SF&F on Tv
Coincidentally, I was looking over Scifi Wire at the news story about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and I saw the Nielson Ratings for SF TV shows was displayed in a little sidebar. There were 5 shows displayed because, well, they were the only 5 on TV for that reporting period (2/16 – 2/22). Which dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post from John about the lack of good SF, and genre (as they call it) shows, on TV. First, my thoughts on the ratings, then on the article linked by John.
The top SF shows, according to Nielson, for two weeks ago are, in order:
- Joan of Arcadia (7.5 rating) – The story of a teenage girl who is contacted by God (in various guises) and asked to do things for him. Its supposed to be rather good and its won at least one award. But I don’t consider this SF, which the Nielson poll calls it, but definately fantasy. However, a 7.5 rating means well over 7 million people watched it. But still not SF.
- Smallville (3.4 rating) – Bleh, should be called Superhero’s Creek, only with out the annoying tights or cape. Sorta SF, if you consider comics in general, and Superman in particular, to be SF. Clearly the emphasis here is on the romantic side of things, and on the music. Not what I would consider SF and I don’t watch this.
- Charmed (3.2 rating) – If I asked Pete, he’d say there were two reasons to watch this: Alyssa Milano. Whatever. Even more bleh than Smallville. Why do people watch this crap? Not SF.
- Angel (2.7 rating) – Yet another crappy genre show from the WB. Does WB stand for Wuss Boys? More SF than Charmed, ’cause of the vampires, but more F than SF ’cause of the vampires.
- Enterprise (2.6 rating) – At last, a true SF show. Too bad its Enterprise. I know this season is supposed to be better, but its done nothing for me. Maybe I ought to record this and give it another chance. But seeing the ratings, most people aren’t giving it another chance…
The Metromix column discusses why SF&F have a hard time getting on the small screen, and once there, staying there for any length of time. As you can see from the above Nielsen chart, only 5 SF&F shows were available to watch two weeks ago. Certainly not a good thing if you like that style of show. The reasons mentioned are varied, ranging from reality tv to meddling TV execs.
Reality TV is big these days. Big because its cheap to produce which means bigger profits from this type of show as compared to a SF themed show. Many SF&F shows cost a lot to produce because the sets usually can’t be borrowed from other types of shows and must be purpose built and, certainly for shows in space, the special effects cost money too. I’m now sure what the cost of using models vs. CGI is, but I don’t think either one is cheap. But, and this is opinion only, I believe that a SF can succeed and be profitable, but it must have a talented set of writers and it can’t fall back on the usual SF cliche’s or be a knock off of Star Trek or Star Wars. A well written, entertaining show, be it SF or otherwise, has chance to become popular, and therefore, profitable for the networks. The problem seems to lie in the execs that run the networks.
Most execs don’t get SF. They don’t realize the potential SF has in exploring the human condition or for creating commentary on today’s society. Which seems odd, considering the original Star Trek did just that. Concomittantly, there is a feeling that SF must be a form of Star Trek or Star Wars or else it won’t get looked at. This is where SF is a victim of its own boxoffice success. Mention SF nowadays, and people think Star Wars/Star Trek and that’s it. Which is really too bad. There is a lot of good SF just waiting for a chance to be shown. And what about the people who made The Matrix a huge success? Or The Lord of the Rings films? They were interested enough to make these movies blockbusters, why don’t they migrate over to SciFi and see what’s there? Of course SciFi’s menu of options is rather poor and skews more toward horror/creature features. But the question still stands, why can SF be successful in the movies but less so on television?
TV execs also seem to have a problem with a TV show having a story arc. The problem, from their perspective, is that as the show ages, its hard for a new viewer to figure out what is going on which is a barrier to audience growth as a show matures. I’m not sure how to get around this one, although to me, most SF shows don’t rely heavily on story arcs anyway, but I think the Internet could help. A decent network supported website should be able to bring viewers up to speed on what’s happened and to keep enthusiasm high among the fans. Actually, a case could be made here for true interactive TV being able to help shows with story arcs. But that’s another post and another good idea that probably won’t be used.
Most of the linked article is about the cost of SF&F shows. But I find one comment, from Paul Attanasio whose SF-flavored show is Century City (I say flavored because its a law show set in the near future and SF elements aren’t the main focus, except where they contribute to a case), illuminating on the mind set of those in Hollywood as to how they view SF. He said:
“Really, the trick with sci-fi is to figure out a way to make it about us,” he says. “If it’s a world you don’t recognize, then you shouldn’t watch it.”
Sorry Paul, if it’s a world you don’t recognize, you should watch it. You might recognize more than you thought, which is a sign of good SF.
Filed under: TV
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