Will SyFy's Comic Book TV Show Gambit Pay Off?

NBCUniversal's SyFy network recently announced a total of four comic book adaptations that are in the works. Is the network just trying to see what will stick with comic audiences, or is there a plan in place?

May 14, 2014 at 8:48AM

Comics are all the rage in Hollywood. In addition to big-budget comic adaptations from companies like Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros., and Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) dominating the box office, small-screen heroes and comic adaptations are becoming much more common. While the majority of these have been based on properties from Disney's Marvel Comics and Time Warner's DC Comics, the success of "The Walking Dead" reminds us that an adaptation doesn't have to be based on DC or Marvel properties to be popular.

Hoping to take advantage of this, Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) SyFy network has announced plans for comic adaptations of its own. However, unlike other networks such as ABC and the CW, which are using a more organic spin-off model to gradually add more shows, SyFy is jumping right into the fray with four adaptations announced right off the bat.


Clone no. 6
Source: Image Comics

SyFy's comic slate
The first adaptation announced by SyFy is "Pax Romana." The adaptation will be based on a four-issue Image Comics limited series that sees the Vatican sending modern weapons and enhanced soldiers to ancient Rome in an attempt to prevent a world war and secure its future. Things go wrong, of course, because travelling through time to fix the future and bring about your own version of peace seldom goes well.

In addition to "Pax Romana," there were three additional comic adaptations announced: Frank Miller's limited series "Ronin," "Clone" from Robert Kirkman's Skybound imprint, and "Letter 44" from Oni Press. "Ronin" and "Pax Romana" will be broadcast as miniseries events, while "Clone" and "Letter 44" will receive the full series treatment. 

Part of the new trend
SyFy isn't the only network placing bets on comic adaptations. Comcast's NBC network recently unveiled the trailer for "Constantine," based on DC Comics' "Hellblazer" comics, while Twenty-First Century Fox is taking its "Batman" prequel series "Gotham" direct to series. Disney's ABC renewed Marvel Studios' "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" and ordered a first season of the "Agent Carter" limited series.

Meanwhile, Time Warner's The CW network has ordered season three of "Arrow," a first season of "The Flash," and a first season of its adaptation of DC Comics' "iZombie." Comics are hot properties, and these adaptations attempt to cash in on the popularity of big-screen superhero films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 2013's Man of Steel.


Frank Miller's Ronin
Source: DC Comics

Why so many?
The big question is why SyFy is launching so many adaptations now instead of easing into them with only one or two titles. When you stop and think about it, though, that's essentially what it is doing. Since "Pax Romana" and "Ronin" will use a miniseries format, they'll air as one-time events over the course of a few nights and won't have any further impact on the network's viewership. While they may bring in a number of viewers and possibly score decent ratings, it's "Clone" and "Letter 44" that will carry the weight of being longer-term adaptations.

Splitting its adaptations across different genres as well as different series formats allows SyFy to leverage its programming, casting a wide net to draw in viewers. This allows the network to throw multiple comic properties at the audience and see what sticks, potentially fueling either repeat viewership for the two series or eventual DVD/Blu-ray/digital sales for the two miniseries. Being able to use names like "Kirkman" (who will also help produce "Clone") and "Miller" may also help to draw in viewers who are fans of the comic creators' works.

Will it pay off?
When a lot of people think of SyFy, low-budget B-movies like Sharknado come to mind. The network has had a number of successful TV shows and miniseries events, though, including "Battlestar Galactica," "Eureka," and "Dune." Unfortunately, it also finds itself short on major hits with growth potential at the moment. Branching out into comic adaptations might help to change that.

Moreover, this could indicate a shift in the network's programming plans to draw a little closer to its science fiction roots than some of its past programming offerings. All four of the adaptations will deal with science fiction concepts in some way, and this will fit in well with other recent shows such as "Dominion" and "Z-Nation" that the network has ordered.

Of course, there's always the possibility that none of the shows will hit very big.

This is another area where offering two of the adaptations as miniseries events pays off -- if they aren't popular, SyFy won't have to try and find a new property to take the place of the shorter events. While the two other adaptations will have to entice audiences, the source material (a man discovering that he has been cloned and a president informing his successor about a looming alien invasion) offers the potential for at least a solid season of each if not a chance for larger franchises.

Your cable company is scared, but you can get rich
With all the new ways to consume content, you know cable as we know it is going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple. 


John Casteele has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers