Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What's Missing on Television


At the upcoming World Science Fiction convention, I may have an opportunity (if schedules allow and appointments happen) to speak to some people actively making decisions about what gets onto your television screen. The Convention is in Anaheim, and the theme is Hollywood slanted this year. So there will be lots of media people there.

At the Sime~Gen party, Friday night, we may have a tribute to Shirley Maiewski, who headed the Star Trek Welcommittee for decades. We hope to share a party suite with EPIC, and perhaps a publisher or two. Who knows who might drop in!

Whole demographic swaths avoid going to movies -- or watching television -- simply because there's nothing there for them. But advertisers would like to reach them.

What's missing on television -- and in the movies? (yes, I know AR!) (How many times can you watch THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL?)

Think in marketing terms -- in terms of delivering an audience to an advertiser with just the right thing to sell that this audience wants to buy.

What audience (in the market to buy what kind of products?) wants what in entertainment?

What could we suggest to the powers that be that would lead them toward putting some really great Alien Romance on TV?

Forever Knight was Canadian - and though viable and wonderful, we lost it and Highlander because of the US Congress taxing imported shows so that they wouldn't be cost effective.

We've had aliens (Alien Nation comes to mind) who have a Relationship developing within the context of a larger story -- but what we really want is a story that is an alien romance, that has lots of other good stuff in it, but the Relationship drives it and shapes lives. (in other words, we want realism in our fiction!)

What ideas (ideas are non-copyrightable) can we offer to our TV moguls to "soften them up" and convince them that there's an audience for what we like?

Think for example -- would you set your recorder to capture this series premier:

On Jake's World, where they don't believe in Earth anymore, humans must trust each other or the empathic planet will destroy them.

Trust is one of the essential components in any bonded relationship, and an absolute deal breaker in a love relationship. (we've seen that on Smallville -- the pain Clark lives with for keeping his secret)

So a series about the ethics and morals of trust might be a wedge we could use. Trust the alien within us, and without. Trust that which can and will kill you, mangle you, bond you, submerge your identity.

What would the TV Guide entry for your favorite "missing" show be?

What images would you look for in the trailer to convince you that's your show at last!

If Trust isn't your issue -- what is?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Jacqueline, I'd love to see the StarGate, Battlestar Galactica stuff go more prime time--the way Trek used to be--but I don't know if that's possible anymore. For one thing, the budget to produce those kinds of shows with the FX people are used to from the movies has to be prohibitive. And IMHO a good alien romance won't draw enough unless we also have the bang-bang shoot'em up x-wing fighters screaming (illogically) through deep space scenes as well.

    What I think we need to do is make the SCI FI channel more aware of the female contingent out there. I already advertise my books in their mag arm: SCI FI, which is heavily visual media. But SCI FI mag isn't heavy with book ads they way Realms of Fantasy is. SCI FI execs need to know they're missing the market by not taking female SF readers into consideration. Hell, I was even reviewed (favorably!) by STARLOG magazine. If they're coming over to the book reading camp, SCI FI has to as well.

    As they do that, we may see changes to sci fi on TV. They'll begin to realize that it's not as much the hardware as the humanity (or alien-ity) viewers crave. The character interaction. Whether the characters are human we we know it, have pointed ears, ridged brows or sleep in liquid form in a bucket, makes no difference. We want to know THEM.

    And I think they have to let go of the notion that SF viewers (and readers) are all PhD-bearing geeks. That's like assuming all viewers of Boston Legal are attorneys.

    Give us characters striving for a goal, characters in conflict, characters with growth and the audience will come. Whether or not one likes the Sopranos, the first few seasons were riveting because of the characters. And it wasn't only watched by Italian Americans.


  2. Great point, Linnea! The watchability of the Saturday night sci fi movie has gone from campy B to dismal D- in the last year. They need some direction!

    Another selling point for speculative romance might be cultural impact. Considering the distressing state of the world just now, using alien/human relationships to illustrate the complexity, hits, near misses, challenges and necessity of finding commonality with those who are different from you might motivate a few TV execs.

    Kind of like a storytelling way to focus on the spending money of the anti-Ann Coulter crowd?

    (Apologies to those of you who like Ann Coulter. Or not. hehe.)

  3. A Sime-Gen TV series, of course! That's a complete universe with the potential for an almost infinite number of stories. A more realistic hope to begin with might be a group of miniseries, each derived from one of the novels, ideally the earlier (chronologically within the universe), more generally accessible ones -- FIRST CHANNEL, HOUSE OF ZEOR, AMBROV KEON, etc. Another dream program of mine is a miniseries based on Suzy McKee Charnas' VAMPIRE TAPESTRY. Four hours would cover the book perfectly (the fourth combining the last 2 sections of the book, both set in New Mexico). Trying to film it as a standard-length movie would only make a mess of it, unless the film adapted just one section (like Charnas' own play VAMPIRE DREAMS, based on the central segment, "Unicorn Tapestry"). Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain novels would make an excellent series, with 3 or 4 thousand years of history to play around in. A budget nightmare, I suppose. Maybe a miniseries based on one of the more recent-century novels, with flashbacks to highlights of Saint-Germain's earlier "lives"? P. N. Elrod's Vampire Files would make an excellent open-ended series, with no major costuming or special effects expenses. HBO is producing a series based on Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, so that last suggestion isn't so far-fetched after all. (Come to think of it, what is Elrod's agent doing these days? :) Elrod has been around for decades, and here a comparative newcomer gets the first vampire/mystery TV program based on a book series. Not that I don't like Harris' fictional universe -- I do, and I'm delighted to see it coming to prime time -- but it doesn't seem fair, in a sense.)