Colin HanksJason BehrLeading

Jason and Colin on Sci-Fi TV

Thanks to Janet and cricketclark for sending this in!

Star-Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Mpls.-St. Paul
Page 01F
(Copyright 2000)

They’re out there – more alien abductions, UFOs, killer mutants,
Cigarette Men and other things that go boo in the night. With “The X-
Files” showing signs of yellowing, a brigade of new network programs
is lining up to take its place, promising the heftiest slate of
science-fiction dramas in TV history – even though the genre’s shows
usually disappear faster than you can say “Shazam!”

The networks have every reason to be scared of spacemen.

While light-hearted fantasy shows (“The Bionic Woman,” the original
“Fantasy Island”) and spaced-out sitcoms (“Mork & Mindy,” “My Favorite
Martian”) have done just fine, serious sci-fi dramas rarely have
scored outside of syndication and cable, where smaller, dedicated
audiences can create hits.

“Star Trek” didn’t gain a huge following until well after its
three-year tour on NBC. “The Twilight Zone,” while successful in the
early ’60s, never finished in the top 20. In fact, that has been
achieved by only two space odysseys: “Project UFO” and “The X- Files,”
which both peaked at No. 19.

But while “UFO,” a docudrama created by Jack Webb, only flew during
the 1978-79 season, “X-Files” has been a pop-culture phenomenon,
captivating the much-coveted young-male audience, spawning a hit
summer movie and gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly so many
times, you’d think Walter Skinner had taken over as executive editor.

Now with ratings dropping, star David Duchovny only appearing in a
handful of shows next season and the Emmy Awards shutting out the show
in major categories, Hollywood obviously feels as if there’s a gap to
be filled.

Three of Fox’s five new dramas – “Night Visions,” “Freakylinks,” “Dark
Angel,” – have sci-fi themes, and an “X-Files” spinoff, “The Lone
Gunmen,” is expected to premiere in January. There’s the NBC summer
series, “Mysterious Ways,” described by producers as “Touched By An
Angel” meets “The X-Files,” which moves to the Pax network on Aug. 22.
Over at the WB , ” Roswell ” – the drama about teen extraterrestrials
hiding out in a New Mexico town – only survived when producers
promised network executives that the show’s second season would be
less about high school and more about alien adventures.

And while writers and stars of these shows will tell you that they
never would attempt to imitate “The X-Files,” they admit that all sci-
fi shows in the near future will be judged against it.

“I think `The X-Files’ created a litmus test for all sci-fi shows,”
said ” Roswell ” star Jason Behr . “Because that show is in its last
season and some key people are not going to be involved anymore,
everyone wants to fill that void.”

Fox TV entertainment president Gail Berman agreed that “X-Files” has
raised the standard for all sci-fi shows to come. “Any drama that
dares to tread in that territory, better come up and not leave the
audience hanging,” she said. “That’s the responsibility of the network
to grab that audience, but the only way to do it is to create
something as monumental.”

That might make it even harder for any of the new sci-fi shows to last
longer than one of Capt. Kirk’s love interests. But many feel the
genre will be successful in the future if Hollywood takes a few pages
from “The X-Files.” The problem is, which ones do you steal?

Tommy Thompson, executive producer for “Freakylinks,” which has young
computer geeks exploring supernatural mysteries, said “X- Files”
proved that audiences crave open-ended, even complex stories.

“I think we’ve learned that you don’t have to give the audience
everything,” he said. “This isn’t a slam to TV executives, but what I
run into in meetings is executives who want all the answers, while
you’re trying to create a story arc that spreads over a period of
years. But if you give the public a little bit, they’ll come back.”

Karim Prince, who plays one of the “Freakylinks” ghostbusters, said
it’s now clear that there’s room for smart sci-fi on TV. “I think the
success of `The X-Files’ was due to the intelligent way they presented
the stories,” he said. “We need to piggyback on that idea.”

Intelligent life

But others warn that brainy sci-fi never will have enough appeal to
sustain a mainstream network audience. Minneapolis author Joel
Rosenberg, who has penned 18 science-fiction and fantasy novels, said
there’s a big difference between good sci-fi and good TV.

Rosenberg said fantasy dramas fare better than sci-fi drama because
those shows don’t ask as much from the audience.

“I don’t mean people are dumb, but I don’t think people want to watch
the networks and have something extra required of them. `The Six
Million Dollar Man’ was horrible as science fiction – I mean, just
because he has bionic legs and a bionic right arm doesn’t mean the
rest of his body wouldn’t collapse when he lifts a car – but it was
fun. People don’t want to have to think so much about the tropes.”

When sci-fi such as “The X-Files” does succeed, it’s not because
someone has cooked up a three-story Martian monster with fire-
breathing feet or a time-travel plot that would make Ray Bradbury’s
head spin. It’s because of good ol’ fashioned characters.

“One of the reasons the `Star Trek’ shows have done so well is that
they realize it’s not about the phasers and the gimmicks,” Rosenberg
said. “That’s the scenery. No one is going to tune in week after week
to watch scenery. And if you have to explain a complex background,
there’s an extra tough weight on your shoulders, and it will take more
time than most networks are willing to give.”

Laurel Krahn, a science-fiction fan who works as a systems
administrator in Minnetonka, said she’s an `X-Files’ watcher, even
though the mythology has turned out to be a mess. “It doesn’t hold
together, and it seems like they’re making things up as they go,” she
said. “But I stick with the show because I love [Fox] Mulder and
[Dana] Scully and Skinner and the Lone Gunmen guys and because
sometimes they tell really good tales.”

Colin Hanks, who co-stars in ” Roswell ,” said good sci-fi TV must be
grounded in realistic heroes and stories. “It isn’t just about
spaceships,” he said. ” `X-Files’ gave sci-fi a human quality. Most of
the other science-fiction shows relied on the science fiction too
much. Ultimately, I don’t think people want something that is totally,
completely 100-percent not possible.”

Mysterious direction

The man who created “The X-Files,” Chris Carter, said that special
effects are only half the battle and that the show’s success is due
mostly to chemistry between its stars.

So where does that leave the master in this eighth season? Grumbles
have grown about unresolved plots (Just who is Mulder’s sister? Ally
McBeal?) and, even though veteran tough guy Robert Patrick is joining
the cast, many feel the show can’t work without the sexual tension
between Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

“David and Gillian are the reason for the show’s great success,”
Carter said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t threaten the paradigm,
you can’t threaten the model, you can’t threaten the relationship.”

This season will tell whether Carter is right. As for the fate of the
genre, try figuring out something easier, like who’s the father of
Scully’s baby.

“It’s such a miracle that `The X-Files’ worked,” Carter said. “There’s
just a million ways to fail in television, and when you have something
that hits, you realize how lucky you are and that the gods are in your
favor. Everybody can be lined up, but you better make really good
choices and hire really good people every step of the way or else
there’s a good chance that you’ll fail. A lot of people would like to
be popular or successful, but it’s mostly hard work – and a lot of
luck, too.”


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