David Manning Trivial Liars of the Month for July 2004
When you call yourself the Sci Fi Channel, and your typical viewer studies day and night to gain fluency in elementary Klingon, you may not value your credibility as much as, say, the Bush administration. Still, credibility, even credibility regarding the bizarre and often silly topics that occupy this cable TV staple, should not be discarded lightly. But even more important is this seemingly simple and obvious principle of both ethics and survival: don’t lie to your customers.
This is what the Sci Fi Channel did by broadcasting what it claimed was a documentary about “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” director M Night Shyamalan. The three hour program, “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan”, contained all sorts of creepy background on the director, who, it said, “saw dead people,” just like Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense.” Now it turns out that the film was nothing but a long commercial for Shyamalan’s latest opus, which is being released soon. Some viewers, as well as the media, are angry about being fooled ( “Orrgggh kaght! Vrrtyt-uhhgr!,” said one viewer, indignantly), but the Sci-Fi guys don’t get it. “We did this type of thing before and our viewers expect this from time to time,” said spokesperson Jean Guerin. “We were looking to play along with our brand and it’s something we worked on with Night.”
Ok. If the Sci Fi Channel really wants to make it known that anything it says is likely to be a lie, that’s good information to have. But this wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, or a joke at all. The intentional fooling of the Sci Fi Channel audience wasn’t done for its entertainment value or amusement. It was done to gull viewers into watching an ad that they normally might have passed up for the latest Weather Channel special. The Sci Fi channel was paid to fool its viewers, for the benefit of a movie studio. It was paid to lie.
Yeah, it sounds pretty dumb to say, “I’m never trusting the Sci Fi Channel again.” But here’s something that Sci Fi Channel viewers can say to discourage future scams that waste valuable Vulcan study time: “I’m not going to spend a dime to see M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Village’ ever.”