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MIND MELD: Your Ideal Science Fiction Television Show

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

The world of science fiction on TV will get that much smaller once STARGATE UNIVERSE ends its run in the coming the months. With shows like V and FRINGE seemingly on the bubble for more seasons, it may get even worse in the near future.

Q: If you had the power, what would your ideal SF television show look like?

Here’s what they said…

Gareth Powell
Gareth L. Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the acclaimed short story collection The Last Reef. He can be found online at:

Now that CGI and other techniques have become more affordable, television shows have the opportunity to be more adventurous than ever before in their use of special effects and exotic locales. The recent reincarnations of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who have shown that ideas which were once the preserve of highly financed Hollywood films are now within reach of more modest production budgets. In addition, programmes such as Lost, The Sopranos, The Wire and 24 have demonstrated that there is an audience for intelligent drama with a long-term plot arc.

Despite the lukewarm reception received by the BBC’s recent remake of Day of the Triffids, I’d like to see British television tackling further adaptations of science fiction novels; but concentrating on new and contemporary writers instead of harking back to the classics of the 1950s and 1960s. Even the Beeb’s recent sci-fi outing Outcasts – which chronicled the struggles of colonists on an alien world – could have been written at any time in the past fifty years.

I’d like to see adaptations of the books which are helping to shape the genre today – books such as Ian McDonald’s Brasyl; The City and The City by China Mieville; Accelerando by Charles Stross; and Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox.

In my opinion, a 13 episode run is far better suited to a novel-length adaptation than a 90 minute movie; and if Hollywood insists on churning out alien invasion shoot-em-ups and action movies based on Philip K. Dick short stories, it is left to television to pick up the slack. But in order to do it properly, new serials need the thought and quality of writing that went into The Wire and The Sopranos. Recent disappointing offerings from the USA, such as The Event, Heroes and Flash Forward, have shown that you need more than a strong initial concept to sustain a programme beyond the opening episode.

Britain has a proud history of groundbreaking genre television, from The Quatermass Experiment and Doctor Who to Edge of Darkness and Life on Mars; and I would dearly like to see this tradition upheld and carried forward, and its subject matter broadened to include work by some of our leading authors.

Abigail Nussbaum
Abigail Nussbaum works as a software engineer in Tel Aviv. She blogs at Asking the Wrong Questions, and has reviewed for the Israeli magazines The Tenth Dimension and Chalomot BeAspamia, as well as Strange Horizons, Vector, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, and Infinity Plus.

I’m probably the wrong person to ask this question, for two reasons. The first is that I’m finding it hard to lament the cancellation of shows like V and Stargate: Universe. The latter, in particular, strikes me as one of those rare occasions where the gods of television have acted justly and correctly. Not only was the show itself terrible – a pale imitation of Battlestar Galactica that failed to muster even the limited reserves of courage and conviction possessed by that flawed series – but its creators’ dismissive, disrespectful treatment of their fanbase and the franchise they’d created more than earned them a swift cancellation (and I say this as someone who thought the first two Stargate series were trite diversions long past their prime at the time of their cancellation). I’d rather have no science fiction at all on my television screen than have Stargate: Universe as the sole representative of space-set SF TV.

The second reason that I’m the wrong person to ask this question is that my tastes are entirely out of step with current fashions in SF TV. My favorite science fiction shows are 90s series – Farscape, Deep Space Nine, Futurama. Sure, I love Firefly as much as the next person, but it was barely a blip on our screens while these shows built whole universes and spun elaborate plot arcs over the course of several seasons. The things that I liked about these shows are the things that we’ve been taught, in the last decade, to revile and look down on. I liked that Farscape was loud and multicolored and cheesy (though at the same time smarter and more mature than a lot of so-called ‘realistic’ SF), but nowadays we “know” that worthy SF has to be mimetic and sombre in its tone. I liked that Deep Space Nine grounded its political stories in its invented universe, mixing and matching from a dozen different real-world references and a bit of SFnal invention to create a scenario that was organic to the show’s setting, but nowadays we “know” that to be relevant, science fiction needs to be a thin allegory of the now, full of unmistakable references to 9/11 and the two T’s, torture and terrorism. I liked that Futurama was funny and self-referential, and though that show’s revival in 2010 is a heartening sign, no one else seems terribly interested in its brand of razor-sharp comedy.

Which is not to say that there hasn’t been science fiction TV I’ve liked in the last few years, or that the shift towards present-set, naturalistic shows hasn’t produced some interesting results. It’s just that the shows I’ve liked – Caprica, with its elaborate worldbuilding; The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with its meditative approach to questions of machine intelligence and morality; The Middleman, with its zaniness and fantastic female lead; Dollhouse, with its many, many problems and intriguing core concept – have all failed to find an audience, or a supportive network, and one after another, they were cancelled.

It’s my personal theory that the surge of excellent SF television in the 90s and early 00s can be summed up as a very long, multifaceted response and escape from a dominant and constricting paradigm. Or, to put it another way, everyone was reacting to, and against, Star Trek (even Deep Space Nine can be taken as an attempt to move away from The Next Generation‘s conventions). But there’s only so long that a field can spend reacting against a paradigm before it loses its crippling hold – with Star Trek off our television screens for more than half a decade, and now trying desperately to mimic what the young, cool kids are doing, is there any point in rebelling against it? Battlestar Galactica was surely the apex of anti-Star Trek sentiment, and for all my dislike of that show I can’t deny that it has set itself up as the new paradigm. The problem is that as a work of science fiction, Galactica is a hell of a lot thinner, and has a hell of a lot less substance, than Star Trek. There’s less for new shows to respond to, complicate, or make their own. The result has been shows like V and Stargate: Universe.

So though I could give a list of things I’d like to see in a science fiction series – a space setting, good worldbuilding, well-written, adult female characters (and male characters, for that matter), a willingness to be silly, funny, and ridiculous – those are old standards, and for the most part what I expect from my favorite television series in all genres. What I think the field needs more than anything right now is that new paradigm. That blueprint for how SF TV should look that young writers can work within and try to break out of, and that fans can latch onto. I don’t know what that is, but I hope that some enterprising auteur is working on it right now and that a brave network or cable channel is willing to give them the chance to create it. More than another Stargate series, or another season of Fringe, or another remake of a seventies series, what the genre needs is that new thing.

Hal Duncan
Hal Duncan was born in 1971, brought up in a small town in Ayrshire, and now lives in the West End of Glasgow. A member of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle, his first novel, Vellum, won the Spectrum Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the World Fantasy Award. As well as the sequel, Ink, he has published a poetry collection, Sonnets for Orpheus, a stand-alone novella, Escape from Hell!, and various short stories in magazines such as Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Interzone, and anthologies such as Nova Scotia, Logorrhea, and Paper Cities. He also collaborated with Scottish band Aereogramme on the song “If You Love Me, You’d Destroy Me” for the Ballads of the Book album from Chemikal Underground.

I’m going to assume the wide definition of sf that includes all forms of the fantastic/speculative, cause frankly if we’re talking straight science fiction, I want Stargate Universe back, damn it, plain and simple. Unlikeable characters, lack of a big threat, those half dozen episodes at the start where they’re just dealing with the shit of being stuck on an alien spaceship — all of that is exactly what made it great for me. Needing light, air, food. Going through nicotine and caffeine withdrawal. That’s story coming out of the situation rather than some Alien Plot Device. And if Young’s a weak commander, all the better; Mutiny on the Bounty, anyone? A narrative like that would make a real change from Captain Competent dealing with the problem of the episode/arc, slugging back his/her [insert characteristic beverage here,] and ordering his/her gallant team onwards. As far as pure-bred science fiction goes, Stargate Universe was doing exactly the sort of thing I want to see.

Otherwise… OK, here’s the series I’d be showrunner for if anyone was crazy enough to let me: Hellhound, I call it. Think The Littlest Hobo meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Think Supernatural meets Highway to Heaven, only nobody told Michael Landon they’d finished shooting I Was a Teenage Werewolf — no, scratch that, they didn’t get Michael Landon for either role at all; they got Vincent Gallo and gave him all of Charlie Sheen’s drugs.

It’s a show about a werewolf and his handler, traveling the country, infiltrating high schools disguised as students in order to squish “ticks,” as they call them — vamps of the good old-fashioned cattle-leeching ghoul variety, mindless parasites that have crawled out of the grave, dressed themselves in the skins of human victims, and latched onto some hapless fool — a “Mary Sue” in the series mythos — who acts as a glamour amp for this fetid corpse that feeds on misery. They’re so besotted with the idea of being the centre of the universe to some brooding Byronic anithero, see, these Mary Sues radiate a delusion that sucks in everyone around them.

So, only a werewolf, with his lupine olfactory abilities, can smell the stench through the mass psychosis, break the spell, see that furrow-browed mopester as a rotting carcass to be grabbed by the throat and shaken like a ragdoll till it comes apart. That’d be the pilot anyway, that high school scenario. Lawyers, priests, politicians and TV pundits, sales & marketing teams, ex-gay ministries, wherever you might find soul-sucking users and the schmucks that buy their bullshit, our heroes would have to hunt down ticks and save their saps.

There’d be run-ins with the law, of course, (“You do not eat state troopers! Bad boy!”) a handler recruiting agency with a base known as the Pound, where our heroes first met and bonded instantly (“Stop sniffing that, now,”) and the all-important first season arc where they’re trying to track down the tick that [spoiler] the handler by [spoiler] his [spoiler]. All the necessary ingredients.

Mostly it would be about the gonzo though. It’d all be old school mythos, our wolfman slugging back a hipflask of dirtwater collected from a wolf’s pawprint to shift on will. So we’re talking the werewolf as a latter-day shaman who mimics in order to morph. Like, back in human form, drenched in blood, spitting a tick’s heart into his handler’s lap and saying, “Throw it for me! Go on! Throw it! Throw it! Throw it!” Keeping a vampire femur as a chew toy. Having zero impulse control when it comes to consumables. (Food, drink, drugs, socks.) Opening shot would be an alarm going off, our wolfman in human form curled up at the foot of the bed, clambering up to lick his handler’s face and shout, “Get up get up get up get up get up! I’m hungry!”

Also, screw the slash fiction; the heroes would be homos from the get-go. It doesn’t have to be HBO-level raunch, but I’m bored already with the queer subtexts of monsters and mutants; I want some text. And let’s face it, that relationship is going to be pretty much unconditional love anyway, and with zero inhibitions on the werewolf side: “I love you even more than rolling in entrails! Rotting entrails of disemboweled vampires even!”

The theme tune? “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges, of course. Gotta be.

James Knapp
James Knapp‘s conclusion of the Revivors trilogy, Element Zero, is due to hit shelves April 5th. He won’t promise that reading it will change your life forever, but if cornered he will imply it.

To my way of looking at it any science fiction show has the potential to be my perfect SciFi TV show as long as it had certain elements. If a studio came to me and said “James, you are an unknown to us but for reasons we can’t readily explain we are giving you a blank check, and carte blanche to create any science fiction series you wish. No matter what you come up with, we will guarantee you at least one season and a sweet time slot.” I would do two things. The first is that I would begin wringing my hands maniacally while emitting a chuckle that grew deeper as my breath expired. The second is that I would squirrel myself away and not step back out into the light until I had my dream series in hand. I can’t say for sure exactly what it would be about because I would really have to think about that, but these are the characteristics it would most likely have:

It would be hard science-fiction:

Just a preference. I don’t mind if there are some ‘fuzzy’ aspects (I used psi-powers in the Revivors series) but in general I’m not a huge fan of steampunk or anything that takes place on other worlds where humans (or aliens) live in a society that is based on the past. The world I settled on might be dystopian, utopian or anything in between but it would look into the future at least a little bit. The science and technology of the world would be mapped out ahead of time then adhered to, and it would impact everyone who lived in that world in a meaningful way.

It would be Earth-based:

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed space-based science fiction for about as long as I can remember and I like it a lot. I grew up on Star Wars and more recently I really enjoyed Farscape, Firefly and others, but I’d like to see a really well done Earth-based future as the setting for my dream series mainly because I think that’s what it will most likely turn out to actually be. I also find social dynamics really interesting and so I wouldn’t want to be tied to a microcosm. The Galactica reboot managed to combine both pretty well I thought, but my dream series would take place in the slums and the heights of Earth.

Its leads would be regular people in extraordinary circumstances:

It’s tempting to make your lead a starship captain, or a super soldier, or a spy or a warrior…they’re tried and true and there’s fertile ground there, but I’d like to see a more down to earth cast. In my novels my primary lead is an FBI agent (so I’m guilty of it as well), but I felt like a lot of the heart and soul of the series came from the characters who were just trying to scrape by. It’s one of the things I liked about Firefly…true Mal was a ship captain, but they were all working class people trying to get by. Jayne was one of my favorite characters largely because he felt so real – he didn’t have super strength or know martial arts, he just had a hard head. He wasn’t very bright and while he knew how to take action, he wasn’t always sure what to do. One of the appeals of outbreak and zombie stories for me is that the cast and crew tend to be regular Joes…I like the idea of the guy who worked at Denny’s, before he rose to the occasion.

It would have a defined beginning, middle and end:

I understand why a lot of series don’t have this, but this is my dream scenario and in my dream scenario I am given full license to write the entire series beginning to end before casting ever even begins. I totally get why it happens but I don’t like when science fiction shows (or any shows for that matter) start to wander. Once it starts it seems like it doesn’t stop until the ideas totally run out and the series dies an ignoble death. A good example of doing this right is the first season of Heroes – love it or hate it, the first season knew what it was about, and where it was heading the entire time and ended with a satisfactory bang that resolved everything that needed resolving. Every season that followed was the counterpoint to this.

It would run a set number of seasons (or be a mini-series):

This kind of goes with the previous point. When you don’t know where you’re going with a story, it shows. It might be subtle, or it might be obvious but it shows. It’s tempting to want something good to go on and on…there never seems to be enough good science fiction on TV and when you get some you don’t want to let it go, but I think fans would be equally receptive to a constant influx of fresh material even if it came in smaller packages. I’d rather see three seasons of a show that floored me than eight where I watched it run out of steam for the last two, maybe even becoming embarrassing before finally conking out.

Beyond that, I can think of three things offhand that it would *not* have…

It would not be a remake or reboot:

I enjoyed Galactica a lot (up until the end) but I couldn’t get into V and honestly I’ve had it with remakes of any kind. There are tons of fresh ideas out there that never see the light of day. In my opinion we don’t need another Star Trek, Stargate or Star Wars spinoff, or any other revamp of something that was on TV when I was a kid.

It wouldn’t have any race or faction whose members embody a stereotype:

A pet peeve – I can forgive Star Trek because its roots are old, but I hate that idea that ‘everyone from the planet Krelnac is greedy’ and ‘everyone from Melnar is warlike’…the only time it’s ever worked for me was Futurama‘s Omicron Persei 8, and that was because they were spoofing it.

It wouldn’t have young pretty people shoehorned in:

There’s nothing wrong with being young, pretty, or people – I just mean no twenty-year old models who are also somehow scientists, Das, soldiers or engineers. I hang around with real engineers every day. Represent!

Meagan Cooney
Meg can be found entirely too often at Twitter @forpolarbears.

My ideal sci fi television show would have a female protagonist, and not as an after thought. It would most definitely be set on another planet, and the existence of this sci fi show? Would not have to be justified by making it “Aliens investigate mysteries” or through the addition of a more market-worthy genre to the premise. Furthermore, it would have the guts to fulfill on the theories and tantalizing weirdness certain shows intimate initially but shirk from once the reveals hit. Also, the god(s) most definitely did not do it. Anyways, I am interested in participating in this Mind Meld, even though my interest in science fiction television is waning as it continues to disappoint. This has become only the more relevant as I actually started reading fantasy novels in November because I was interested in the television series Game of Thrones–is there any currently airing science fiction show that is “genre” enough or would be considered noteworthy from an ideas/speculative fiction/etc perspective that someone would then pursue reading more books in the field? (And are these shows successful? Should we even try to cultivate them? Flashforward had the basis of a book and tanked.)

Here’s me talking about some shows:

Gwenda Bond
Gwenda Bond writes young adult fantasy. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, and regularly reviews for Subterranean Online and Locus. Her nonfiction work has appeared in the Washington Post, Kirkus, and at Strange Horizons, and she has been a guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts‘ program in writing for children and young adults. Readers of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet may know her as everyone’s Dear Aunt Gwenda. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie.

This could be one of my favorite questions ever, because oh, how I wish it was real. (Well, for about a minute and a half–and then I realize running a television studio would probably fall into the Harsh Reality category. But what a fun dream, nonetheless.) My favorite TV shows of all kinds tend to be idiosyncratic in their creators’ visions and most have a strongly-identifiable creator behind them–Veronica Mars (not SF, but the lines blurred occasionally), Buffy, Firefly, Fringe, Wonderfalls, all come immediately to mind. So what I’d like to see more of isn’t all that specific; it’s basically more shows that are allowed to stretch into the unique spaces their showrunners (and writing staffs) take them. The reason I still find much of the best SF television better than most SF movies is because writer-producers have traditionally wielded more power than their movie counterparts over their projects. That said, most of the shows I mentioned were shorter-lived than they deserved (fingers crossed that Fringe doesn’t ultimately fall into that category) and/or were forced into odd-shaped boxes or vision-breaking patterns at times by network execs to try and pick up more viewers. I’m not saying that administrative types can never have good ideas, just that creative people should be in charge of the final decisions. Mostly because I don’t think pandering to an audience that doesn’t exist yet or deviating from a strong vision is ever going to pick up more viewers. The SF shows I’d most like to see are ones I’d never dream up in a million years on my own.

But, okay, for this exercise, I’d love an HBO version of J.D. Robb’s In Death series, done up as a Jetsons-esque police procedural soap opera, with a producer that feels free to take some liberties in the way Alan Ball has done with the Sookie Stackhouse novels and True Blood. (And I’m majorly looking forward to Game of Thrones.) Or for someone to finally make a smart, dark series out of Scott Westerfeld’s perfect-for-TV Midnighters trilogy. Or a TV series version of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series (how wonderful would that be?). Clearly, this dream network head had better stop dreaming now, before she gets too depressed that these TV shows don’t already exist.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
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18 Comments on MIND MELD: Your Ideal Science Fiction Television Show

  1. Michael Prior // March 16, 2011 at 1:35 am //

    I have one word for you:


  2. There was something about Firefly which was so understated you needed to watch it more than once to get the significance: it was all set in one solar system with no FTL. Admittedly the solar system was quite implausible, but hey. So I would like a hard sf space opera set in our own system, maybe 1000 years hence – great tech but still that tiresome relativity barrier keeping us confined to the nine known worlds + several moons, asteroids, space stations … It could be done and it could be great.

  3. In my mind the best SF show ever was the first two years of BSG.  There just isn’t a lot of SF that tries to be real.  I don’t care if the SF show is in space, on earth, or across the solar system.  All I want is a show that respects its audience.  In general, most shows do not show the respect for their audience that The Sopranos, BSG, or The Wire showed.

    On a side note, I wonder what the response would be if the men advocated for more male leads and characters? 

  4. @James Knapp – nice set of guidelines, especially #4, #5, and the last ‘not.’


    My ideal would be an anthology show along the lines of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. Science fiction stories adapted and original, an hour long, no series theme, no monster of the week, no padded stories. If the story didn’t fill an hour, you could have shorts fill the leftovers, like Night Gallery used to do. If it was too long, break it into multiple episodes. I really miss anthology shows.



  5. I would have to say that my thoughts run along similar lines to James Knaap.

    Rather than say I want Firefly to return or more B5 (both greats and universes that i would to see explored further) I would rather talk about how I want these to to be conceived and realised.

    For me there is one primary MUST FOLLOW RULE:

    Make the show internally coherent and consistent! There is NOTING I hate more than watching a show which contradicts its own rules, if an alien race are all far stronger and better fighters than humans then in fights they kick humans arses, if a human is to defeat one in a 1on1 fight then that human must have some equaliser beyond being ‘main cast’. If a spaceships shields can one week hold off a klingon fleet, then next week they shouldn’t be overloaded by a single shot from a ferengi transport.

    If you are running a series long story arc then make sure that it makes sense every which way you look at it… don’t have the pay off negate the reason that situation existed in the first place. Later seasons of 24 were atrocious for this, as the story moved from one arc to the next it often became apparent that the baddies must have set off their original plan with the express purpose of it failing so plan B could come into play which was then purposefully planned to fail so that plan C could come into effect…. This destroys any sense of disbelief for anyone with more than 3 brain cells they are prepared to let think about the show as it develops.

    After this I have a secondary rule that must be followed:

    Have characters who do things for reasons that make sense to that character; stop making characters do out of character things simply because it progresses the plot…. I frakking hate it when characters behave atypically purely because it then allows for a plotted confrontation/ fight/ whatever to happen. If you want a character to behave in a certain way or do something that is ‘out of character’ then build the circumstances up so that it makes sense for the character to behave in such a manner.

    My next rule is about science in science fiction:

    Make your science believable, make it make sense in terms of current scientific understanding… We know the shows are going to feature things beyond our current technological grasp, and that aliens may develop sciences that are way beyond anything we can currently conceive… but we also do have a fair understanding that some things are quite simply impossible… Probably the worst offender for this is Warehouse13, but its something that is becoming ever more prevalent in current scifi where shows just completely disregard scientific understanding of the universe and pretend thats science fiction so it doesn’t matter. This isn’t just an issue regarding hard and soft scifi, its about the difference between good and bad scifi.

    My next rule is more aimed at making decent TV in general:

    Build the show, build the characters, get the audience hooked before you start trying to show how clever you are. Caprica for me was a classic example of how not to do this, the pilot was awesome, we were introduced to a set of characters who then acted in ways that told us more about them and the story developed in layers from there…. then the tv series started and it got all pretentious they jumped probably a season or two of character and tension building and went straight to trying to be heavy intelligent hard(ish) scifi, without doing anything to engage the audience or keep them interested. Take a look at Sopranos in comparison, the 1st couple of season were packed with action and drama it didn’t try to be a deep involved slow drama… that came in the 3rd season when they had already hooked in the audience Tony and his family and friends were already part of the viewers lives, we knew and cared enough about these characters that they could lay off the ‘gangster’ side of the show a bit and still keep its audience hooked. To put it simply learn to walk before you try running.

    My final rule is make the plot credible, make characters do the work that would actually be required to achieve the goals that want them to achieve…. No you don’t have to do it all on screen, you don’t even have to reference/ tell the audience that its been done… just give us the impression that it has been done… Don’t give us lazy arsed on screen short cuts that make no sense…. CSI is a huge culprit of this, the investigators often make the hugest leaps on the flimsiest evidence and every time (or as near as damn it) their ‘hunch’ works out, or they just happen to spot a tiny thread hanging from a tree 10m from the victim and that just so happens to have come from the rare silk shirt worn by the murderer and there are one 3 of those shirts in existence…. REALLY? We know that we are watching fiction (well at least most of us do I hope) we know the good guys are going to catch the bad guys (or whatever)… but you couldn’t at least make them work for it?

  6. Paul NYC // March 16, 2011 at 8:13 am //

    @Michael Prior: You had me at “Super…”

    I would also like to see limited series rather than neverending episodics. The problem with a show like X-Files or Lost or Heroes was that either the writers had no pre-ordained ending for their story arc or expected the show to be cancelled after one season so didn’t bother thinking of one. High concept is great but it can’t be beginning and endless middle with no ending in sight.

  7. Chad:

    I wonder what the response would be if the men advocated for more male leads and characters?

    At the very least, puzzlement, since the fact that the overwhelming majority of leads and characters on TV are male would make such advocacy unnecessary.

  8. Something akin to the Mass Effect universe would get me excited.  Strong characters, interesting science fiction, epic story lines.

    But it would turn off the average Buffy/Being Human viewer as it would be too complex and confusing.  Not to mention the budget would be astronomical.

  9. Not to mention the budget would be astronomical.

    Sure, trillions for war but nothing for a TV series. If only they’d spend a tenth of what they did in Afghanistan on a TV series. Wouldn’t we be better off?

  10. @Abigail: Most of the TV I watch has strong female leads/protagonists. I am struggling to think of any SCI FI show in the last 20-30 years that hasn’t featured strong female characters, often female characters that have been dominant in what would typically be called masculine roles (apart from Red Dwarf, although Holly did have a sex change to be a female computer). I certainly can’t think of any from the last decade…. Unless you want to the likes of Moon which only featured one actor, who happened to be male… but the film would have been exactly the same had Sam Rockwell been female.

  11. s johnson // March 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm //

    1. Adaptations, yes. Science Fiction Theater II. Outer Limits III. Theodore Sturgeon Theater and Fredric Brown Theater and William J. Tenn Theater. Astounding Stories. Yes, yes, yes.

    Long-term plot arcs, no. Does anyone really, in their hearts, believe that Lost wasn’t a catastrophe of Biblical proportions? The Sopranos is notorious for not being able to end. 24 showed an audience appetite for torture. Even The Wire was getting long in the tooth dramatically.

    2. SF dramas on television that understand that the prevailing paradigm, which upholds stuff like Deep Space Nine, Firefly and BattleStar Galactica are awful. That even Farscape had lost its integrity.

    SF comedies can continue in the Futurama and Stargate SG-1 vein, though. I fear good comedy will still be valued less than bad drama.

    3. Stargate Universe with every single reference to the Stargate universe removed could at least be taken seriously. I still don’t want to see multiple seasons of the voyage of the Medusa.

    4. The science need not be particularly “hard,” but it should be set in our universe, not the pulp universe, or redressed WWII movies, or a Hollywood world where the mundane tidily coexists with a safely contained (invariably senseless) weirdness. (I.e., not like Firefly, BattleStar Galactica or Dollhouse/Sarah Connor Chronicles.) Ordinary people as leads, yes, although the real exemplar of this, No Ordinary Family, is quite unpopular. Precisely because it really is a very ordinary family that’s on screen, despite the superpowers, I think. Normal looking people will still have to be seen on BBC, I  expect, much as I would want them here in the US too.

    5. The gods didn’t do it. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    6. The primary creator of a dramatic production is “the” writer. When the writers do bits and pieces the director or producer stitches together, the work is not actually written. The results are usually bad. I’m not as impressed with the common belief that the ability to write some good dialogue is the sum of genius (plotting, characterization, setting and actually being about something count as well.) But I agree, somebody creative should hold the reins.  

  12. Paul NYC // March 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm //

    Please, no mundane SF. I don’t want to see a show about people who do exactly what I do every single day except they have hover-toilets.

  13. Andy:

    It’s rare for a series to feature no female characters, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the minority.  It’s still common for a series to have an all male cast + The Girl, or for a female protagonist to be surrounded by men (that’s one the reasons that so few films and TV series pass the Bechdel test).  This study of children’s films reported that only 30% of speaking roles went to women.  I doubt the numbers are significantly different in SF TV.

  14. I would absolutely love the continuation of FarScape.

  15. Abigail:

    but its also common to have TV shows that have a mainly female cast, with a token man or two (who is often the butt of jokes, in a way which would cause an uproar if the situation was reversed).

    When it comes it comes to kids TV I must admit that a) I don’t watch it unless I am babysitting my neices/ nephews so I see maybe a couple of hours a month b) I live in the UK and suspect that our kids TV is very different to American TV (having read that study link you posted) c) whenever I do end up watching UK kids TV (much of which is UK produced) or catch it channel hopping that the hosts tend to be 3 people – 2 female and 1 male. When it comes to scifi my annecdotal experience is that it depends on the shows, some are very heavily male orrientated (such as Fringe for example) others are more balanced (such as BSG) and others are more female orientated (Dollhouse).

    My ire in replying on this isn’t that I want to see more or less female or male actors in scifi programing (actually I want to see more of both, because there is more scifi for me to watch), its that I think looking across the board that both genders are well represented in different shows, and that its important that shows are capable of making gender related casting choices that make sense for the show…. I recently watched OZ, a show that was set in a male prison… in which their were 3 or 4 female characters across the 6 seasons who had anything like reoccuring roles in a cast that was probably 50+ regular characters across those 6 seasons… in that case the gender casting was essential to tell the story that the show told, to balance that you have shows such as Golden Girls in which 3 women were the only real re-occuring characters across how many episodes?

    Scifi is one of the TV genres that have pushed for equality, going back to the days of Startrek (TOS) Rodenbury was tackling the social and cultural norms that needed to be tackled and we have made great strides since then. It was a SciFi related shows that gave us black and female presidents before that was ever considered in American politics, we even had them here in the UK before we got our 1st female Prime Minister back in 78. Of course this issue needs to be monitored, and we need to make progress, but I think we are over the hump and its now time to relax a little and not make a mountian out of a mole hill (says the man writing the 1,000 word essay *DOH*) on this issue…

    There are plenty of scifi shows that together provide a healthy genre balance on this issue…. its time to relax and let show creators tell us the stories they want to tell us with out any overt demands for gender casting being required.

  16. I notice that we’re assuming live action?  If we go to animation, we can have all of the aliens and zero-g we want and not pay for prosthetics or a soundstage.  You did say television, but there is also some interesting audio out there.

    Remember, also that not all SF is about the ships.  A story about, say, genetic engineering, need never use a green-screen.  (Nods respectfully to Rod Serling.)

    Regarding content:

    Finish the fr*lling story!  We’ve all been victims of a series that promised to unfold a Great Big Secret and never paid off.  If you have a 5-episode order, plot accordingly.  A mini-series is perfect for this.

    Surprise me.  Yes, I have fond memories of Trek and Wars and Land of the Lost.  Leave them alone.  Build your own world.  Give me a chance to try something new and shiny (as the others once were) and we’ll all benefit.  Again, with a miniseries, the commitment is minimal on both sides.

    Mix it up a little.  My friends, neighbors, countrymen come in all shapes, sizes, ages, dis/abilities, and colors.  Tell me stories that include them  Remember that they are not types, tropes or tokens.  Do this for me and I promise not to watch the story just to run a tally.

    It’s the story, stupid.  Yessir, that’s sure some shiny flash-bang FX y’all got there.  Where’s the world-building, character development, or plot?  I have a screensaver.



  17. Alexander Dregon // March 22, 2011 at 11:50 pm //

    I was a big fan of Babylon five and its spin off Crusade. So much so that when Ted Turner and JMS decided to part company in the middle of the series and left us all hanging with no resolution to the problem they had presented, i was so infuriated I decided to write an ending to it. Since I can’t do it for profit legally I put it on fan fiction where it has been generally well recieved. My point is that this was one of the stories that in my opinion met all the criteria presented here of a great story. A five year story with another spun off from it made for an interesting concept. And using what was at the time cutting edge CGI it kept the budget well within what would be acceptable limits. With its strong leads, male and female, it seemed to be the kind of show that all of the readers here are longing for. The major difference as I see it was that JMS had written the entire story before it went into production, therefore eliminating the battles about what to do next week or next year for the most part before they ever started. THis by itself eliminated the problem mostof the stories on TV have with inconsitencies in storylines or plot twists that never really get resolved. In short, its how it should be done.

  18. I started something and didn’t come back.  I completely agree with AndyW and what he said is why I brought it up.

    A listing of current or fairly current SF shows with 50/50 male/female or a female as lead:

    BSG (Probably the best 50/50 out there, as no one was the “main” character and there were plenty of strong women.)

    Dollhouse (female lead)

    Warehouse 13

    Sanctuary (female lead)

    Sarah Connor Chornicles (female lead)

    Bionic Woman (female lead and great bad girl – didn’t last long, but Katee Sackoff was awesome)

    The Event (co-leads)

    Chuck (I’m a huge fan of Adam Baldwin, but he has a supporting role, so this has 2 leads)



    I would put Lost, Firefly, Fringe, Fast Forward and the SG series in the male camp.  However, they still had multiple strong female characters, just like the female led shows above have major male support.  Some of these male led shows even have non-stereotypical female badies.  It’s not like they were bereft of decent female characters.

    I don’t see the disparity that would warrant special arguements for more female characters.  In fact, if you are arguing for female characters you may have become what you are supposedly fighting, given the shear number of female characters and female leads in the above shows.

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