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What on Earth? It's Sci Fi

Sci Fi Channel wants to quit being so alien. "We're trying to make the channel relatable, Earth-based with a twist of Sci Fi, whether it's scripted drama or alternative reality," President Bonnie Hammer said at an upfront presentation in New York last week.

Hammer said she wants to move "solidly into the top 10 as a fully branded niche network."

Leading the charge are two off-net acquisitions. Sci Fi and TNT are sharing the cable rights for The X-Files, in its ninth and final season on Fox, beginning in October. Sci Fi will pony up about $325,000 per episode, while TNT will pay $225,000. Sci Fi landed prime time rights, accounting for the higher license fee. The X-Files
had been on FX for five years.

Sci Fi also is close to a deal for UPN's Roswell, paying $125,000 per episode for all three seasons beginning next January.

The off-nets will complement an ambitious slate of fantasy-themed originals. Sci Fi's blockbuster will be Steven Spielberg's $40 million miniseries Taken. The 20-hour project will air on 10 nights in early December.

New original series include an animated show, Tripping the Rift, and Rekindled, an extension of recent miniseries Firestarter: Rekindled, which earned a 2.2 rating. Miniseries include Battlestar Galactica
and Myst, based on a popular CD-ROM game.

Building on hit Crossing Over With John Edward, Sci Fi unveiled three shows Hammer bills as "alternative reality." On daily strip Dream Team With Annabelle and Michael, humorous and sexy dreams are analyzed before a studio audience. Scare Tactic
mixes elements of Candid Camera
with supernatural twists. TheBelzer Connection, hosted by Richard Belzer, will poll celebrities and experts on conspiracy theories.

Elsewhere in the cable upfront market:

  • While red-hot sit-com spoof The Osbournes
    continues to build its audience, MTV is moving ahead with six new original series. The latest reality twist will be Sorority Life (June 24), a behind-the-scenes look at pledging. Celeb series Virgin Chronicles(April 20) will survey stars on their special "firsts." MTV News series Movie House (May 21) previews Hollywood releases. Taildaters (April 6), I Bet You Will (June 10) and Becoming Presents Wannabes (June 10) round out the slate.
  • Oxygen celebrated its second birthday last Thursday with a bash in New York after recently weathering frustrated comments from investor Oprah Winfrey and another round of layoffs. In the April 1 issue of Fortune, Winfrey said she "gave herself away too readily" when she licensed the show library to the women's net. "I would rather have put $100 million into Oxygen and kept my shows than put in $20 million and given them away," she said. Winfrey has creative control to package and select most episodes.
    An Oxygen spokeswoman responded, "Three thousand hours of her heart and soul took a lot more of time and manpower than she had originally anticipated."
    Also, Oxygen bounced 20 staffers from its sports unit last month in cutting back on sports programming.