Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sci-Fi Series Gone Too Soon

Why doesn't more good sci-fi survive on TV?
TV networks suck at managing science fiction shows. There is a reason. They keep hiring "professional" television writers to write SF shows for one thing. They need to hire good sci-fi writers, otherwise the product winds up looking like "CSI Goes to Space" or "The Goldmans on the Moon".  That said, there were some really good attempts at solid, magic free science fiction in the past 10 or 20 years. Some succeeded, but a surprising number of really good efforts failed miserably or succeeded right up until they were canceled by a surprisingly thick-headed gang of network execs.

1. Firefly - 'nuff said.
2. Journeyman - I liked the direction that "Journeyman" was going with a poor guy inadvertently traveling in time and trying to figure out what in the world was going on.
3. Crusoe with Sean Bean in the title role wasn't science fiction, but captured some of the "stranger in a strange land" flavor of really good SF.
4. Terra Nova - I was just getting into the dinosaurs and time travel series and boom!  Canceled.
5. Flash Forward - by this time I should have smelled a rat, but nope. Turned on the TV one night and it was gone right in the middle of the story.
6. Invasion - Really should have seen the end coming with that one.
7. Defying Gravity was pretty interesting. So, of course - poof and gone!
8. New Amsterdam - about an immortal New Yorker was fascinating and the kinda sorta got to end it, but it ended way too soon.
9. Forever, which explored a similar theme of an immortal in New York was even more interesting and I've loved Ioan Gruffud ever since Hornblower. Either Forever or New Amsterdam was better than "Highlander" which got two movies and a series more than it deserved.
10. Jericho, the post-apocalyptic series set in a small Midwest town, died far too soon too despite a fan revolt. Part of the campaign was to deliver massive quantities of nuts to the CBS studios - an homage to the line Gerald McRaney delivered, borrowing from General Macauliffe at Bastogne. The fans made a mistake having nuts delivered to CBS in protest. They should have brought slingshots and pelted the execs when they tried to get to their cars in the evening.

Network television doesn't do great stories anymore - at least not with any consistency, though sometimes they do accidentally. Grimm was a good show in a bad time spot and now it's gone too soon. This year saw the end of more than one series I liked in favor of some "Twerking with the Stars" or "Let's Make You a Star", or "Lie, Cheat and Betray Your Way to Big Money" kind of unreality show. Cheap to produce and appeal heavily to the sub 100 IQ crowd. 

The problem with intelligent sci-fi is that it only appeals to about 20% or less of the TV watching demographic - those who possess an IQ somewhat better than even money. They are expensive to produce and until the arrival of the cheap-but-great special effects George Lucas and Steven Spielberg promised us would come our way soon, they'll likely not rise much above the Star Trek level if that far. They even canceled the very interesting "Enterprise" after a relatively short run. There were complaints that it was too cerebral for Trekkies.

I don't expect any long run sci-fi to make it on TV, even on the Sci-fi channel, which used to do some really great shows. I was a Stargate-SG1 junkie for better than a decade, what with reruns and all. The later iterations took themselves far too seriously though, lost the irreverent tone that the Deluise brothers and Richard Dean Anderson brought to the original and each post SG-1 outing had a progressively shorter run. 

If I were Bill Gates kind of rich, I'd create a network and buy up all those canceled shows and run new seasons of them along with the old
. Firefly would be my first purchase, of course. There would be no wrestling or reality shows.  Just great stories. The one new series I'd do right away would be the Poul Anderson stories of space robber baron Nicholas Van Rinj - trader to the stars. What a terrific character and what a dense pile of rich stories to work from.

In the meantime, I haven't read nearly enough books yet, which is where TV should be mining for stories. Every time a "professional" television writer tries to write science fiction, somewhere a puppy dies.

© 2017 by Tom King

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