Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Which SF 'Bubble' Shows Will Die?"

Check out this article from Sci-Fi Wire about the troubled runs of the latest slate of SF-themed network shows.

In my May IROSF article, I guessed they'd have a rough time of things because of the combination of the limited core audience for this type of programming, and network constraints and expectations. Even the more successful shows are scoring 6-8 million viewers, when long-term network viability means getting 10 million-plus. Put simply, if you want to stay on the networks, you need a real break-out hit, and those aren't easy to land, and the broader weakness of the networks as of late hasn't helped things.

The article discusses the performance and prospects of Chuck, Eleventh Hour, Heroes, Life on Mars, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Knight Rider. (In case you're wondering, they give Chuck and Eleventh Hour even odds of next-season survival, with Knight Rider faring the worst of the lot with one shot in a hundred.)

One point that didn't come up in the piece so far as I can see: the basic error of running Terminator against Chuck this season, forcing it to compete for the same limited pool of fans. FOX's current plan seems to be to move Terminator to Fridays, but that's another mistake. Friday is where Joss Whedon's Firefly died. (And guess what? So might Whedon's next one, Dollhouse, if the network's lousy handling of the earlier show is any precedent for what it will do this time around.) Dark Angel, too.

This spring that scheduling puts Terminator up against another show with a speculative theme and female protagonist on CBS (Ghost Whisperer), and more significantly, the SciFi Channel's longtime night for airing original series that are not lame game, reality or documentary filler (something that, incidentally, was seen to cost UPN when it scheduled Star Trek: Enterprise Friday nights-opposite another space-themed show, the long-running Stargate, though admittedly there will be a window where the only real competition is the concluding episodes of Battlestar Galactica at 10 P.M.).

Of course, you can argue that I'm looking at one side of the issue, concentrating on programming with this theme, rather than the full range of shows about which network executives necessarily have to think (including, of course, many of the very programs I detest). Nonetheless, there's no shortage of alternative options. How about pairing Terminator with Fringe Tuesday nights, with House moving to Mondays anyway? Or perhaps pairing Fringe with Bones on Thursday-I can see this working-and creating a new space there that way, and putting the Terminator-Dollhouse combo there?

That would likely have got around the complications posed by the unfortunate fact that shows like American Idol remain the kings and queens of American airwaves, but no one seems to have thought of that possibility, or did think of it and discarded it for reasons I can't fathom, probably because they're bad ones. And so FOX will have another unnecessary failure on its hands. At the house Murdoch built, though, that's just par for the course where SF is concerned, post-X-Files.

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