The Genre Cycle Comes to an End

In the feast and famine cycle of genre television, we appear to be heading into a famine period as The Event, No Ordinary Family, and Human Target were canceled while Smallville reached its overdue natural conclusion. While there were some promising sounding pilots in consideration — including one from Ron Moore that I wanted to see — most were ignored. Grimm, a pale imitation of Vertigo’s Fables, made it onto NBC’s schedule and that seems to be about it. The Spielberg-produced Terra Nova also made it onto the Fox schedule in a prime spot.

Of course there are the fun shows on SyFy, but science fiction and fantasy concepts are likely too expensive for USA or TNT to try with the exception of the Spielberg-produced Fallen Skies. Instead, the premium channels have proven to have an appetite for these shows and the success of True Blood and A Game of Thrones will mean more will come. Already, several such series such as The Dark Tower and Sandman are being developed.

It’s been noted that this is the first time in over a decade that the prime time schedules will be bereft of any series derived from a comic book, while the summer film schedules are bursting the next few years with tons of comic book-derived movies.

Maybe it’s a change in tastes, or maybe there’s something in the episodic format of a television series that prevents good super-heroic fare from succeeding. What works in 22-page monthly installments, controlled largely by one writer and one editor, has struggled to work in 22 weekly episodes written and produced by committee. You watch shows go off the rails because they take too long to get to the point (V the first season) or meander all over the place and you have no idea what’s the point (Heroes).

As it is, we know audiences seem to have limited tolerance for beyond-the-norm dramas, otherwise Pushing Daisies and Eli Stone would still be on the air. Shows that skirt the line that try something different with a strong point of view and the luck of great casting seem to be the ones that spark a trend. Every imitator of ABC’s Lost tried to mimic the mythos without bringing the heart and soul with it. We cared about Locke and Hugo and the other castaways while we cared a lot less about all that followed (The Nine for example).

Successful genre shows do something fresh and different and should not be imitated. That is lesson one and the rule most often violated by networks, which see a hit and order a knock off. Instead, producers with an idea and a point of view, need to be encouraged so we find the next Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Joss Whedon, or Aaron Sorkin.

Until then, we will have to suffice with the handful of offerings to come. At least we’ll have fresh Torchwood among them and hopefully the next cycle of really cool shows will be along sooner than later.

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