Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cheap sci-fi

I was thinking about sci-fi TV shows the other day. They're expensive. Always have been, even when they looked like crap. It's what kept Star Trek on the edge of cancellation for years. It's what got Battlestar Galactica canceled after one season in the late 70's despite impressive ratings. Not sure how Babylon 5 survived so long with such weak ratings until they were in reruns. It's part of what killed Firefly. It's what has now killed Stargate: Universe despite being a pretty good show (unsure what the ratings were, but I know it drew viewers that didn't watch previous Stargate series). And it's what makes new shows such a risky prospect. My Hulu subscription screen lists a bunch of shows that were good, but lasted one season or less. Not that Hulu viewers are valued as highly as network viewers (for not watching commercials), but at least we're not downloading commercial free stuff anymore. Anyway, we assume any new sci-fi show will be canceled at the end of season one, two at the most, unless they have ratings like Dr Who pulls down.

I get that the ratings have to be high to offset the extra expense. That's hard to do when Star Trek's old ratings seem crazy high in comparison to shows today. Today they have to compete against a few hundred extra networks and Netflix. It doesn't help that people who are likely to watch those shows are also more likely to watch them on Hulu where the profits from commercials are significantly less.

This all brings me to the main point of my essay. Could a low budget sci-fi succeed today?

Classic Dr Who had great writers, but looked like they spent more on tea than they did on sets and costumes. One episode I love shows the hand of some stage hand reaching out to help the Doctor with a hatch on a spaceship.

Classic Star Trek looks awful by today's standards, but could we get away with paper maché sets today if the writing and acting was good.

I've gotten Yummy hooked on Babylon 5 where the ships were clearly computer generated and the acting by some of the extras was complete shit, but the main characters were great and the story kept you going. At least it did if you didn't skip any episodes. Would it have killed them to have a "previously on..." segment before each episode?

Would the newer "Battlestar Galactica" have worked with costumes and sets from 1979?
Fringe is struggling. Could they get away with special effects from the original Star Trek?
They keep filming on location. Sure, that scene in Stargate: SG1 was in Toronto instead of DC like they claimed, but could they have gotten away with just sending the camera crew to DC and projecting their footage behind the actors? It's called Rear Projection. They did it for decades in movies. "Austin Powers" used it to get the feel of some old movies.

These are all serious questions. Would you be willing to watch a good show with weak or even bad effects if the story and acting was good?

My dream show is a remake of the Canadian shit pile "StarLost" by Harlan Ellison and Ben Bova. How have I not ranted about this show on the blog yet? Expect a summary in the near future. It was a great idea but horribly executed. Canada hadn't done sci-fi and this was their first attempt. Could it be done today with a quality team of writers, but 60's or 70's costuming and set design? Or would it get canceled mid-episode?


Brandi Mills said...

To answer your question, I would, but when it comes to entertainment I'm usually more concerned with story than flash (although I loves me some good special effects).

My husband shares your fascination with The Starlost and wrote a pretty lengthy article about it over on his block. You might be interested in it: http://space1970.blogspot.com/2011/03/sunday-rerun-starlost-1973.html

Ibid said...

His review is fantastic.

Brandi Mills said...

Glad you liked it...but I am embarrassed that I called his site 'his block.' I know I was tired yesterday but geesh!