Two weeks ago, Fox aired what was probably the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a pretty solid sci-fi show which nevertheless suffered from guttery ratings. Two weeks from now, Terminator Salvation will premiere in theaters – where it will likely make somewhere in the vicinity of $90 million in its first weekend, regardless of how “good” it is. Two separate extentions of the same franchise: one will be labeled a failure, the other a ginormous hit. Why?
Why don’t we want science fiction on television anymore?
Think about it. In years past viewers had plenty of sci-fi TV options: The X-Files, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, Quantum Leap, The Twilight Zone, Knight Rider, hell, even SeaQuest went more than one season. Today, Dollhouse is on life-support (following the Firefly pattern), Terminator and Chuck are all but canceled, Pushing Daisies and Life on Mars were shot down; heck, even Battlestar Galacticaended its run barely holding on to its eroding viewership. And most ofthe sci-fi that is still on the air barely looks like it: Lost became a hit because ABC sold it as a desert-island mystery thriller, not as science fiction; Fringe gets by as either a police procedural or an X-Files homage.
Even the Sci Fi Channel doesn’t want to be called sci-fi anymore, despite being home to Eureka, the Stargate franchise, and next year’s Caprica.
What is it about science fiction that home viewers are turned offby? It can’t be the genre itself: If you look at the top 10 grossingmovies of all time, six of them aresci-fi (and the others have pirates, hobbits, and ogres…and, yes, aboat). Clearly, the American public loves their science fiction…whydon’t they want it on a regular basis, piped into their living rooms,for free?
I don’t have an answer to this. I wish I did, because then I couldbuy my own tropical island and stock it with nubile castaways and smokemonsters. But I’ll bet Hollywood wishes it did, too. Do you have anyclue, any insight as to why the literature of ideas can no longer finda foothold on the air? Have we, as a society, just become too – gulp– stupid for science fiction?