Is a golden age of sci-fi upon us?
It happens every season: audiences watch the opening episodes of multiple shows, only to see them cancelled after just a short while. If networks don’t post great ratings within only a few episodes, the shows get axed unceremoniously, whatever the reasons for the low ratings might be.
This, of course, is all due to an antiquated advertising system in which rates are based solely on wildly inaccurate ratings numbers - prompting many fans to feel like their shows are cancelled without being given a real chance.
Fans of science-fiction and fantasy television programs are all too familiar with such cancellations, since so few attempts to put genre stories on television last very long. However, so far genre television has managed to keep afloat this season, even while other shows are cancelled.
One of the first to go was H8r on the CW, then NBC dropped both Free Agents and The Playboy Club after only a couple episodes apiece. Since then, CBS has cancelled How to Be a Gentleman, and ABC dropped the remake of Charlie’s Angels, though both of those will at least air the already produced episodes if replacement shows are not assigned. Rumors and numbers have it that we won't be seeing much more of Pan Am either, despite the star power brought in by Christina Ricci.
It’s frankly surprising that there are no genre shows on the axe list, especially considering just how many genre pilots were chosen this season. Of course, not all the shows for this season have even premiered yet. Grimm and Once Upon a Time, the two fairytale based television shows don’t start until later this month, and Alcatraz has been slated as a mid-season starter, probably intended to replace one of the genre shows that doesn’t make it, if any don’t. None are heading that way so far however.
Terra Nova has been rating well, despite the plot holes, and Person of Interest is very popular, likely due to its mix of speculative tech with a procedural crime story. The CW is filling a twilight shaped hole in the television schedule with The SecretCircle, and the sort-of supernatural drama, A Gifted Man is seeing strong respopnce, likely from Gray's Anatomy fans.
In addition to these successes, we’ve seen very few genre shows cancelled from previous seasons. Camelot didn’t get picked up for season two on Starz (though ratings don’t necessarily play into their decisions), and V and The Event were axed from the major networks due to ratings drops, but other shows like Fringe, which gave fans quite a scare when Fox moved it to a usually terminal Friday night time slot, are still going strong.
Could it be that the pendulum of public interest is swinging back toward genre stories, or are we just seeing a fluke in the pattern, a few particularly well conceived, well-mixed sci-fi fantasy stories?
Perhaps some of the cause can be found in increased effects capabilities for television. Over the last decade the capabilities of CG effects in television have become cheaper and easier to come by a wide margin. Just two or three years ago, shows like Terra Nova would simply not have been possible, and monster shows, like Supernatural and The X-Files had to rely on make-up, puppets, and lots of shadows to make their effects work.
The possibility to tell really good fantasy stories increases with every jump in technology - and drop in production prices. How far are we from things like a live action Star Wars series, a show which has been delayed for many, many years due to the impossibility of budgeting production?
Whatever the reason, now seems like a good time to be a genre fiction fan, at least when it comes to television.