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Sci-Fi looks to UK producers for reality

The bosses of NBC’s Sci Fi channel are in London this week to meet UK producers.

Sci Fi president Dave Howe and programming chief Mark Stern gave a presentation to UK producers Tuesday and the message was clear – it’s out with aliens, darkness and sci-fi fantasy programming and in with warm, relatable, human, stories.

Sci Fi, Howe explained, wants to get away from old associations with geek-living-at-home-with-mum type viewers and reach a younger, mixed demographic that is interested in imaginative entertainment.

The US channel has a strong slate of scripted programming, but reality, which now makes up almost half of the US channel’s primetime schedule, is on Sci Fi’s shopping list this week.

"We see the UK as being at the forefront of production, particularly at the reality end," Howe told producers assembled in the screening room of London’s Soho Hotel. "We want you to pitch shows that will work in the US and around the world."

Howe and Stern broke out relevant numbers at the London meeting. It will fully fund non-ficiton projects up to $500,000 per hour, but is aiming to sign off on projects that came in at around $300,000. To put it into context, Stern said its current reality hits Ghost Hunters cost $200,000 per hour and Destination Truth $150,000.

Science programming is in, as long as it’s not too heavy on the welding, Stern said. Factual specials work on the channel – two-hour Crystal Skulls was Sci Fi’s best-rated doc ever – and the remit is ‘something that bridges a National Enquirer and journalistic approach’, Stern said.

But, with a network of international channels to service, UK producers will likely have to cede all rights, across all platforms, if they want to work with Sci Fi. Howe said the channel, which is in 14 territories today, will be in 29 by end-2009.

"That [expansion] allows us to buy globally instead of getting it for the US and working out later if it will work around the globe," Howe said. "It’s a real game-changer going forward."

Programme sales of shows that Sci Fi green lights will be handled by the distribution arm of its parent company NBC.