WELCOME TO 2016 – Let’s Talk About TV

Steve muses on the Amazing Stories television deal.

It was previously announced here (and on Entertainment Weekly and Hollywood Reporter and…) that I am licensing the Amazing Stories name to NBC/Universal for a possible re-do, re-imagining, re-adaptation, re-boot or whatever you want to call it, of the 1985 episodic television series produced (and often directed) by Steven Spielberg.

Let me clear some backstory out of the way.

The Amazing Stories name was licensed for the Spielberg television show from TSR, who were the owners and publishers of the magazine at the time.

The Spielberg deal was, at the time, a completely unprecedented one for television.  Estimates are that it was budgeted for approximately $800,000 to $1,000,000 PER EPISODE and with the kicker that Steven Spielberg had been granted truly unprecedented creative control of the series.  As in no one but Spielberg had the final say as to what went up on the screen.

The results were generally lackluster, at least judging by responses from my coterie/generation of television watching fans.  The general consensus seems to be that the show was very visually oriented (stunning for television at the time by many accounts), but that it fell short in the gosh-wow story telling department. My personal opinion of many of the shows was that it was more Night Gallery than Twilight Zone.  I have also read quite a bit of commentary from succeeding generations (teens at the time – folks who would now be approaching their fifties) and the reaction (at least 50%) was far different:  they really liked the show and have very fond memories of it.

As things happened, TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast and Wizards of the Coast was purchased by Hasbro.  Despite attempts by PIezo Publishing (who’s editors had formerly been the editing team for TSR’s magazine division) to pry Amazing Stories out of Hasbro’s hands (either as a license or a direct purchase), Hasbro was having none of it.  Instead, they allowed the trademarks to lapse in 2008.  At which point I began the process of obtaining them.  Which led to a grant of multiple trademarks in late 2011 and the debut of this website in December of 2012.

Many things work on a generational cycle and I suspect that the new Amazing Stories television show is part of that same process.  But regardless and for whatever reason, NBC decided they wanted to resurrect the television show, leading to them contacting me in what I remember as being June of this past year.  They wanted to clear the rights for use of the name.  This has been parlayed into a licensing deal, one we expect to finalize sometime in the next couple of weeks.

That’s the back story.

Now at this point I am going strictly on speculation as I am not privy to the inner workings at NBC/Universal (other than what’s in the contract and revealed during our phone conferences, which of course must remain confidential).

I strongly suspect that Amazing Stories will be a property for the SyFy Channel (one of NBC/U’s many channels).  Research reveals that they have several other episodic shows planned for 2016/2017, one seemingly fantasy/paranormal oriented and another horror oriented.  What’s missing from that mix?  Science Fiction.

Anyone familiar with my older (and currently unavailable) blog The Crotchety Old Fan will remember that one of my running gags was taking issue with the SF content of the SciFi/SyFy channel.  This was back during the aughts when the channel heads decided they needed to attract a wider and more diverse audience by adding professional wrestling and lots of paranormal twaddle to the lineup.  (I still can’t watch any scene using night vision goggles without almost giggling.)

It was also the era (late) when they launched the re-do of Battlestar Galactica – a show whose original incarnation I was privy to watch during its first run that still gives me the shudders.  I was openly critical of that major success as well – the re-do (at least partially justified by the weak-sauce climax), though I have changed that opinion considerably over the years.  It was quite good at elevating interpersonal relationships and expounding on what SF is supposed to be all about – the effects of science and technology on people, and their reaction(s) to it.  (But then, serialized television shows all still remind me of Soap Operas, that my grandmother watched incessantly.  I’m definitely a baby-boomer.)

And I have to say that it has now become apparent, even to me, that the SyFy channel is trying mighty hard to get to the top of the heap of genre producing television channels.  I was a bit disappointed with Childhood’s End (but it would be difficult for someone so familiar and enamored of the novel not to have been disappointed).  Their other latest offering – The Expanse – is really hitting all of the marks.  It’s got great special effects (and I’m pleased that there are now far fewer shots of magboots activating), some interesting characters and a great deal of intriguing intrigue.  I’d still prefer our view of The Belt society to have been Niven’s (Known Space series), but for contemporary audiences James S.A. Corey was probably the better choice.  More up-to-date, benefiting from all that has happened since the 60s, more attuned to today’s societal concerns.

In short, I expect that SyFy (if it is to be the SyFy channel) will be doing an absolute solid by the Amazing Stories television show, however Bryan Fuller (appointed show runner) chooses to imagine it.  Will it be episodic or serial?  Don’t know yet.  But what we do know is that Mr. Fuller has a reputation for building televisions shows that concentrate on story.  And we do know that the SyFy channel is literally putting their money where their mouth is in getting behind producing shows that respect the genre (are working with the genre – check out the App for The Expanse);  someone over there seems to understand that there is a community out there in television land that wants good, thoughtful science fiction.  That community can be the channel’s greatest ally and it seems that SyFy has more than demonstrated already that it wants to engage on a meaningful level.

So I for one am looking forward to their new production and hoping that fans everywhere will find something they like as well.  Having a major broadcaster getting behind the genre is a good thing, not only for television watching fans, but for the good things I expect it will do here at the magazine and throughout the field in general.  Greater recognition for the field and wider exposure to good science fiction can’t be anything but good for all of us.


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