What's Wrong With Science Fiction TV?

Illustration for article titled Whats Wrong With Science Fiction TV?

Entertainment Weekly is asking why we don't want science fiction on our televisions, citing at-risk shows like Dollhouse, Terminator and Chuck as proof. But I can't help but wonder if they're asking the wrong question.

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The article over at EW's PopCandy blog, wonders why SFTV fails to draw a large audience when SF movies do so well:

What is it about science fiction that home viewers are turned off by? It can't be the genre itself: If you look at the top 10 grossing movies of all time, six of them are sci-fi (and the others have pirates, hobbits, and ogres...and, yes, a boat). Clearly, the American public loves their science fiction...why don't they want it on a regular basis, piped into their living rooms, for free?

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The problem, I think, isn't with the cost of SFTV or SF movies, but the scale. Mainstream audiences aren't going to see Transformers or Star Trek because they're SF, they're going to see them for the special effects and giant explosions - and, often, big-name, familiar actors - that they offer. It's almost accidental that they're science fiction at all (And I say "almost" because, I think, science fiction offers the possibility for such explosions and special effects much more readily than other genres). Television science fiction, meanwhile, tends to concentrate on much smaller, more cerebral stories - through necessity of budget, as much as anything else - and those are the types of SF movies that fail at the box office (See Solaris, Sunshine). If there was a TV show that left its brains at home - or, at least, far in the background - and offered up fast-moving, special-effects-laden action on a reliable weekly basis (Like, say, the first season of Heroes, although I may be stretching with "reliable" and "action" there), then I'm convinced it'd be a massive hit... especially if you could find some fading A-list actor to headline it.

But what do you think? Is science fiction television doomed? And if so, why?

The Great Sci-Fi Divide: Why don't we want science fiction on TV? [EW.com]

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DISCUSSION

Gaudeamus
Gaudy Mouse Muad'Dib

That is crazy. I have been asking myself the same question ever since the horrible and soul-rending premature end of Odyssey 5. I couldn't understand it. Good writing, check. Levity, check. At least one cute guy and a guy with an accent, check. I couldn't get it until I realized it's just too thinkitative. Apparently the viewing public, at least in the US, doesn't want brains with their evening tv, they want boobies and other, non-brains things. The root of science fiction is science, and if you don't care for the latter then the former is going to be a pointless exercise in exposition for you. It's why I don't like sports shows.

Big-budget movies generally throw in a lil' titty with their big explosions and stuff, and I think that since tv shows (unless they're on cable) don't really do that, or even focus on that, or even *mention* it a lot of the time, people lose focus in the thinkity parts. This is just my guess, I don't know for sure. Sci fi has always kind of been on the edge, and I think in a way people see it as "space ships and robots and aliens" and would much rather spend their evening tv hours ruminating on the comical misadventures of a female drug dealer, or a brooding and thoughtful serial killer, or a family in the mafia. True enough a lot of these same people can be found in sci fi but generally when they are, what's around them and what they're doing there involves thinking.

Not that thinking is necessarily hard work but the kind of thought that sends one careening into outer or inner space. "What are we doing to our planet?" "Are we unable to solve our problems and find our place in the universe?" "What am *I* contributing to the benefit or detriment of the human race/planet/whatever?" These are all excellent questions which I suspect the general public no more wants to have scraped up inside them than they want a soft scab on their knee scraped up. Those kinds of questions are for others besides them, for others like us. Where does that kind of question get them at the end of the day? That's so far-ranging that to them it's a "beyond my lifetime and beyond my ken" kind of thing whereas for us it's tantalizing to ruminate upon, whether or not we will be here to see it. So we search for examples, hypotheticals, projections in the form of sci fi. I don't think the general public is made up of drooling idiots. I do think that most people, raised at this time in this society where science is just beginning to be exposed on a large scale to the whole world and where information is only now free-er than it's ever been before, lack the ability or the interest to keep up sustained thought aimed in a direction that addresses both culpability and sacrifice on a regular basis. A movie lasts 2 hours and for some that's plenty enough hours spent thinking about some characters/their predicament.

Perhaps in a generation or two this will change. I see younger people very into science fiction, and I think a lot of that has to do with anime and games, which are wonderful vehicles for conveying stories. But then again who knows? By the time the 13-year-olds of today are 20, 25, 30, we could be looking at a form of entertainment so immersive that it makes television look like cave drawings. Maybe by that point people who don't like sci fi will be in the minority.