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Airlock Alpha’s Top Newsmakers Of 2009

It was the year of change for the genre, as well as the year of the rebirth as we look back


We have been doing our Top Newsmakers lists on Airlock Alpha for years now, but I have to say that this was probably one of the hardest ones we have ever had to do.

It’s not just because there were a lot of great stories to choose from this year. But also because Airlock Alpha, and especially me, ended up breaking the first rule of journalism: Don’t become part of the story.

Unfortunately, we got hauled right into it kicking and screaming, and spent weeks trying to sift out name changes of not only this site, but of the SciFi Channel as well. Although the dust has settled, Top Newsmakers gives us a chance to look back and reflect on the year that was, but how do we do it and handle the news that we were a part of?

Do we ignore it? Do we include it? Do we make it an honorable mention? Do we even try to rank it?

That’s a tough call, because no matter what we do, we’re going to get criticized for it. So I decided to do what any good journalist would do: Separate himself from the story, and treat it like anything else, and see how it played out. If I didn’t own the site, if I didn’t create the SyFy brand that NBC Universal now owns, how would I rank what happen in Top Newsmakers?

Well, let’s not waste anymore time and get to it. But before we start, know that our list starts at No. 5 and works its way to No. 1. There is no science behind this, just a personal review by me of all 973 stories posted on Airlock Alpha in 2009, which included 565 news stories, 200 television and movie reviews, 132 columns from our great writing team, and a new feature of ours, 76 videos.

You’ll likely disagree, but maybe you might agree with some. Either way, share some of your thoughts on what should’ve been on the list (and what should’ve been off the list) by visiting our message boards located at our sister site, Inside Blip. You also can write to me directly at mhinman@airlockalpha.com and share some of your thoughts directly. It’s possible some of those comments could end up in a future AlphaMail column.

You can see last year’s Top Newsmakers column by clicking here (and yes, we changed references to SyFy Portal to Airlock Alpha in our database, so you’ll see a bit of a paradox there).

Finally, here it is. The Top Newsmakers of 2009. And as you can see, we get the troublesome out of the way fairly quickly.

5. Airlock Alpha is born

Yes, please start the letters now. We know they are coming. And I will agree with you.

When we decided to change the name of this site from SyFy Portal to Airlock Alpha after a decade of using our brand name, we would’ve never considered this to be a Top Newsmaker at the end of the year, unless it was the slowest news year ever.

But then again, when we rebranded the site, we never imagined what was going to happen to the SyFy name. Sure, we speculated, but I don’t think a single person on the staff of Quantum Global Media, our parent company, ever imagined.

What’s funny is that we rechristened this site as Airlock Alpha on Feb. 23, and while it caused some observers and even you, our loyal readers, to scratch their heads in wonderment, it didn’t create a firestorm of news until about a month later when NBC Universal announced through the New York Times that it was renaming its SciFi Channel as Syfy.

Amazing how something like that will suddenly get you noticed. It’s crazy.

So because of all that, we cannot ignore the fact that the rebranding of SyFy Portal to Airlock Alpha became news weeks after it happened, even if it was a secondary story to the whole SciFi Channel/Syfy thing. But that’s why it’s at the bottom of the rankings, and not at the top. And how I hope this is the last time I ever have to write about this here.

Related Stories
SyFy Portal becomes Airlock Alpha
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SciFi Channel changes name … to Syfy
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Dave Howe acknowledges SyFy Portal, but not true Syfy origins

4. Joss Whedon

Shouldn’t we just reserve a spot every year for Joss Whedon? He wasn’t necessarily a part of the Top Newsmakers last year, but “Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was. But this guy is everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.

And he remains loyal to fandom, even when that loyalty cost him things like additional “Firefly” big-screen adventures, and sucking it up when it came to “Dollhouse,” despite how Fox was kicking him around.

It shows. When “Dollhouse” was first renewed, fans were elated (nice to note here that Airlock Alpha reported that news first, a month before it was official), but then flabbergasted when Fox announced it would not only let “Dollhouse” remain on Fridays, but it would pair it with sitcoms.

Whedon took it in stride, however. and actually spent more time lamenting the show that went to cancellation land in “Dollhouse’s” place: “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” even saying he wished that show had stayed, even if it cost him his job working on “Dollhouse.” That’s not just classy, that’s ballsy.

Whedon also isn’t afraid to let people know he likes other programming as well. He was a very public fan of “Battlestar Galactica,” and there is some who believe his interest in bringing Jane Espenson to the first season writing team of “Dollhouse” was more than just her amazing scribe talents, but also because she knew how “Battlestar Galactica” was going to end, and might be persuaded to share that with Whedon.

He also stood in line with fans to see an episode of Fox’s “Glee” at San Diego Comic-Con. Here was a guy that has had a number of series with Fox or its production studios, standing five feet away from me in line to see a show that typically carries an unfair perception that its fan base has to be either women or gay. Whedon is neither, and showed that yes, straight guys can like “Glee” too.

And now Whedon is directing an episode of “Glee.” Wow. At the same time, he’s wrapping up “Dollhouse,” turning down a part in reviving the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie franchise, and working on a sequel to his highly popular “Doctor Horrible.”

This was a great year for Joss Whedon, and who knows what 2010 will bring us.

Related Stories
Joss Whedon talks about Buffy, ‘Dollhouse’ (video)
‘Dollhouse’ cancellation rumors debunked for now
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No surprise: Fox cancels ‘Dollhouse’

3. Star Trek lives again

As the world wrote off Star Trek as a franchise of the past, J.J. Abrams proved it could live not only in the present, but into the future. And all it needed was a touch of Star Wars.

Sure, that might be blasphemy in many places, but why not marry some of the concepts that worked for Star Wars — fast moving plotlines, plenty of action, big explosions — and add some of the concepts that has made Star Trek work over the years?

It took someone like Abrams to figure out, and a changing of the guard at Paramount Pictures to believe in his ability to turn Star Trek around, and boy did he.

Not only did it become the highest grossing Star Trek movie of all time in terms of ticket sales, but it also became the highest grossing Star Trek movie of all time when adjusted for inflation, which is a pretty big thing.

“Star Trek” will finish No. 6 in the top movies of the year, that is as long as “Avatar” doesn’t continue packing them in at the theaters for the final week of the year (and then, it would move to No. 7). And there’s even talk that an expanded Best Picture list at the Oscars could very well include Star Trek.

Even better, Paramount is excited as hell about a sequel, which Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have returned to work on.

Finally, in something that probably never happened to a Star Trek film before — it was one of the best reviewed movies of the year. Good box office doesn’t usually get the attention of the Academy, good reviews do. The sad part is, “Star Trek” is science-fiction, and unless it’s Lord of the Rings, the Academy seems to overlook the genre.

But excitement has returned to the franchise thanks to this reboot, and now we can hope for many more years of adventures on board the USS Enterprise.

I think the Great Bird of the Galaxy would be proud.

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Leonard Nimoy says Vulcan needs to get emotional about ‘Star Trek’
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‘Star Trek’ becomes highest-grossing franchise film

2. Changing of the guard at ‘Doctor Who’

Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner both worked hard to bring “Doctor Who” back not only to fans and the BBC, but to its rightful role as a British icon, and an international sensation.

But they both made a tough decision in 2008 to leave the show, and star David Tennant decided to follow them, leaving the franchise and its future in the hands of fan-favorite writer Steven Moffat and his rather unknown new star, Matt Smith.

How will the transition be received by fans? It’s hard to tell. We can’t forget that “Doctor Who” fans, even those of the modern series, are used to change. Whether it be new companions, new stories, and even new Doctors (can we forget the first-season change from Christopher Eccleston to Tennant?)

However, there seems to be a huge push to take “Doctor Who” back to its roots. And that could be good — or it could be bad. Times have changed since “Doctor Who” was cancelled the first time, and while there’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, shows have to grow with their audiences, which is exactly what the modern version of the show did.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before (see: Catherine Tate), and I can be wrong again. Either way, I know I’ll be watching the new adventures of the new Doctor, until I’m given a reason not to.

Related Stories
Speculation grows over new Doctor
Matt Smith is new Doctor
New Doctor earning minimum wage

1. Syfy

That’s all it takes. One word.

Years from now, the short-lived backlash against the name, the battle between myself and NBC Universal on who created the name (and how they probably should’ve paid more of a fair value for the name), and a lot of this other garbage will be long forgotten.

And I hope so.

Since the transition to the new name, the former SciFi Channel has had a huge year. “Warehouse 13” became the cable channel’s most-watched series ever. “Battlestar Galactica” had an amazing ending. “Stargate: Universe” and “Sanctuary” attracted large audiences. And there’s more to come in 2010 with shows like the “Battlestar Galactica” spinoff “Caprica” and more.

Whether you agree with the name change or not, from a business standpoint, the rebranding makes perfect sense. Now NBC Universal (and whoever owns it in 2010) can trademark a name, and create instant brand recognition.

Of course, NBCU will continue to tell you that they stumbled across their own independent creation of the name and pretending like they hadn’t worked with SyFy Portal for years. But we all know the real truth. The name was created and first made public on Aug. 13, 1998, by this very site, and we used SyFy as a branding mechanism much like the new Syfy is doing now.

I know, because it was horribly difficult renaming things like SyFriday, SyFy 6, SyFy 101, SyFy Radio, SyPod, The SyUniverse Group, and so many other properties that we used to brand the name, that created instant recognition for projects we were doing.

I couldn’t be more proud — and I truly mean this — of what NBCU has done with the name. Dave Howe, Mark Stern, and all the great people at that cable channel have built a brand that is second-to-none.

And it means a lot to me that I actually had something to do with it all by contributing the name in the first place (at a bargain).

Yep, it made it hard to do our Top Newsmakers this year because of our connection to all this. But in the end, it’s worth it, and the future for Syfy looks bright indeed.

Related Stories
Syfy readies launch, goes proactive on criticism
‘Warehouse 13’ most watched Syfy show in channel’s history

Finally, there were stories that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve a mention. They include:

The death of Ricardo Montalban from ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’
Lawsuit over ‘Watchmen’ settled
Heath Ledger wins Oscar for ‘The Dark Knight’
Siegel estate battles for control of Superman franchise
Disney buys Marvel
Terminator producers file for bankruptcy
Bryan Singer makes second attempt to continue ‘Battlestar Galactica’
Settlement clears way for ‘The Hobbit’ to be made
Comcast buys NBC Universal

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