Space TV in 1999: New Faces, Vanished Friends
By Jo-Ann Parks
Special to space.com
1999 was far from dull for science fiction television. New shows cropped up, while a few long-running and beloved series met their ends. Before we look to the future of SF TV, it’s time to spend a bit of time reflecting on everything the genre accomplished last year.
Gone, but not forgotten
Three of the small screen’s science fiction stalwarts will not be joining us in 2000, although they are likely to achieve immortality in reruns and in the fierce loyalties of their fans. At least one may even be slated for new life in cinematic format.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Through a ten-season run, the little cult classic grew into a huge cult classic, moved to the Sci Fi Channel and finally suffered cancellation in August. For all the jokes cracked, for all the laughter, and for all the bad movies, MST3K will be sorely missed by fans.
Sliders – This dimension-hopping program had a turbulent existence that included cancellations on several networks, miraculous resurrections and the loss of numerous cast members. Finally, in the show’s fifth season, the Sci Fi Channel pulled the plug.
Still, reports are now circulating that Sliders’ co-creator, Robert K. Weiss, is interested in writing a feature film based on the series, although no firm plans are currently underway.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – After seven seasons, DS9 ended its syndicated run this year. The show had problems maintaining direction in its last year, leaving the long-anticipated series finale to bring the epic storyline to a disappointing conclusion.
However, fans were still sad to see the show come to an end. There have also been movie rumors for DS9, but it’s unlikely Paramount would ever underwrite a film starring the underrated middle child of the Trek family.
We’ve only just begun
The crowd of new SF series jostling to replace these cancelled genre warhorses started out strong, but only a few won enough support from both fans and networks to be assured a place in the new year’s programming schedules.
Roswell – WB’s teen-oriented alien drama is off to a great beginning. Ratings for its freshman year have been strong and the network has committed to an order of at least a full season. However, time will tell if this series has the same long-term appeal as the WB’s other hit youth dramas like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek.
Farscape – The future looks good for the Sci Fi Channel’s top-rated original production about a lost astronaut, an odd but engaging crew, and a pregnant starship. Support for this show is solid among fans and the network as Farscape has been renewed for a second season.
We barely knew ya
In fact, many of the series launched this year were put in mothballs before the end of their maiden seasons. Some failed to spark the interest of fans and died alone and unmourned. Others won a stronger early following, but were put down far too quickly by their respective networks.
Harsh Realm – X-Files and Millennium creator Chris Carter’s much anticipated virtual reality series barely had time to register a blip on the science fiction monitor before Fox yanked it after only three episodes.
Crusade – The other highly-anticipated SF series of 1999, J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade has also come and gone. Months of reported behind-the-scenes disputes between Straczynski and TNT led the channel to cut its commitment to the show in midstream, turning what was meant to be an ongoing epic into a miniseries.
Then, TNT cancelled the show entirely, turning Crusade’s already truncated run into an anti-climatic footnote.
Total Recall 2070 – The well-promoted but low-rated Showtime series loosely based on the Total Recall movie just didn’t catch on well with viewers. It was canceled in its first season.
Cruising right along
Beyond the newcomers and the retired favorites, most of the veteran players of the SF dial continued to produce solid — and at times even spectacular — material.
Star Trek: Voyager – The Voyager crew is in their sixth year of working their way through unexplored space trying to get home to the Alpha Quadrant, battling the forces — good and bad –that seek to stop them. Now the only Trek show still in production, Voyager looks set to run for a seventh and final season on UPN.
The X-Files – Between putting the Consortium to a fiery end to locking Mulder into a padded cell (it really was only a matter of time) to showing Scully a spaceship, it’s been a good — though uneven — year for Fox’s alien-obsessed mega-hit.
The show is in its seventh and presumably last season. However, rumors of an eighth season keep cropping up despite reports that both series creator Chris Carter and star David Duchovny want to move on as soon as the current season wraps.
Could the show go on minus Carter and Duchovny? Who knows, but stranger things have happened–especially on the X-Files.
Earth: Final Conflict – Running for political office isn’t normally associated with gaining credibility, but the anti-alien Resistance gave it their best shot. Too bad the plan backfired.
Is the Resistance doomed? Not any time soon. The future of this three-year-old syndicated series, gleaned from the unfinished works of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, is secure for at least season, and the creative team have plans for another year of episodes beyond that.
Stargate SG-1 – The SG-1 team led by Colonel Jack O’Neill, SF TV’s reigning king of sarcasm, continue to kick alien butts left and right throughout the galaxy.
Showtime’s action/adventure series is growing more popular with fans as the show builds up its characters, alien races and mythology. Currently in its third season, Stargate SG-1 will be around for at least another year.
First Wave – Francis Ford Coppola’s series about one man’s fight to stop an alien force from conquering Earth will start airing the second season in the United States in January; fans in other countries have already been seeing these episodes for months.
The Sci Fi Channel has given the show a three-season commitment, so look for Cade Foster to carry on his crusade through the coming year.
Lexx – This wildly offbeat futurist space series following the adventures of four misfits on board the stolen Lexx sentient starship continues to interest viewers with cosmopolitan tastes. While most civilized countries are currently enjoying third-season episodes, the Sci Fi Channel will finally bring Lexx’s second season to the United States in January.
The Outer Limits – Showtime’s award-winning anthology program is still churning out the quality science fiction stories that viewers demand. The show has been renewed for a sixth season which begins in January, while reruns are in heavy rotation on the Sci Fi Channel.
Futurama – The clever animated space satire from Simpsons creator Matt Groening is in its sophomore season on Fox. This year has seen Futurama lose then regain its coveted post-Simpsons timeslot. Look for Futurama to get bumped to yet another timeslot early in the new year.
Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal – In its fourth syndicated season, this Canadian show is holding its own in the competitive genre market. The program follows the members of the Office of Scientific Investigation and Research as they investigate all things unexplained from UFOs to paranormal phenomena.
3rd Rock From the Sun – The popular, Emmy-winning NBC sitcom about alien explorers trying to fit in on Earth and understand human behavior is now in its fifth season. The most mainstream SF show on the air, 3rd Rock still produces a lot of laughs for its audience.