I don't generally think much of the mainstream media's commentary on science fiction (or any other genre) output. But I must admit, Macleans has actually managed to put together a piece that actually goes deeper than stale jokes about Trekkies in their mom's basement and nerds obsessed with Gillian Anderson. And it raises a pretty good question, given the current state of genre television.
Namely, can sci-fi be saved?
Instinctively, I want to say yes. But is that just optimism, or even blind devotion to the format, talking? Fringe is currently doing well for itself on Fox, no mean feat for a series that involves parallel universes and super-science on a network that though Firefly was too high-tech, but it hasn't come close to the cultural high-water mark of that earlier Fox foray into the paranormal, The X-Files. Falling Skies was critically well received, though it didn't make much of an impact at all on the public, and Terra Nova has just launched with a two-hour event. But other than that? For the first time since 1997 there will be no new Stargate episodes. Eureka has just been wound down, despite still putting in a solid performance. Blood and Chrome appears to be in no hurry to put in an appearance. Space is full of 'reality' ghost hunter-style shows, and Sy-Fy airs a big block of wrestling. And as I09 pointed out a little while ago, this is the first time in a long time in which American network television has not included a single spaceship in its lineup.
Is sci-fi television in a slump? Absolutely. And honestly, I'm not sure what could pull it out. Oh, I have all sorts of suggestions, but many of them seem to have been tried, and found wanting. Doing well-written, character-driven stories didn't save Stargate: Universe. Lighthearted, easily-accessible 'adventure of the week'-style storytelling didn't keep Eureka from getting dragged under. For all the superhero energy coming off the big screen successes, neither No Ordinary Family nor The Cape could carry their premises. The Event's attempt to recapture Lost's fire fizzled. Is it the fault of the networks? Sure, Fox cuts down promising scifi television like it's going out of style and Sy-Fy dropped SGU and Eureka, but SGU simply was not pulling in the ratings, and even Fox' continuing and baffling refusal to try and recapture the slow-burn success of The X-Files can only explain so much. Is it the fault of the viewers? SGU was axed because its ratings were in the basement, and Battlestar Galactica, probably the closest sci-fi television has come to the level of The Wire or The Shield, routinely placed low enough that it would've been cancelled in a heartbeat on any major network. Is it just the state of the world? The immediate future seems to be growing increasingly bleak for more and more people, so maybe it's no surprise nostalgia, like Boardwalk Empire, PanAm, and The Playboy Club are in and visions of the future are out. Is it that they just haven't put the 'right' show on? Between Firefly, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, Eurkea, SGU, The Event, No Ordinary Family, Dollhouse, FlashForward, Century City and others, something must've been the 'right' kind of show; they've tried everything!
The strangest thing is that television sci-fi is in a place quite unlike its contemporaries in other media. In the world of video games, some of the biggest sellers lately have been sci-fi; Halo, Gears of War, Resistance: Fall of Man. On the big screen Avatar rakes in the money, while Thor and Captain America manage to be both critical and box office darlings, and Hugh Jackman is set to open Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie. Even non-live action sci-fi television is doing well enough, with Transformers Prime, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Thunder Cats, Young Justice, Generator Rex and the like. Literary scifi may be in a somewhat less rosy position, but that's true of all literature at the moment, as the industry struggles to move from the old bound-paper paradigm to the new online one. And speaking of the internet, how much original fiction, and original video production, has been taking place? As computers become cheaper, faster and more powerful it becomes more and more feasible for individuals and small groups to put together their little little opuses. The achingly beautiful Voices from a Distant Star, after all, was the result of pretty much a guy and his computer in the garage.
So, can sci-fi be saved? Maybe. To be honest, I'm not really sure what would have to happen for it to be saved. But I do know one thing. The only sci-fi that article is talking about is live-action network television; for the true fan of tomorrow, there's a whole wide world of quality work still being put out, just waiting to inspire the next generation of dreamers.