overthinking the idiot box

July 25, 2005

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic wow
A Sci-Fi Miscellany

by Alison Veneto

I have thought it worthwhile to update you all on the this-and-thats and various happenings. Therefore, instead of some well thought out in-depth analysis, as you have become so accustomed to, I present instead — a miscellany.


Hunky men and scantily clad women: the stuff of summer sci-fi.
What has really struck me lately is the unprecedented amount of sci-fi that has been gracing our television sets this summer (those of us without TiVo anyway). I cannot watch 1/2 hour of television without seeing Fantastic Four, Batman, Star Wars: Episode III, War of the Worlds and most recently, The Island and Stealth. The marketing pushes for these films are top notch, making sure I am exposed to hunky men and scantily clad women (except for War of the Worlds, that lacks scantily clad women) with great regularity.

Sci-fi also played a part in the new innovation for movie marketing on TV. One day last month all the NBC/Universal channels (Bravo, MSNBC, Sci-Fi, Telemundo, etc...) simultaneously premiered the King Kong trailer at 8:59 exactly. You couldn't miss it — or so they hoped.

But there's no denying that sci-fi movies are hot at the box office this summer and their marketing teams are out in full force. In fact they seem to be eating up just about every open commercial minute on primetime TV. I have seen the new, entirely nonsensical 30 second commercial for The Island 4 times in the past 2 hours. I refer to this commercial as the "Sex and Violence" commercial. It tells you nothing about the heady sci-fi elements of the movie but does tell you that the film contains sex and violence.

It is no contest that these commercials are the bulk of sci-fi on television these days. And who knows, maybe one will spin-off to a TV show.

Then again, there are shows that spin-off to movies (how you like that segue?). And of course I'm talking about Firefly. (Did you think I was talking about Trek?). If you are one of the 5 people who didn't buy Firefly on DVD (or know someone who did), you can now watch it on The Sci-Fi Channel — showing all the episodes just in time for the movie.

The movie is of course called Serenity which makes sense to the fans of the show but alienates those who never saw it. A finished version of the film showed at Comic-Con two weeks ago. An unfinished version has been playing to fans in select cities. I can only hope its commercials will take up as much of my television watching time as the recent summer blockbusters. Comic-Con also featured the cast answering questions but little new was revealed (there's really nothing to reveal since so many fans have seen it in the pre-screenings).

Despite how few viewers these repeats gained on the network, it shows a willingness to support a show simply because it's good.
The Sci-Fi Channel is also now two weeks into its new TV season. And speaking of advertising, I was pretty impressed with the blitz for Battlestar Galactica. I've seen commercials on NBC sister stations like Bravo and MSNBC. I've also seen billboards. And they even played the last three episodes of the first season on NBC. Despite how few viewers these repeats gained on the network, it shows a willingness to support a show simply because it's good.

This is a plus of cable. No doubt Firefly would have done better if it was properly supported. But Battlestar Galactica is already the best performing show on The Sci-fi Channel. They seem to be advertising it because they actually believe in it. And it helped a little Galactica's ratings for the premiere were the highest yet — but not yet near network levels.

On the night of the season premiere, a good chunk of the show's fans were at the San Diego Comic-con, the annual jam-packed nerdfest I mentioned earlier. But the Con knew its audience and Sci-Fi's Friday night was also shown at the con. They even had a Battlestar Galactica panel. More interestingly was a panel on Star Trek: Enterprise in which the experts decided its failure was because it wasn't more like Battlestar Galactica (they said it, not me!).

At Comic-con, ABC had a presentation for their returning hit Lost and their new sci-fi possibilities Night Stalker and Invasion. Unfortunately, Warren Ellis, a prominent comic book writer, already trashed Night Stalker inferring it was rather bland.

Lost's multiple Emmy noms in a number of categories shows that if you want to make a successful science fiction show, you must start by hiding the fact that it's a science fiction show.
As for the Lost presence at the con, I saw some "What would Shannon do?" shirts which I found perplexing. And the actress herself (Maggie Grace) had quite a queue for her autograph. She may have been big with the fans but not with the Emmy voters who skewed toward the male supporting actors, nominating the very talented Naveen Andrews who plays Sayid (and if you want to see him dance, check out Bride and Prejudice) and also a nomination for the corner stone of the show — Terry O'Quinn, who plays Locke. Lost's multiple Emmy noms in a number of categories shows that if you want to make a successful science fiction show, you must start by hiding the fact that it's a science fiction show.

But one show that was both success and abashedly science fiction (albeit science fiction light) is the classic Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap is practically the foundation of The Sci-Fi Channel's schedule. I remember being young and having to stay up till 1 a.m. to watch the reruns on USA. But now you can have your Sam Beckett and Al at various times of the day. I was watching a few episodes in a row on the channel is the other day and was pleased to have stumbled across that baseball episode. Quantum Leap certainly has its cheesiness and the episodes are usually pretty predictable, but is there any other show that can so consistently make you feel so good? Sam and Al are like friends of mine. And although I've seen every episode like 10 times, I could watch them all 10 more times. Every time I watch it, it just confirms how much I like it. So if you're down — and The Sci-Fi Channel block is not enough sci-fi to get you through the week — know there are always quality repeats waiting for you to make your day that much better.


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