Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to Ensure the Failure of a Sci-fi/Fantasy Series

I like weird. You aren't going to scare me off with strange. Science fiction and fantasy are the current methods for exploring the psychological and philosophical. The concept is simple: take something we all understand, and tweak it or exaggerate it until you have something very different. Then you see how the characters react.

Edwin really liked comic books as a kid, so The Cape appealed to him. We were watching the first episode when I blurted out, "I give it eight episodes." I was wrong. It made it all the way to nine with an additional online and On-Demand only episode.

The Event is a sci-fi offering biting the dust. It's a good show, for the most part. It certainly used up enough studio money to expect some degree of success. So what happened?

I will now give the three ways that I believe television makers can bring their sci-fi or fantasy show to its demise. Because, apparently, that's what they're trying to do.
  1. Have too many "main" characters. Science fiction and fantasy are supposed to be character-rich. The watcher must bond with the main characters in order to care about what happens to them. The Event had so many characters to care about, that most of us just picked out one or two situations to follow. That means that we were watching 42 minutes of television in order to get about 10 minutes of entertainment. If you want to have many weaving and inter-weaving paths, that's great, but you have to start with one relationship, fully engage them with the watchers, and then you can add in new plot twists and characters as you go along.
  2. Make the main point really ambiguous. The biggest failure, in my opinion, of The Event was that it began with a marketing scheme that asked the question, "What is the event?" So people watched, and three episodes in, ten episodes in, fifteen episodes in, we still don't know what the event is. Honestly, this is more of a marketing failure than a plot or writing failure. By extending the question into the pre-premier marketing, NBC ensured that we would get tired of wanting to know by the end of the fall season. They could have remedied this by moving a little faster, but it's so hard to drag out a sci-fi show that they didn't have that option. (Remember seasons 2 and 3 of Lost? Eek!)
  3. Over-do the weird elements right off the bat. The Cape was doomed before it even aired. With the best marketing strategy, the very best acting (which certainly wasn't the case by episode 7), and the very best plot twists and turns, it still didn't have a shot. Why?

    Allow me to give you a short summary of the first episode: A police officer dad/husband is framed by a villain called Chess, who is taking over the city through a privatized security service. (No more police; now there is a security company who hires officers to play the part.) He manages to escape under a train car that explodes (this whole thing is aired on the local news by way of a news helicopter), so everyone supposes him to be dead. In actuality, he has escaped into the sewer system where carnival workers find him. Then they train him to use a special cape to be a super hero.

    It isn't that such a bizarr-o world can't work on t.v. (Remember that Lost's premise was that there is a moving island that holds the light that keeps people from becoming completely evil, and that protecting said light is the definition of "good". That, my friends, is weird-ness defined.) But you have to back-door the weird. In general, it's best to make the setting or the characters surreal, but if you make both strange, be prepared to become a "cult classic," otherwise known as a financial flop.
I know that you probably don't care as much as I do, but it's my blog, and I'll rant if I want to.


Positive Thoughts said...
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His Jules said...

Actually I do care, because I like Edwin enjoyed "The Cape" and I was really sorry to see it go! As for the event, I just couldnt get into it.I didnt make it past the first episode!. Always love to read your blogging!