program.

The network will expand its coverage at various conventions and festivals throughout the year, and will again broadcast live over three nights at Comic-Con, which “is our Super Bowl,” said Shapiro.

McCumber will pair that new programming with an expanded movie acquisitions slate, which includes the Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and 14 Marvel movies.

The nework’s reboot, which rolls out on June 19, will include a new logo and typeface, but is much more than just surface level.

The reboot opens up new opportunities for advertisers headed into the upfront. “Think of all the brands that have gotten involved at Comic-Con because of that passionate fanbase that they have. The great part is, we’re taking that weekend of Comic-Con and building it out into a 365[-day] event around it,” said Marshall, who anticipates that the network will appeal more to computer and technology-based brands.

This will also enable new content with NBCUniversal partners like BuzzFeed and in particular Vox Media, which is home to the science and technology-themed site The Verge. “If you think of The Verge along with Syfy Wire, you see some areas. We’ve done some things with Mr. Robot along the way, so I think you’ll see more with that on the Syfy side,” said Marshall.

McCumber will be utilizing both of his networks, USA and Syfy, to team up with Blumhouse Television and Universal Television to develop a TV series based on the Purge film franchise. “We want to bring this out in a different way, and utilize the platforms of USA and Syfy together to get the biggest audience possible,” said McCumber.

Syfy is also developing Nightflyers, a supernatural thriller based on the novella from Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin. “Think The Shining in space,” said McCumber.

Going forward, McCumber said Syfy also may launch an awards show celebrating all things science-fiction. “We think the opportunity here is, we have both the linear and digital platforms in order to capture this audience in ways that others can’t,” he said.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.