Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Five - Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Shows in Trouble

It was supposed to be a banner year for science fiction on television, but things have started to fizzle out. So what’s going wrong? Let’s take a show-by-show look at this to see if it’s a trend, or just a coincidence.

1 - Dollhouse
Status: canceled, will run off remaining episodes
I’ve already written about this, but I don’t think the failings of “Dollhouse” were specifically because it was a sci-fi show. The show failed because it struggled to establish exactly what it was and who we should be rooting for, character-wise.

2 - Eastwick
Status: canceled, will run off remaining episodes
A fantasy show, involving witchcraft instead of science, Eastwick seemed to have all the necessary elements to succeed. But it seemed like the creators wanted to downplay the genre elements and play up the characters -- who themselves weren’t particularly interesting. It resulted in an incredibly weak show that never had much of a chance of succeeding.

3 - V
Status: on hiatus until March
V’s four episode mini-run wrapped up on Tuesday, and that’s what sparked this idea. V has been plagued by behind the scenes problems from the beginning, as ABC tried to downplay the whole “alien invaders” aspect of the show. None of the show’s marketing referred to aliens, and even on the show, they’re always called “the visitors” or “the Vs”. Now, with the show on hiatus for three months, it’ll be easy for it to get lost in the shuffle, which is unfortunate, since “V” probably has the most deeply rooted sci-fi plots of any of these shows (including the sci-fi tradition of using aliens as a metaphor for something more Earth-bound).

4 - FlashForward
Status: full-season order received, but production halted
This show had such promise early on, but things have stalled. The last couple of episodes have been incredibly disappointing, and now ABC has called for a halt to production, according to a spokesman “to maintain the high quality of the show” (can you say “too late”?). In my eyes, the reason the show has bogged down is because it’s become character-centric, trying so hard to avoid being science fiction. When you’ve got visions of the future, an experiment that caused the entire planet to black out, and possibly magic rings, you’re sci-fi. Embrace it.

5 - Heroes
Status: still going, for some reason
Just go away. At this point, you’ve gone from being character-based sci-fi to boring primetime soap. Strangely, the shows listed above generally struggled creatively when they tried to avoid being “too” sci-fi. Meanwhile, as “Heroes” got deeper and deeper into the genre (with shadowy corporations, genetic formulas, time travel through centuries, butterfly effects, etc.) it got more and more unwatchable. Maybe the people in charge of the other networks saw that, and that’s what led to the toning down of the genre elements in Dollhouse, Eastwick, V and FlashForward.

Obviously, none of the shows listed above are on the SyFy channel, but a sci-fi show should be able to succeed outside of one small corner of the television universe. I’d say that “V” or “FlashForward” might be better served by getting away from ABC, but FOX cancelled “Terminator” and “Dollhouse”, NBC dropped “Medium” and is watching “Heroes” die a slow death and CBS stuck both of its fantasy shows on Friday night. Meanwhile, The CW continues to have success with “Supernatural”, “Smallville” and “The Vampire Diaries” -- in part because the network can afford to live with the lower ratings genre shows traditionally bring in.

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