August 15th, 2005 12:12 EST
Sci-fi Boldly Going Mainstream?
Traditionally, science fiction has commonly been considered the “red-headed stepchild” of story telling, deemed as weird as the geeks and nerds it is often believed intended for. Science fiction programming on television is difficult to sell or justify producing, being a niche market with limited audience appeal. Apparently difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well, especially in TV and film, science fiction is usually regarded by production studios as a financial risk, because its success is precarious and unpredictable. There is no way to determine or predict with any degree of certainty if a show will find a popular— and profitable-- audience to warrant making the show. In addition, they are often expensive to produce.
With very few exceptions, like The X-Files or maybe Star Wars, science fiction is generally not accepted or appreciated in the mainstream. Many genre fans would admit to it in mixed company reluctantly and with a sense of embarrassment, as if it were a guilty pleasure. Most people do not take science fiction seriously, and frequently disregard it as childish or silly. Award shows constantly snub sci-fi productions, denying them the credit and recognition they deserve.
Therefore, few studio executives are willing to take the chance of being the vanguard with series that are new and different.
Which is why it is unusual and (pleasantly) surprising to see several sci-fi shows on the 2005/ 2006 fall prime time TV schedule for the major networks NBC, ABC, and CBS-- typically reserved for mainstream programming.
Such shows are usually offered by The WB, FOX and UPN, or cable channels like Sci-Fi, USA and TNT.
FOX, notorious for inexplicably canceling new and original shows prematurely— as they just did with the non-sci-fi The Inside, has removed all science fiction programs from their fall line up. FOX declined to respond as to why they are often so quick to cancel so many of their shows.
UPN canceled their only sci-fi show of last season— Enterprise— after 4 years, and have added none this year.
The WB, however, is bringing back Smallville and Charmed, in addition to a new show named Supernatural.
Last season, ABC introduced the hugely popular Lost, which some have credited for this next season’s increase in sci-fi shows present on the big three networks. Which is ironic, since Lost has barely any sci-fi aspects, only occasionally using ambiguously paranormal undertones. Alias, another ABC show with vaguely sci-fi elements is also returning, plus the premier of Invasion and Night Stalker.
NBC unveiled Medium last season, which seems to have been a success for them, because they are keeping it on the air. Another new show from last season, which was not renewed by NBC, is Revelations. They are also including a new one called Surface.
On CBS, we have Threshold and Ghost Whisperer appearing, while Joan of Arcadia has been canceled after only 2 seasons.
This summer, USA network has given hit series the 4400 a second season, and continued The Dead Zone for a third season.
Also airing this summer, on the Sci-fi Channel, is Stargate— now in its 9th year, Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica— both entering their second year, as well as Firefly reruns.
The Andromeda series completed its intended 5-year run last season.
So what does this all mean? Why the sudden increase of sci-fi into the mainstream? Where did the greater interest in paranormal phenomena come from? And is this a new trend, or an omen signifying… something to come? Perhaps the trend of reality shows will finally be coming to an end? Dude, we can only hope.
Could it be that science fiction is becoming more publicly acceptable? Might there be something in the collective gestalt that calls for these kinds of stories, at this time in our history? Does this indicate a change in our Zeitgeist more towards the unconventional? Has the usual become too mundane for us? Alternatively, are television network executives simply trying to capitalize on the success of shows like Lost and Medium, in their usual method--- by imitating them?
If there is a common theme in these kinds of TV shows, it is exceeding our expectations of what is possible.
I am glad to see that the millennial spirit is still alive in us, and looking to the future.
Information on these and other shows can be found at www.tv.com and www.imdb.com.