Sci Fi Gets No Respect

Forums General Sci Fi General Sci Fi Stuff Sci Fi Gets No Respect

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #40525
    bonnee
    Participant

    Sci-fi seeks critical mass

    Those in the genre say it encompasses more than space and special effects and deserves critics’ respect and Emmy consideration

    BY DIANE WERTS (Newsday)
    STAFF WRITER

    July 10, 2005

    Rodney Dangerfield was wrong. It’s sci-fi TV that don’t get no respect.

    Case in point: A vice president in the TV industry recently asked me what TV shows I watch for enjoyment. I mentioned my favorite is “Battlestar Galactica” on Sci Fi Channel. She laughed. I asked if she’d seen it. No, she said, and laughed again. Did she know, I asked, that it’s a gritty adult drama of family members and colleagues in deep-rooted conflict not unlike that of “The Sopranos”? That they’re part of a civilization struggling not only to survive but to define itself amid messy terrorist warfare? That it explores the values of competing societies that demonize each other’s spiritual beliefs? That it’s full of gutsy acting by the likes of Edward James Olmos and sophisticated allegory mirroring today’s global politics?

    She laughed again.

    And she’s not the only one. Mary McDonnell laughed, too, when the two-time Oscar nominee was offered one of the lead roles in Sci Fi’s latest series smash. From “Dances With Wolves” to “Battlestar Galactica”? “I couldn’t equate myself with that particular genre,” says McDonnell, a graceful 50ish woman you might expect to see on something erudite like “The West Wing,” if not the space-based drama that begins its second season Friday (10 p.m. on Sci Fi). Even McDonnell “felt, like, here I am, this sort of earth mother, and my perception of people in science fiction was sort of pristine. I was very naive and ignorant about the genre. And on the other hand, I’m very interested in the metaphysical in life.”

    A challenging role

    So McDonnell read the script and took the role of a government bureaucrat suddenly elevated to the presidency after an apocalyptic attack wipes out nearly her entire civilization. As the survivors continue to be hunted by an attacking race of human-looking robots that they themselves created, McDonnell’s character comes to believe she is a “chosen” leader whose rise was foretold by religious prophets. That makes her a lightning rod for no-nonsense military leaders (led by Olmos), for power-seeking rivals and even soldiers torn between pragmatic duty and spiritual beliefs.

    “There are unlimited possibilities, really, because it embraces the other dimension, and the light and the dark of the spiritual dimension,” McDonnell says. “We’re able to look at religious, war and environmental needs – all of these imbalances we’re facing” in our own world today.

    “I voted for it as outstanding drama on my Emmy ballot,” says Bryce Zabel, who served as chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences from 2001 to 2003, after writing and producing everything from “L.A. Law” to “Dallas” to his own fantasy-tinged creations, “Dark Skies” and “M.A.N.T.I.S.” Zabel knows from both sides the battle sci-fi wages to be taken seriously by those adult viewers who can’t get past the spaceships and alien species to savor the complex human stories those fantasy devices allow to be told. He says, “They don’t know how well-constructed and dramatic and emotional” Sci Fi’s new “Galactica” remake is under the guidance of executive producer Ronald D. Moore, most recently of HBO’s mystical “Carnivale.”

    “There is this horrible misconception that science fiction is for somebody else, not for me,” says Bonnie Hammer, president of Sci Fi Channel and USA, who campaigns daily to convince skeptics that today’s TV genre encompasses more than space and special effects. “It’s speculative fiction, it’s the imagination, it’s anything outside what we know to be true, it’s the not-quantifiable,” she says. In her seven years overseeing Sci Fi programming, its series have been repositioned not as fantastic adventures but relatably soul-driven dramas.

    “Farscape” portrayed a 1990s astronaut marooned alone among aliens at the far end of the galaxy, where he dropped pop culture quips while forging touching relationships. On the new “Galactica,” aliens are human-technology creations who look and act like us. Some of them yearn to be human. Meanwhile, some humans on the show actually begin to wonder whether these Cylon creations might potentially represent a higher-minded kind of humanity than what flesh-and-blood people have evolved into.

    Cerebral viewers

    With McDonnell being a recent science-fiction convert herself, she was surprised at a recent genre convention to discover not a gathering of geeks but of cerebral viewers eager to discuss the values behind “Galactica” behavior. “A great deal of people needed to speak about the religious aspects of the show,” she says. “People were talking about the fact there isn’t really an intelligent form right now to go to, to truly wrestle with confusions about religion and the way religion and politics and war have all gotten tied in together. If we begin to wrestle with it in television, isn’t that very exciting?”

    Surprisingly likable

    Only for those who experience it. And just the name Sci Fi Channel seems to scare away some from even sampling the show. Zabel admits when he first watched Sci Fi’s new take on “Galactica” – based on a 1978 ABC series designed in the wake of the original “Star Wars” to emphasize whizzing spaceships – “I didn’t expect to like it. But I was amazed. The characters and the human drama of that show surpassed anything I was watching. I mean, the stakes – I don’t think I’ve watched a series where I felt so torn about mankind’s chances to survive.”

    “There’s something very liberating about the genre. You can do big, giant metaphors and really hit them hard,” says Tim Minear, co-creator of Fox’s psychological crime drama “The Inside.” Minear is also a veteran writer of futuristic space action (“Firefly”), contemporary fantasy (“Angel”) and whimsical flights of fancy (“Wonderfalls”). He says he’s producing “The Inside” in “exactly the way I did ‘Angel.’ It’s melodrama with big, epic villains and moral ambiguity and heroes in jeopardy of being corrupted and going over to the dark side or walking in the dark in order to maintain the good. They just don’t turn into vampires.”

    Such pure-fantasy elements, despite their creative use in exploring human behavior, seem to alienate some viewers no matter what. Not to mention awards voters. Despite widespread critical acclaim for their psyche insight, series such as “Farscape,” “Angel” and its companion series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” have rarely been recognized with industry awards. Critics on the jury for the American Film Institute’s 2001 Television Awards campaigned hard to persuade the panel’s academics and Hollywood producers to nominate “Buffy” one of that year’s top shows. And some might attribute Sci Fi’s rare 2003 Emmy win for best miniseries to the executive producer’s name in the title of “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken.”

    Looking for an Emmy nomination

    When this year’s Emmy nods are announced Thursday, “It’d be wonderful just to get a nomination” for “Battlestar Galactica,” says Sci Fi chief Hammer. “There’s a lack of awareness or knowledge,” she thinks, among Academy members who, in the wide-open nomination process, tend to cite the same tried-and-true hits year after year, even if the shows have slipped in quality. Zabel notes that the Academy recently raised the number of citations in the nomination stage from five to 10 per category, to open things up beyond “the usual suspects,” as he puts it. “When members just do the ‘obligatory vote,’ the same things pop up, but the really fertile territory is in six-through-10,” where creative dark horses can build momentum alongside the familiar “West Wings” and “Sopranos.”

    And now, sci-fi production seems poised to reach a larger critical mass and build more industry impact. After last season’s success of ABC’s “Lost” with its mystery-island elements of the supernatural, network television is jumping back into the game with five new fantasy hours this fall (see sidebar). Though these shows tend more toward spooky suspense than “Galactica’s” thoughtful drama, they should bring more writers, producers and hopefully viewers into the science fiction orbit.

    Just as fandom can seem cliquish to “mainstream” viewers, Hollywood writers tend to be genre-specific. Zabel just wrote a remake of the 1970s hit “The Poseidon Adventure” for NBC. “Farscape” creator Rockne S. O’Bannon has a fall Sci Fi miniseries called “The Triangle.” Sci Fi’s Hammer says, “For those who started writing in science fiction because they had a love of what you could do with this, it’s hard to go back to ‘broader/mainstream’ afterwards. There’s a freedom and a liberty and no rules to the game here.”

    Writer Minear admits: “Some may look down their nose at us, but let me tell you a little secret. People who work in the genre secretly think we’re much cooler. How many ‘West Wing’ conventions are there?”

    I

    #75121
    theFrey
    Participant

    Writer Minear admits: “Some may look down their nose at us, but let me tell you a little secret. People who work in the genre secretly think we’re much cooler. How many ‘West Wing’ conventions are there?”

    Ha! Well that is pretty funny. I am not sure how many mainstream conventions there are. I have heard of several sci-fi, sci-fi/comic, Straight show (like star trek, Lexx ect…) but really not much else. The only other one I can thing of, is that I once saw that they have (or had) Dark Shadows conventions. ??? Of course that show was like Buffy’s great uncle goes to Maine. So it was supernatural/fantasy ish, which while not sci-fi is it cousin.

    Anyone know of any mainstream shows with their own conventions, or gathered together under the umbrella of a group convention? Hummm, the Fallguy convention? The Fraiser Convention? Anyone?

    #75132
    lizard
    Participant

    I agree that sci fi is totally overlooked when it comes to awards.

    Hmmm, I wonder if one reason their are sci fi conventions and not others is that there are a lot of books, comics and genre art as well as just the TV shows.

    I think it could work for the dectective genre, if anybody tried it!

    #75134
    bonnee
    Participant

    I’m just struck by the fact that the only conventions to rival sci-fi are the porn conventions. 😀

    Sci fi also attracts groupies but relatively little in the way of group sex (Lexx and HR Puff n Stuff conventions excluded).

    #75717
    shadowolf
    Participant

    I recently finished a course for aspiring authors, and I had my bouts with some of the teachers, to take me seriously. It seems you can write a poem of the most hashish-smoke-induced dreamland-view-of-the-world and get instant credit – but as soon as you mention sci-fi, you’re sent to the kiddy-corner. I managed to get some support from at least one teacher in the end though.

    #75721
    theFrey
    Participant

    No really? What were you writing? The high concept strict science stuff or the fantastic sci fi?

    #75724
    shadowolf
    Participant

    Since the knowledge I have is gathered off of such venues as Discovery Channel and watching Sci-fi, I guess you can call it the fantastic kind. I’m not sure if it was my ideas of “not-yet-existing”-tech such as sentient A.I, or the thought of intelligent non-human lifeforms. I suppose you can’t be an artist if you’re into sci-fi. 😕
    I wrote some fantasy-stories too that got pretty much the same response. 😈
    (From the teachers that is, i got very good response from fellow students)

    #75732
    kokopelli
    Participant

    Pul-eese! After carousing some TV fan forums i am quite depressed.
    TV science fiction fans (the fans not the shows) seem to be the most parochial, provincial, narrow-minded, anti-intellectual unimaginative, anti new-idea, anti-scifi group of people i ever come across outside of my immediate red-neck family.
    ….
    I think they are a different kind from “Movie and Book” Scifi people. the answer to that I think is found in the schitzophrenic creation method of TV series and it’s stick to: formula/watch the ratings/ satisfy all the population segments “No growth, no hugs” etc attitudes.
    ..
    Here is a great subject for sociological research and a book or two or twenty.

    Perhaps part of it is that movies and books are as if a story told by one person to one specific person but TV series are stories co-authored by many people to try to fit an audience of a composite person (the statistic) whcih sometimes turns out to be nobody real …like 3.3 children in a family.

    #76291
    Nick -Z.
    Participant

    Sci-fi had a very rough beginning and some people have never quite recovered from the stereotypes it created. One stereotype that really bugs me is the idea that all sci-fi is just bad horror with laughable monsters and special effects. The other is the stereotype that it shares with the UFO conspiracy, which was laughed so hard about that it led to the whole idea that “government conspiracies” don’t exist, and so we have 9/11 and the rise of the US Imperial Forces and a reality that our grandparents would think was a bad night mare and “science fiction”..

    Then, there’s the cheapness of science-fiction which exploits violence and special-effects simply to draw audiences and make huge profits. That stuff makes me sick. Violence for the sake of violence for the sake of profit is just the same mind-set that exploited bad horror for profit and made sci-fi so laughable from the start.

    I think the reason why sci-fi gets so little respect is because of these stereotypes and exploitation for profit mind-sets. Sometimes, scii-fi at the movies and TV gets so bad, I have to retreat to reading a good sci-fi book, which can never be substituted by one millionaire producer’s idea of a good sci-fi movie or series.

    #76294
    theFrey
    Participant

    I think the reason sci-fi suffers from resorting to cheap special effect is that it needs too. Face it, your average soap-opera ish movie can make due with all most no special effect.

    And so here comes Sci-fi, which often doesn’t have the budget to cover good effects. Three minutes of cheap special effects costs a TON more than three minutes of a bunch of guys playing pool as they brag about the ‘job’ they are about to pull.

    #76295
    bonnee
    Participant

    Sci-fi had a very rough beginning and some people have never quite recovered from the stereotypes it created. One stereotype that really bugs me is the idea that all sci-fi is just bad horror with laughable monsters and special effects. bad night mare and “science fiction”..

    Sounds like the new season of Dr. Who – the first episode we had zombies in space, the second episode a werewolf in ye olden times England, and the third episode Vampires in a public school.

    The special effects were pretty good though, and the second and third episodes quite good in a mindless sort of way. But I’m really disappointed in the run and hide mechanics that tend to dominate the drama – everything might as well be set in a haunted house.

    #76296
    Anonymous
    Guest

    Sci-fi had a very rough beginning and some people have never quite recovered from the stereotypes it created. One stereotype that really bugs me is the idea that all sci-fi is just bad horror with laughable monsters and special effects. bad night mare and “science fiction”..

    Sounds like the new season of Dr. Who – the first episode we had zombies in space, the second episode a werewolf in ye olden times England, and the third episode Vampires in a public school.

    The special effects were pretty good though, and the second and third episodes quite good in a mindless sort of way. But I’m really disappointed in the run and hide mechanics that tend to dominate the drama – everything might as well be set in a haunted house.[/quote]

    Yep, I’m worried that the whole thing is degenerating into a formula that’s been done by cheasy TV shows for decades.

    Hey dude, can you check your PM box.

    #76299
    nursewhen
    Participant

    Sounds like the new season of Dr. Who – the first episode we had zombies in space, the second episode a werewolf in ye olden times England, and the third episode Vampires in a public school.

    The special effects were pretty good though, and the second and third episodes quite good in a mindless sort of way. But I’m really disappointed in the run and hide mechanics that tend to dominate the drama – everything might as well be set in a haunted house.

    I’d agree for eps 1 and 2, but episode 3 was much better. It dealt with the emotional problems of being left behind by a pretty much immortal time traveller and how the Doctor copes with the companions that he gets so attached to being ephemeral. That for me was the crux of the story. The monster were just a back drop.

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.