Super Mario meets the Matrix, Sanctuary and a wee bit of ghost hunting: Highlights of Sci Fi Channel’s Digital Press Tour

by Susan Getgood on September 30, 2008

in Science Fiction, Travel, TV/Film

cross-posted to BlogHer

About a  year ago, I wrote a case study on my marketing blog about the Sci Fi Channel’s  first digital press tour. After my interview with the pr rep, I half jokingly said she should be sure to invite me to the next one.

So she did.

Sunday, I got back from the network’s second event for the online media, held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park Colorado.

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Stanley Hotel

If you are a fan of science fiction, emphasis on FICTION, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that the network picked up Sanctuary, a series that started as webisodes. It  stars Amanda Tapping, best known for her role as Samantha Carter in the Stargate franchise. The premiere airs Friday at 9pm on SciFi. More about the show and a Q&A that we had with Tapping in a subsequent post.

The bad news – if you are a fiction fan – is that Sanctuary was the only new fiction show discussed at the event. Everything else was reality, or as I like to say since it is the Sci Fi network, unreality TV.

Now, I am not a big reality tv fan, but the evidence is in: reality shows get the ratings. They are also far cheaper to produce than a fiction show. It’s not in the least surprising that Sci Fi has followed the trend and embraced the format. Especially in a year when the Screen Actors Guild is working without a contract and might strike at any time.

Not my cuppa, but it appears to be everyone else’s.

Returning shows featured included Destination Truth and Scare Tactics. Quite frankly, Scare Tactics just turns me off, but I will admit to being intrigued by Destination Truth. Its host Josh Gates and his mom were seated at my table at dinner on Friday night, and he struck me as a very genuine person. And he brought his mum to the event. How cool is that.

I’m not sure I’ll watch the show, but I’ve decided to tape it for my son. It’s sort of  Indiana Jones for the modern era, and if my son is enamored of any character these days, it’s Indy.

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Josh Gates

On Saturday, and in an exclusive to the digital press, Sci Fi also announced that it had greenlighted a new show called RelicQuest. Effectively another rendition of the Indy metaphor, but with a specific focus on relics, whereas Destination Truth focuses on zoological myths. Bigfoot, the Yeti and so on.

Ghost Hunters, one of Sci Fi’s most successful shows, was also heavily featured at the event, both in the panels during the day and in a special Ghost Hunt tour in the evening. I dunno. It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts; they are as likely to exist as anything else.

I’m just not sure why they’d want to talk to us.

But, the Ghost Hunters put on a good show. Along with the hosts of the show Jason and Grant,  we “spoke” at some length with a ghost who apparently was a married man between 40 and 45 and a guest in the hotel who missed his wife. “He” was with another ghost, but no one thought to ask whether that ghost was a man or woman. I chuckled when, as we were leaving the room, I said “thank you very much” sort of generally, and the lights in the device thingy that we were using to “communicate” with said ghost blinked as if in response.

Is it real? The Ghost Hunters seem to believe in what they do, as did a number of the digital press in attendance. If nothing else, it certainly proves that Sci Fi knows its audience. There are a lot of viewers enjoying Ghost Hunters. They may not be fiction fans, but they certainly tune in, in droves, every week. Would that *my* favorite Sci Fi shows did as well in the ratings.

A brief sidebar. The format of the Ghost Hunters tour was that we moved about the Stanley Hotel in small groups, meeting and chatting with a member of the Ghost Hunters team in various rooms. Around 11:30 pm, during my group’s session with Tango, a young man on the show, he was relating a story of a possible paranormal event experienced by a previous group when we heard loud… very loud… moans.

Didn’t take us long to put together that we were hanging out in a hall in a hotel that hosted three weddings earlier in the day. Here comes the bride indeed.

Back to the matter at hand. In addition to the returning shows, Sci Fi also introduced us to two new game shows that premiere this fall. One, Chase, seems a bit like Super Mario meets the Matrix. The basic premise is that the contestants are on a live-action game board, searching for the clues and devices that will enable them to elude the hunters chasing them and win the cash prizes. You aren’t simply watching Tron, you are Tron.

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A hunter

They set up a little version of the game for some of the attendees to experience the thrill and fear of the hunt. I didn’t volunteer – games are not my thing – but it was fun to see how excited and engaged the producer Rick Telles was in his own game. Assessment: I’ll let Douglas watch it.

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Rick Telles

The other game show, Estate of Panic? Not so appealing. Mark Stern, evp of development for Sci Fi was just back from the filming in Argentina and was quite enthusiastic about the show. I can’t see why, but again, I’m not the target here.

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Mark Stern describing a scene from Estate of Panic

There’s a thin fictional veneer; the house is supposedly owned by a reclusive millionaire, but it’s really a game show. Contestants are put in situations, gross things happen, contestants get eliminated. Last contestant faces numerous challenges to win.

It airs in the fall. If you decide to watch it, and can find something worthwhile, let me know. I’m trying to have an open mind. In the end though, it may be entertaining, but it’s not science fiction, and I’d really like to see a few more science fiction shows get greenlighted.

Which is why I am looking forward to Sanctuary, the lone new science fiction series on the network schedule. More on that in my next post.

Attendees at the Sci Fi digital press event paid their own travel expenses.

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