Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sci-Fi TV Fails...Again

Well, the 2005-2006 TV season's great experiment with science fiction drama is officially over; widely deemed a failure. In the wake of Lost's dazzling first season, as you'll recall, Threshold (CBS), Surface (NBC) and Invasion (ABC) all arrived on schedules last fall.

Brannon Braga's Threshold fell first (and rightly so -- it was one of the most wretched things to air on TV in some time) - after just six episodes. But there was hope for both the highly-entertaining Surface and Invasion. Both lasted full seasons and featured some dramatic story-telling. The latter series - Invasion - I believe actually eclipsed Lost in quality of storytelling by the end of the season.

I'm sad to report that Surface is dead in the water, and Invasion is also axed. All three "invasion" shows have now fallen, and so the new network schedules are shying away from any venture remotely resembling science fiction. Game shows like Deal or No Deal are obviously cheaper to produce. I've learned not to be too upset, however, about such losses. These things go in cycles, and I know that somewhere - waiting in the wings - there's a new Joss Whedon or Chris Carter or J.J. Abrams waiting to thrill audiences with a bold and daring vision.

At least some science fiction fans can satisfy themselves with the fact that niche shows like Battlestar Galactica (yawn!) and the various Stargates (double yawn!) shall return to the schedule next season. It is ironic, however...neither effort reels in the rating numbers that Invasion or Surface did on a regular basis. So I suppose life and death all depends on where a show gets aired. Numbers that pass muster on a smaller network just don't make it in the big leagues.

Personally, I'm enjoying the new Doctor Who more than either of those other Sci-Fi Channel franchises, and hope Sci-Fi will continue to air it for years to come. I think Billie Piper is amazing as Rose, and after watching just a handful of episodes, I feel she's truly become one of the Time Lord's most well-rounded and fascinating companions.

Yet the happiest news, as least far as I'm concerned, is that the very best show airing on television (although, alas, not genre...), has been renewed for a twenty-two episode commitment. Yep, I'm talking Veronica Mars. I know that some genre enthusiasts have a block against the show because they consider it a "teen" show or somehow the unholy offspring of the late, lamented Buffy the Vampire Slayer but it's really an entirely different animal than either of those misconceptions indicates.

Veronica Mars is actually a modern film-noir, one which wickedly updates the private detective genre to include the latest popular technologies, including wi-fi, cell phones, etc. It's also about class warfare (a fascinating topic given the divide today between the rich and the middle class), and the show is ably bolstered by one of TV's legitimately great performances; the winsome Bell in the title role. So I'm very enthusiastic the series is back (and the season two DVD is now up for pre-order at

I'm also happy to report that Lost, 24, Medium and Prison Break are all returning too. Each is entertaining in its own way (if only as a sustained adrenaline rush, in the case of 24 and Prison Break). But - yuck - Ghost Whisperer is also back. So Ghost Whisperer survives, and Invasion doesn't...just get your head around THAT one.

Regarding Lost, a cause celebre, I felt that it faltered badly in the last half of its second season, and because of creative stagnation may not last beyond the next season or two. Which means...the producers should cut out the flashbacks and get down to the business of telling the story of the island. Creatively, the series is essentially back to Square One with the deaths of the two most interesting new characters, so this whole sophomore sortie is something of a wash.

Also - and sadly - we also now move into a second year of "post-Star Trek" televised sci-fi, meaning no Klingons, Romulans or Vulcans on the tube (except in reruns). I miss Star Trek desperately, but this respite is good for one and only one reason: it gives the franchise the opportunity to ditch Rick Berman, Ron Moore and Brannon Braga, the three men who - more than anyone else - ran the franchise not just into the ground, but six feet under. J.J. Abrams is involved with Star Trek now (most likely for a movie...) and love him or hate him (and love Lost and Alias or hate it), he provides exactly what Star Trek needs: fresh blood. Hopefully, the starship Enterprise will eventually return to small screens, looking more gorgeous than ever. It does sadden me, however, that with the fortieth anniversary of the franchise coming in just a few short months, there's no new movie or TV show to celebrate it. I can't believe Paramount is so stupid to let that opportunity pass...


  1. Anonymous10:06 AM

    John, you can't say that the networks are completely avoiding SF shows next year, merely cutting back and heading in a different direction. Instead of mysterious alien shows, they're moving toward super-hero programs. CW will debut their Aquaman series (apparently going to be called "Mercy Reef," and NBC will have a show called "Heroes," about people who gain super-powers. I guess the networks are finally looking at the current longest-running network genre series (Smallville) and trying to imitate its success. I thought I also saw something in yesterday's paper about CBS having a new genre show for next year, but I can't seem to find anything online about it.
    Welcome back to regular blogging. It's good to see your daily comments again.

  2. Hey Howard!

    Good points there, my friend. I hadn't seen anything definitive about "Mercy Reef" yet (but it's a terrible title. And not to be confused with UPN's "Mercy Point" - anyone remember THAT one?) but I just plain forget about "Heroes."

    Thanks for the welcome back, Howard! It's always good to have your comments here.

  3. Anonymous4:09 PM

    The Aquaman show has not been picked up by the CW, but Veronica Mars has thankfully been renewed for a third season.

  4. Yea! to VM coming back. And this year, Warner Bros. has the good sense to release the S2 DVD on August 22, before the third season premiere.

  5. Funny how good shows go off air prematurely while mediocre shows prosper - for one example, Angel got canned but Charmed is thriving like a cancer.

  6. Hey John,

    I'm also thrilled to see that Veronica Mars is returning. What a season finale! Did you catch the reference to the CW move?

    As for future scifi/fantasy shows, there is still a very, very slim chance that Invasion will be picked up for midseason on CW.

    Mercy Reef is sunk, possibly to make room for Ultra. So far Heroes, Raines (for midseason), and Jericho have been picked up. Also Eureka and Blade are coming this summer. It is also likely that Scifi Channel will air the Doctor Who spin off (Torchwood) next year here in the USA. And there is the Battlestar Galactica (I know it's your favorite show...*chuckle*) spin-off Caprica. Oh, and there is a good chance that Master of Science Fiction will air on ABC. Ah, and don't forget that Supernatural (another of your favorites...*double friendly chuckle*) is returning next season.

    Soooo...scifi/fantasy isn't dead yet. Lets hope the new batch of shows do better. At least they are not all aliens invading with water connected somehow.

  7. Anonymous9:26 PM

    What's with the "yawn" in regards to BSG? I mean, I love the show, but I'm certainly open to valid criticism and would like to know how you back up this rather unpopular opinion.

  8. Regarding the post by anonymous at 9:26: Thank you for writing and asking about valid criticism on Battlestar Galactica. That's a good point!

    In response, I would simply refer you to three previous occasions on this blog where I discussed at length my rather expansive criticisms (not to mention some praise....) of the new Galactica.

    You can find these in the archives on the right of the page on June 16, 2005 (titled "Making Lemonade"), April 14, 2006 (titled "Credit Where Credit is Due") and April 18, 2006 (titled "Re-casting versus Re-Imagination") I don't want you to think I was just talking out of my ass. Which I can do from time to time. I'm not perfect. Like at all.

    As to my opinion about BSG being an "unpopular" one, I do - with respect and civility - quibble with that assessment.

    Here's why. Less than two million people tune in to Battlestar Galactica on the Sci-Fi Channel each week. Which means the series achieves lesser ratings than Invasion or Surface...both cancelled. Which it means it gets lesser ratings than Night Stalker or Threshold - which died six months in. Which means it draws lesser ratings than Charmed.

    It's actually the belief that the new Battlestar Galactica is widely "popular" that's incorrect. It's clearly a "niche" show (as opposed to the original program, which drew 65 million viewers the night of its premiere on ABC in 1978), and then regularly attracted 24 - 25 million viewers in its weekly installments. So, yes, there is a very vocal minority that likes and watches Battlestar Galactica. That doesn't make it popular, however. That just makes its fans very vocal.

    I'm not trying to be argumentative or nasty by pointing this out. Please don't take it that way. I'm just inserting some facts into the BSG debate.

    However, I'm glad you wrote and asked me to show my cards, and I welcome ALL opinions here and do hope you'll return. I like to be kept "honest" by readers, so check out those old posts, and see if they answer your concerns about valid criticism of BSG.



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