How To Tell When The Fans Are Killing Science Fiction

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Science fiction fans are like the bacteria in your stomach: most of the time, they help to keep you healthy. But when the pH balance goes wrong, and the bacteria start running the show, they can make you sick. We've expressed our view that Star Trek deserves euthanasia partly because it inevitably caters too much to its obsessive fanbase. Here's a list of examples of too-powerful fans hastening the death of a franchise.

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  • The "Ian Levine" syndrome. The BBC's Doctor Who was still a runaway success in the mid-1980s, partly thanks to the return of old monsters like the Cybermen and the Daleks after years in retirement. Producer John Nathan-Turner started going to conventions in the U.S. and England and listening to fans' questions about whether the giant-ant Zarbi would ever meet the giant spiders of Metebellis Three. Soon, he hired "superfan" Ian Levine as a "fan consultant." All of a sudden, you had stories with plots like, "The scientist from 1974's "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" tries to stop that sock monster we glimpsed briefly in 1964's "Dalek Invasion of Earth" from eating the cricket player from 1982's "Black Orchid," and we won't bother to explain what's going on. It'll be awesome!" Here's the "We Are The World"-style record which Levine produced to try and save Who after he'd helped put it on the verge of cancellation:
Illustration for article titled How To Tell When The Fans Are Killing Science Fiction
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  • Manny Cotto, savior of the universe. Star Trek: Enterprise was already on its last legs when Manny Cotto took over as show-runner, and started running episodes that answered lingering questions left over from The Wrath Of Khan, or finally explained why the Klingons didn't always have weird foreheads, or resolved inconsistencies between the different shows' portrayals of Vulcans. It was like the Discovery Channel for Trek maniacs. And the fans loved it. Everybody else? Too busy watching Iron Chef. To be fair, though, Cotto's fanservice* overkill was a symptom of Enterprise's fatal illness, not its cause. Here's Brent "Data" Spiner, playing the great-uncle of Data's creator, who it turns out created Ricardo Montalban by coincidence:
Illustration for article titled How To Tell When The Fans Are Killing Science Fiction
  • "Dog-whistle" fanservice. When George Bush wanted to reassure conservatives that he wouldn't appoint any Supreme Court justices who supported Roe v. Wade, he used coded phrases that didn't mean much to most people, like "Dredd Scott." (These are called "dog-whistle" appeals, because they're only audible to some people.) In the same way, media SF sometimes slips in little nods to the fans that go over most people's heads. In Battlestar Galactica: Razor, you have Starbuck saying "I love it when a plan comes together," which is Hannibal's catch-phrase on former Starbuck Dirk Benedict's show The A-Team. Oooh, instant fangasm! (Weirdly, David Eick's Bionic Woman also had a gratuitous A-Team reference in its final episode.) More obvious fan-gifting was the inclusion of "classic" Cylons in Razor. And a recent Doctor Who episode turned a generic monster into the Macra from a 1966 story, but the reference was so vague that only fans would catch it.
  • Shippers! Let's be clear here: romance subplots are a sign of a healthy book/TV/movie series, because you don't want your characters to be sexless robots. It's only when two characters get together because the fans demanded it (I'm looking at you, Mulder and Scully) that it becomes a problem. Sometimes, romantic/sexual tension is better kept tense. And sometimes, it doesn't actually exist. (I still love the Mary Tyler-Moore episode where she and Lou Grant finally kiss — and realize two seconds later that it's a dumb idea and they have no sexual chemistry.)
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Illustration for article titled How To Tell When The Fans Are Killing Science Fiction

* - Yes, I know "fanservice" originally referred to sexy images in anime, but it's mutated now. I'm working on another post about the history of the term.

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DISCUSSION

jyhash
HashMaster9000

I agree for the most part with some of your assertions, but at certain points not all demises of franchises (wow, interesting rhyme) are attributed to fan service. And there are plenty of shows which are very successful and try to cater to fans a bit.

For example, Russel T. Davies of Doctor Who not only started that show nearly from scratch, and made it great, but being a fan (or at least someone who respected the original show)himself stayed true to the original history and timeline. It wasn't strictly a reboot like some of the other sci-fi coming out nowadays, it was a continuation that was able to inject freshness, while also showing you what in -universe things are still around. The Daleks will nearly always be there, the Cybermen will always return, and the Master (no matter the fact that he ran out of regenerations long ago) will always pop up at inopportune moments to harass the Doctor. There's a true difference there between keepiung true to a mythos and bringing things back just for the sake of having fans go "awesome, my favorite villain and/or Aliens are back!".

And for things like Enterprise, we can't exactly blame the fans for EVERYTHING in that can we? First of all, the whole problem with that series started when it was greenlit because prequels were all the rage (and then all the terrible dissapointment) when the show was first conceptualized and aired. The only problem was that when you retconn something, you're bound to piss people off, and if you can't do it properly, you're better off not doing it at all.

It all goes back to things like "Lies my Teacher Told Me". Everyone remember how when you were a kid you were told that Columbus founded the Americas and that he met the Indians and they befriended him and then Europeans immigrated to North America to live and then create the USA? We sure bought that line of bull. Then as we got older, only to find out that Columbus wasn't the first person to discover ameria, he didn't even land in what we call "America" today, and that he more or less brought disease, death, greed, etc to the previously peaceful native Americans/Taino? I'm sure on one level or another you were apalled.

Same thing happens with long running histories, You were told one thing in the series' that came out (TOS, TNG, DS9, etc)that followed a history, and then suddenly something comes along that jolts you out of what you've come to learn and accept as fact and you can never look at what you were first told as truth again. We don't like being lied to, and we don't care for it when people re-write our history even when it IS the truth. And if we then have to live with something as part of our (forgive me for the use of the word)"cannon" just because someone wants to make a dishonest buck at the expense of the fandom, we view it as not okay.

I know it's all just entertainment, but when you have a large enough fanbase, there have to be some concessions made (especially for Hardcore fans),or else they view you as a sell out and will do their damndest to convince others that what they say is true. BUt in the end if you don't have the ratings, your show is no longer on the air, so catering to fanbois is a moot point anyway. Yeah...it's such a vicious circle .

So anyway, nearly as long as the blog post itself, but that's what I have to say about that.

Oh, and I don't watch BSG, so I can't really comment on that. :-p

~JYH