Well, it certainly looks like the doom and gloom brigade is out in full force this week. First, Ridley Scott dumps all over SF films, then Michael Cassut sees a poor SF TV landscape in his “The Spirit of the Times” article for SciFi Weekly. Basically. Cassutt uses Jane Espenson’s article for The New Republic as jumping off point to show that SF, as most SF fans know it, is dead on TV, replaced with the whole ‘Chosen One’ angle to storytelling.
In an effort to see if Cassutt has a point, and I think he does, SciFi Fodder reviews the current state of SF on TV, and looks at the new SF-ish shows. And what do you know? They all are a form of Espenson’s thesis. But I think its actually worse than it appears. Out of all the new shows, the only ones that are really SF are: Bionic Woman, Chuck (light), and The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Journeyman is probationary as we don’t know the ‘how’ of his time travel. So, that’s 3 of 28 new shows that I would consider to be SF. Not good. And they all are a variation of the Chosen one theme.
Looking at returning shows, I count 5 shows that are SF: Galactica, Eureka, LOST, Heroes and Jericho. You could argue that Eureka follows Espenson’s idea, but the others clearly don’t. The thing I notice right away is that the overtly SF shows, Galactica and Eureka are on SciFi, not broadcast TV. And the other three are ensemble shows that have SF elements to their stories. Two are big hits, while the other is on life support for 7 episodes.
Looking at the recent past, we see that Invasion, Threshold and Surface never made it past a first season. All were ensembles, and all were present day alien invasion stories. You could argue that with three similarly themed shows, they were doomed to failure. I’m not sure American audiences are ready for a real SF alien invasion story. Clearly they aren’t ready for the watered down ones they got.
I think that SF on TV isn’t in as a bad a shape as Cassutt thinks, especially considering LOST and Heroes. But going forward, it looks like the prevailing feeling in TV land is Espenson’s idea. Will there ever be another overtly SF hit show like Star Trek on mainstream TV? I don’t know, but my guess would be no. The place you’ll find it will possibly on cable, but more likely on the Internet. But until then, I’ll keep recording and watching the SF shows I like, hoping to see more SF.