An Unhappy Burtiversary

TremorsposterTen years ago this past March, I enjoyed the greatest TV moment of my lifetime- the debut of Tremors: the Series, on the Scifi Channel. Two hours of heady, Burt Gummer-fun. Just a few months later, my Friday nights were cruelly taken from me by Scifi’s top dog, Bonnie Hammer. She cancelled the show.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since I thrilled to the weekly exploits of TV’s greatest survivalist and his small town friends as they battled graboids, genetic mutations and prehistoric beasts. It’s even harder to believe that we’re coming up on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the greatest monster movie franchise of all time.

Clearly, I’m a Tremors fan boy. I have been since the day I first watched the movie in a theater in my home town back in 1990. I wasn’t really sure what Tremors was when I went to the theater, but my best friend and I were both waiting for the day we shipped out to basic training in the military (he to the Coast Guard, me to the USAF) and we had been hitting a lot of movies to pass the time.

I had been a fan of B Movies for as long as I could remember. I included in this category the classic Universal Monster movies- although I have since realized those were actually, for their time, well made, A-grade movies. Tremors’ movie poster grabbed my attention with its poster depicting a many-toothed monster beneath the unsuspecting feet of regular folks.

Tremors_2It was, and still is, a fantastic movie that clearly pays homage to the great Universal Monster movies. With a diverse cast that included Fred Ward, Reba McIntire, Michael Gross, Kevin Bacon and even Victor Wong- possible better known as sorcerer Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China.

A few years later, I found myself gathered with friends, ready to watch the direct-to-video sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, starring Fred Ward. Again, a fun movie, clearly made for fans of all things monster.

Fast forward to 2001. I had been out of the service for years, was married with a two year old daughter and a mortgage. My movie watching had dropped off a bit, as my little girl had taken to following me around like a lost puppy, and was pretty much bitten with the same couch potato bug I have carried for so many years. I had my science fiction movie buddy. Out came Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, a direct to video release that I raced down to Bestbuy to pick up on release day. It became a family favorite, with my daughter demanding to watch it over and over again.

Two years later and Tremors was a staple in my house. I had dug out my old Tremors 2 promotional poster and my little girl and I rewatched the movie many times- when we weren’t doing repeats of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Army of Darkness or Big Trouble in Little China.

Tremors3DVDscanDuring this time I found that tremors had a growing fan following on the internet, with the production company, Stampede Entertainment, putting together an excellent website (it’s still there, by the way), complete with a fan forum and an FAQ page where fans could bombard writer SS Wilson with all sorts of obscure questions.

On premiere night in March 2003, I borrowed a projector from work, made an impromptu screen, and turned my unfinished basement into a theater of sorts for my friends- reliving those days before marriage when we’d regularly gotten together to watch MST3K or the latest B Movie on VHS.

And Tremors didn’t disappoint.

Despite being shown out of order (the premiere night was the Pilot episode, “Feeding Frenzy” followed by episode 6 “Ghost Dance”), the series captured the best parts of the movies. Namely, Burt Gummer outwitting monsters and working alongside the townsfolk he normally tried to avoid.

But the Tremors fan train didn’t end there. During production for the series, NBC-Universal approved a fourth movie. And in a stroke of genius, Stampede instead made it a prequel- set in the late 1800s, in a cowboy-era Nevada. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. Cowboys and Graboids. Great stuff. Released direct to video in 2004.

The show was just too much fun to last though. Particularly after I watched Episode 8, “A Little Paranoia Among Friends”, which mocked the whole UFO cult, and Art Bell in particular. As Scifi Channel was really catering to the UFO crowd at that time, I was instantly worried. After all, this was the channel that cancelled their hit show Farscape at the peak of its popularity.

Tremors4dvdcoverSure enough, after only 11 fantastic episodes and two okay ones (Michael Gross was filming Tremors 4 and couldn’t be in two episodes), Tremors: The Series fell under the Scifi Hammer and was cancelled.

I personally was crushed. I had become particularly obsessed with the show- even to the point of plotting out and building Burt Gummer’s basement in virtual 3D on my computer. I reached Trekkie levels of fandom for the show, joining with many other fans for IRC chats, regular forum discussion and regular emails to Stampede (who did a great job of interacting with the fans).

But the ride was over. Tremors was dead.

Not only did the show get cancelled despite record-breaking ratings, but NBC-Universal would later kill the idea of a Tremors 5– even though a script was written. The suits in charge lamented over the drop in direct-to-video sales, the poor showing of Van Helsing at the theaters and the coincidental push with retailers to not carry as much direct-to-video. A perfect storm of bad luck for the people of Perfection, NV.

Even worse, Tremors wasn’t even shown in reruns for very long, nor was it released on DVD- unlike shows today that end a season then show up in boxed sets months later. Fans of Tremors had to swap VHS, Xvid or DIVX copies through the mail, like video pirates.

So now it’s ten years later and Tremors hasn’t even been brought back as a comic book. We don’t even have the series on blu ray. It was released on DVD- but in 4:3, Fullscreen, instead of the widescreen the show was shot in. (But thankfully in the production order).

I’ve been commemorating the show myself- with weekly viewings every Friday night. I had even suggested to other fans that we relive the IRC chats of a decade ago by doing synchronized viewings at 9PM (Eastern Time)- live tweeting #burtiversary. But sadly, it was a party of one that first night.

798px-Tremors_TVTremors was just ahead of its time. Science Fiction and monsters have all had a great resurgence in the years since. Even Syfy Channel dropped the UFO programs and went to a monster-centric Saturday movie offering. Fans of science fiction & fantasy shows have moved on from just living in forums to live tweeting and staying tuned in for after shows like The Talking Dead. It’s a great environment that Tremors would have fit nicely in.

If you haven’t watched Tremors or its short-lived TV series, you can check it out on Netflix. It’s classic monster movie goodness, with smart scripts, clever characters and no buckets of blood or severed limbs to try and shock you with gore. Just good, clean monster killin’ suitable for the whole family (assuming the salty language of the movies doesn’t offend).

As for me, I’m going to cling to my DVDs and desperately wait for the day Universal releases their deathgrip on the franchise and lets us few fans left do some comics or novels or something.

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1 Comment

  1. Whoops, just realized, there actually are a couple of severed body parts in some episodes, and one particularly gruesome, skeleton with most of it's flesh melted off by acid. Pretty tame by today's standards but I guess some small kids could be a little grossed out.

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