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Syfy Upfront: Ignite This!

by Ethan Alter April 25, 2012 2:33 pm
Syfy Upfront: Ignite This!

Are you the kind of person who likes to put your wildest imaginings into practice? Do you not just want to watch TV, but interact with it? If so, you might just be an igniter and therefore precisely the kind of person that the Syfy network wants amongst its audience. "Igniter" was the buzzword at Syfy's upfront presentation, which unfolded Tuesday night at New York's famed American Museum of Natural History, where the famous Hall of Ocean Life (you know, the one with that giant whale suspended from the ceiling) was bathed in the network's signature purple while DJ Spooky spun records and guests feasted on dishes created by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. But the evening wasn't all fun and food -- Syfy also revealed its plans for the 2012-2013 season and those plans include a lot more reality, a lot fewer scripted series and a whole lot of igniter-driven interactivity between viewer and show.

But first, let's begin with some notable omissions. Conspicuously not mentioned during Syfy President David Howe's roughly hour-long presentation was the fate of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, the prequel movie that was downgraded from a backdoor pilot to a web-only series and now may never be shown at all. Also not discussed was the next step for the successful Ghost Hunters franchise now that founding investigator Grant Wilson has exited the show. And even though it just kicked off its fifth and final season, Eureka wasn't mentioned at all; obviously, this upfront was about the future rather than the past, but you'd think they would have at least given the series a shout-out or a proverbial gold watch to thank it for its years of faithful service. (Also not discussed was the Charlaine Harris mystery series that the network just acquired, which means that show -- if it even happens -- may not be part of the slate until 2013-2014 or beyond.)

If Eureka and Ghost Hunters got the short shrift, Howe made sure to mention that other popular programs like Warehouse 13, Being Human and Alphas were all coming back for new seasons, as well as the competitive reality series, Face Off. And then it was time to preview Syfy's new wares, starting with scripted series... of which there were just two. (Insert the deep sigh of frustrated sci-fi fans here.) Those shows are:

Defiance
This is the Big Kahuna amongst Syfy's 2012-2013 slate and not just because it takes place against an epic backdrop of a post-alien invasion Earth. The premise fast-forwards time to 35 years in the future, when an alien race crash lands amongst us and the introduction of all the plants and animals aboard their ship into our ecosystem re-terraforms this planet. Ah, but this isn't just a V-meets-Falling Skies TV drama! It's also a massively multiplayer online game. That's right, each week viewers can watch the adventures of humans and aliens learning to live alongside each other in a new incarnation of St. Louis and then log onto their computers to play an MMORPG (developed by Trion Worlds) taking place in the same universe, but a different city (San Francisco). And before you ask, yes, the events of the series will influence the direction of the game and vice versa.

It's a big, complicated idea, so big and complicated that the network didn't have any actual footage of the series (which will premiere in 2013) to show us -- just a quick promotional reel (followed by an even shorter trailer) with early glimpses of some of the digitally created landscapes and only brief hints at what potential storylines and characters might be. So, at the party following the presentation, we caught up with one of the show's stars, Jaime Murray (the British beauty who starred in Hustle and just had an arc on Ringer), to give us some more details. "I play a member of an alien race," she revealed. "I come from a very powerful family and out of the all the aliens, we're really the most like humans and the most highly evolved, but we still have very strong cultural differences about us, which cause a lot of drama. It's funny, one of the things that drew me to the script was its humanity. There's a humanity that underlies it all that I think everyone will be able to relate to. She's a woman who loves her son and loves her husband, but maybe she has kind of a different moral standard that help her get what she needs." Okay, then. And since what happens in the game may influence the direction of her character, does Murray intend to log on and play herself? "I definitely will, absolutely! I mean, my last gaming experience was Sonic the Hedgehog, but I'm willing to move with the times." We dunno... Defiance sounds interesting and all, but if given the choice between this game and a stone-cold classic like Sonic, we may stick with the hedgehog. Where's our Sega Genesis at, anyway?

Rewind
Syfy's other new scripted series is still in the pre-pilot stage, so there was no footage -- or even a cast list -- to unveil. We did get a log-line though: "an action thriller that tests the boundaries of our imagination and poses the simple question: What if we could go back in time and change the future?" "We" in this case refers to a team consisting of military operatives and civilian scientists who discover technology that allows them to travel back in time in order to prevent terrible disasters from occurring. In other words, it's Tru Calling 2.0 with a healthy dose of Stargate: SG-1 thrown in. Someone get Eliza Dushku on the phone -- she'd look great in military fatigues.

With the scripted stuff out of the way, Howe moved on to the meat-and-potatoes of Syfy's upcoming slate -- reality, reality and more reality.

The Genie
Basically a televised version of the Make-a-Wish Foundation with a sci-fi (or, if you must, Syfy) twist, The Genie finds Steve Sims, owner of the "extreme concierge company" (their words, not ours) Blue Fish, making seemingly impossible dreams reality. Among the examples of "extreme dreams" we were shown included eager dreamers getting a taste of space flight and paying a visit to the New Zealand set of The Hobbit to live like one of those furry-footed creatures. That's all well and good, but what if our wish involves mansions made of chocolate or our very own lightsaber? What's this self-professed "Genie" gonna to do about that, huh?!

Viral Video Showdown
The fact that Howe introduced this show by saying it was from the producers of Jersey Shore should have been our first warning. A competitive version of Tosh.0, Viral Video Showdown pits competing teams of aspiring filmmakers against each other in the quest to make the next big viral video. The trailer indicated that these teams would be getting assistance in the form of special effects and even the odd celebrity cameo or two (actor/director Jon Favreau seems to be in the mix as either a mentor or performer for one episode at least). But seriously, dudes -- the best way to create a hit viral video is to point your iPhone at a cat and wait until it does something cute and/or funny.

Stranded
In what sounds like a lawsuit just waiting to happen, this weekly series finds a group of "unsuspecting volunteers" getting stranded in a spooky locale and... they have to find their way out? Or fight each other? Or dance the hora while swinging a rubber chicken over their heads? We're honestly not sure and the promo reel didn't feature any additional information or, in fact, any footage from the show at all... probably because they couldn't get any volunteers who were "unsuspecting" enough to willingly participate in shooting a pilot. We ain't holding our breath about the quality of this one.

Awesome Foundation
Syfy's so-called "Mister Charisma" Josh Gates hosts a show that sounds striking similar to The Genie with a tinge of Shark Tank. This time, three teams of ambitious dreamers come to Gates' Awesome Foundation and receive a stipend to fund their awesome fantasies. But only one of these dreams will be immortalized in the foundation's Hall of Awesome. Here's an awesome idea: come up with a less cringe-inducing title than Awesome Foundation.

Exit
Last and certainly least is this sketchy-sounding quiz show, in which contestants face a series of mental and physical challenges that test the limits of their endurance. You mean... they're forced to watch back-to-back episodes of Viral Video Showdown and Stranded?! That's just cruel and unusual punishment. Come back, Scare Tactics! All is (almost) forgiven.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!

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