Last night, the new sci-fi show “V”, had a major dip in the ratings (from 13+ mil in the pilot, to 10.6 mil for the second episode). The only way from here is the bottom, just like any other genre show lately on TV: Dollhouse got canceled today too. FlashForward’s and Heroes’ ratings are a disaster too. Except Lost and BSG, no other genre shows have seen an actual return in their investment in the last few years, and a date for a natural, non-abrupt ending.
So what’s wrong with sci-fi shows? Why are bullshit like NCIS get over 16 million viewers, and genre shows hit rock bottom within few weeks of airing? Here are the reasons why, in my opinion:
1. The writers are buffoons
Except the two main LOST writers, I have been personally disappointed with all other writing teams on TV. None of these people have the vision, drive, and money to create an epic franchise of a show, rather than going to work 9-5, sitting behind a desk, and simply rehash whatever we’ve already seen on TV the last 60 years.
Add to that their scientifically weak plots, which drives the younger generations (who actually gone to college and they know that there’s no sound in space) away. Sci-Fi has to be “hard sci-fi” in this day and age. Having Flash Gordon-type bullshit doesn’t work anymore.
I think that the networks need to employ young writers. Just like Damon Lindelof was inspired by Twin Peaks and brought LOST a step further at 31 years old, the networks should find new writers, who have been inspired from *recent* shows, like LOST, and then try to innovate and bring their own shows one step further.
In other words, sci-fi writing must have innovation in the story telling method and plot, backed with hard sci-fi. And it has to be epic. Complex stories with many characters involved. Small stories about a small group of characters that no one cares about when there are bigger fish to fry (just like in V), just won’t work anymore.
2. Young people don’t watch much TV anymore
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Americans watch more TV than EVER before. Almost 5 hours a day (God help us, although I recently read that Greece is SECOND in that list!!!). But it’s the youngsters, the important 18-49 year old demographic that advertisers are after, that actually watch less. With the booming of the Internet, people spend a lot of their free time browsing (and not necessarily YouTube), rather than watching TV. And it’s that demographic that usually watches sci-fi shows.
There’s a reason why LOST was so successful originally. Its 2-episode pilot cost in the excess of $14 mil, more than any other TV show before, or after. But the reality is, to create an epic show, with lots of characters and elaborate sets, you need money. Normal TV shows usually get between $1 and $3 million per episode to shoot, and unless you move to the cheaper Vancouver studios to shoot, or you only get uknown actors, your budget won’t be enough to create a truly great pilot to hook your viewers up. LOST hooked people mostly with its first 4 episodes for example.
4. No space ships
The last “space”-based sci-fi show on network TV was Firefly (BSG was on cable). That was 2003. Since then, we are fed with daytime-like soaps that happen to have sci-fi elements in them (e.g. the terribly dull Dollhouse). That’s just not enough to inspire the sci-fi crowd.
See, science fiction is mostly liked by people who try to look at the big picture, the future. They are idealists, visionaries. Therefore, offering them a soap with some sci-fi elements in it, just won’t work anymore.
5. People aren’t into sci-fi anymore
The truth is that NASA hasn’t exactly inspired people in the last 20 years. Their new spaceships look like ass, and are crammy as hell. All this make people not want to have lots to do with the whole space thing. Laugh it all you want, but it’s a factor. Why do you think Apple is selling like crazy?