Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The 'Golden Age' of TV SciFi

Hearing Jerry Doyle on the radio got me thinking about Babylon5.

Miss that show. There was a very interesting follow-on series, Crusade, but JMS, the man behind Babylon5 got in a conflict with the SciFi Channel, who had acquired the series production rights from TNT. SciFi wanted more ‘jiggle factor.’ Not quite Baywatch in Space, but something along that line, according to the Internet buzz at the time. Straczynski walked, an artistic decision that seems all too in-frequent nowadays.

His latest effort on Showtime is Jeremiah.

Not the broad stroke space opera of B5, but an interesting premise. Good production values, from the episodes I have been able to catch. The story arch, a big factor in B5, seems weaker here. Not surprising, as some the searches I did to research this post indicate this is based on an outside source, rather than from JMS himself.

One notable aspect of Baby5 as many affectionately know it, is the video effects. These were all accomplished using a bank of multiple Video Toasters. The original ‘look’ that sold the show was produced by a single guy in his bedroom using this Amiga based (anybody else remember those?) video device from a company (then) based in Topeka Kansas! In fact Will Wheaton, the much-maligned Sci-Fi teen heart-throb lived in the Kansas capital for awhile and was the Toaster ‘evangelist.’ (Not to be too redundant, but: Anybody else remember those? ;->)

A quick search found this Wired article from 1993:
(Wow! Wired is over ten years old! Do you realize how old that is in relation to their subject matter?)

NewTek has since moved to San Antonio.
Company history from their site:

Hmmmm. I would have gone for Austin, given the better music scene. ;-)

The huge significance of those computer-based graphics is lost in today’s world of Yoda actually walking and jumping around and Pixar being mainstream enough that it doesn’t need Disney anymore.

A quote from the article just reinforces this post’s title:
By the end of 1993, Toaster networks created some or all of the effects shots for seaQuest DSV, Viper, The X-Files, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Two times in the decade there were double Star Trek franchise shows running. In 1993-4, the last TNG season, Deep Space 9 was starting up. Later in the DS9 run Voyager started its run. Heck, throw in Xena and Hercules on the Fantasy side and there was a LOT of shows that were not the norm of sit-com and cop show on the air. (Well, X-Files was KIND of a cop show, but you get what I mean.)

Of all the ‘pure’ Sci-Fi, I think DSV was the first to go. (Remember this gave us the other heart-throb, Jonathan Brandis.) Although I liked the shows first season they started veering WAY into weird even for me by the second. Witness, what turned out to be the final episode:

The seaQuest is captured by an alien spacecraft and taken to Hyperion, a completely aquatic planet. The crew is then drawn into the civil war between the KrayTaks and the Hyperion resistance. The crew must sacrifice themselves and their ship to destroy the KrayTaks before the KrayTaks destroy the small resistance on the other side of Hyperion.

I remember hearing the late-great Douglas Adams giving an interview on NPR years ago. (Yes, I do listen to NPR on occasion.) He admitted it was probably not the greatest decision in the world to blow up the home planet of your reading audience in the first chapter. What they really thought they were going to do with this radical change is a mystery that I, for one can live with.
Plus, the episodes that second season were not nearly as polished. Production values, people, production values. (The ‘futuristic’ comm. Units that hung on the wall of the sub are actually speaker phone units that we still use in our conference rooms at work.)

All in all, the 1990s were really fun for me, TV wize.

Nowadays, there have been some programs of note, but it is much harder. Until I checked it out today, I thought Jeremiah had died on the vine. Jake 2.0 couldn’t survive on UPN of all places. And that with ST:Enterprise as a lead in. (HATE the song.) Each of the ST shows have been weaker and weaker if you ask me. I tried, honestly, but I was watching something else by Veger’s last episodes. Did they EVER get back to Earth? The latest season with the ‘terrorist WMD’ story thread does not, given DSV’s history, bode well for Enterprise.

As to Jake’s demise, I suppose the siren call of cheap ‘reality’ shows that draw audiences and thus, ad revenues will change the Darwinian landscape of programming for the next few years. (I figured out in the first five minutes that Survivor wasn’t really about what it takes to survive. I don’t agree with the message and have done my level best to not give any of the genre a moment’s time since.) Jake was also victim of the new instant overnights. I look forward to the not to distant future when the network cancels a show during the first commercial break of the pilot… :-/

Also on the ash-heap of ratings are:
USA's The Peacemakers (CSI in the old west.)
FoX's FireFly (Cowboys in Space.)
How to categorize these? Maybe Science-Westerns?

TNT's Witchblace had good ratings, but still got the axe. (So to speak... ;->)

ABC's Threat Matrix was doomed once they moved it to Thur. against the Friends/Survivor juggernaut.

I was watching all of these on a regular basis.
I would ask if anybody everybody blinked and missed these, but the answer seems obvious.

Just thought of two more '90s SciFi shows:
Quantum Leap. (Apparently Dean Stockwell has already guested on Enterprise, not quite the doom factor I initially imagined.)

Sliders, staring my fav, John Rhys-Davies. What IS the story with him? He is in everything, including some real drek. (Not my opinion of Sliders, BTW.) He starred in the second worst movie ever made. There HAS to be a story there. Gambling debts? Multiple alimony payments? Who knows. Arguably the most talented of the second tier working today, but poorest impulse control by far. ;-)

So, the furture looks bleak for now. ;-)

Here is a site I found with a role call of cancellations the last few years:

But AH! The good old days!

And there’s hope! The local Best Buy had a B5 box set on the front table this week. Season five I think.

Wonder how much the whole schmear would run me off e-bay? ;-)