America’s Got Cable, Round 2: Syfy vs. Comedy Central

We’re back! After a FEROCIOUS Round 1 which saw many mighty giants fall and several young upstarts get their due, we now embark on Round 2, which promises even more basic-cable brutality.

To kick things off, this week sees a face-off between two absolute titans of basic cable. But only ONE will walk away from the conflict alive. Who lives or dies is up to YOU. Choose wisely!

Background: Few people can deny Syfy’s bona fides. The original Sci-Fi Channel arrived in USA Networks’ lineup back in 1992, boasting such sci-fi luminaries as Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov on its advisory board. Intended as mainly an outlet to air classic sci-fi properties like Star Trek as well as Universal Studios’ back catalog of classic horror films, the Sci-Fi Channel flew under the radar until it was acquired by GE’s NBC Universal unit in 2004, and most notoriously, rebranded as Syfy in 2009. Although the name change was mostly due to trademarking and SEO purposes, few will deny that Syfy has also shifted its emphasis away from hard sci-fi and more toward mass-appeal fantasy and reality programming.

Original Programming: Like most cable channels, Syfy began as an outlet for properties already owned by its parent companies, but really came into its own once it began producing original content. Steven Spielberg’s Taken and the modern reboot of Battlestar Galactica put the network on the map, and shows like Stargate Universe, Eureka, Warehouse 13, Alphas, Haven, Sanctuary, Being Human, and this weekend’s Neverland miniseries have helped Syfy become one of the most-watched cable networks. Add to that the still-solid WWE SmackDown and Syfy’s notoriously crappy-yet-addictive Original Movies, and Syfy has truly defined itself as a singular cable channel.

Reruns: The most prominent rerun on the Syfy schedule is probably the classic Twilight Zone series, but it also devotes much of its schedule to movies both theatrically released and produced in-house.

Why It’s The Best: More than almost any other cable channel, Syfy is almost always airing something to pacify even the most restless channel surfer.

Why It’s The Worst: At some point you want something, you know, high quality.

Background: Comedy Central’s birth name was The Comedy Channel, but it was rechristened after it merged with its nemesis, rival comedy channel HA!, in 1991. The initial programming was extremely low-budget, mostly consisting of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and other late-night movies. Later it splurged on reruns of SNL while forging hits out of Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and a Craig Kilborn-led The Daily Show. After finding moderate success with original series like Dr. Katz Professional Therapist and Exit 57, Comedy Central finally struck gold with South Park, Chappelle’s Show and its current must-watch daily broadcast The Colbert Report.

Original Programming: In addition to the one-two punch of Stewart and Colbert, Comedy Central continues to make a fortune from South Park (now renewed through Season 20!), in addition to creating new series like Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, Workaholics, and juggernaut Tosh.0. Its decision to produce new episodes of Futurama have bolstered its critical acclaim, and a renewed dedication to producing quality standup specials (by Donald Glover and Michael Ian Black, for example) serve as reminders that Comedy Central remains loyal to its original purpose.

Reruns: Comedy Central tends to rerun its own regular lineup, in addition to regularly airing standalone comedy specials and movies.

Why It’s the Best: Except for a grim period involving Carlos Mencia, most of Comedy Central’s best-rated programs are genuinely great. South Park is still strong after all these years, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert continue to be culturally relevant, and Workaholics remains entirely underrated. Meanwhile Tosh.0 has really come into its own, and the network continues to take chances on some of the weirdest sketch comedy this side of Adult Swim.

Why It’s the Worst: When Comedy Central misses, it misses HARD. Remember Krod Mandoon? Or The Jeff Dunham Show? Plus, its schizophrenic nature means left-leaning shows like The Daily Show air alongside things like Blue Collar Comedy, which means that 50 percent of its target audience is annoyed at any given time. Even worse, occasionally Comedy Central stumbles onto something wonderfully weird like Strangers With Candy or TV Funhouse and then unceremoniously dumps it when it doesn’t get South Park-level ratings. Very frustrating!

Official Verdict
While I enjoy escapism as much as the next guy, the comedy nerd in me wins out. Comedy Central gets my vote.

But now it’s your turn! COMMENT BELOW and tell us your verdict: Syfy or Comedy Central? And make your case! What do you love or hate about each channel?

Click below to see the full tournament bracket:

Note: Because we started with an odd number of channels, we gave some of the bigger channels a first-round bye.

Want to catch up on past battles? Head over to the America’s Got Cable archives.

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