We got our first TV, a black-and-white model somewhere around 1955, I believe, which would have made me about 8 years old. We were living in Duluth, MN, at that time. My favourite TV program (apart from the eponymous Pinky Lee) was one hosted by Jack Barry, called Winky Dink. An animated pixy (Winky Dink) appeared on the show; viewers were supposed to have a plastic overlay—which adhered to the TV through electrostatic attraction—to put on the TV screen which they could draw on in crayon to create pictures to help Winky Dink, or to decode secret messages. I didn’t have one of these, nor would my parents get me one. (This is probably my first experience with fantasy on TV.)
I found a piece of heavy green plastic somewhere, which wouldn’t stick to the TV, but which I taped over the screen at the proper time; we kids already had crayons. At age 8, I was already an experienced SF/F reader, but as far as I know, there were no adult SF/F programs yet (at least, none my parents would watch). The top TV programs at that time—and I believe we only had a couple of stations to watch (originating in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul)—were I Love Lucy, Ed Sullivan, Disneyland, GE Theater, and so on. (Both of the latter two shows had occasional SF/F-type programs, however. My late friend Jerry Sohl wrote a number of scripts for GE Theater.) The time was a “vast SF/F wasteland.”
By the mid-1960s, the tide had turned, and we had not only the heavy hitters Twilight Zone and Outer Limits—both dedicated to “real” SF/F—but also more lightweight (and therefore, I guess, more acceptable to Middle America) series like I Dream of Jeannie, The Addams Family, The Munsters, and My Favorite Martian. Oh, before those there were the occasional stabs at SF/F like Science Fiction Theatre and One Step Beyond, but those were few and far between. We were so starved for SF/F content, we would watch any show with a vague SF or F link, no matter how tenuous (how else to attribute the success of the fantasy soap opera Dark Shadows?).
And that brings us to 2018, where SF/F on TV and in the movies is the order of the day! Not only are there dozens (!) of SF/F shows, new ones have been announced recently, like Neil Gaiman’s (and Terry Pratchett’s) Good Omens, with Michael Sheen and David Tennant (a joint Amazon/BBC venture). Also, Amazon has expressed a financial interest—meaning they gave him the TV equivalent of a film option—in William Gibson’s The Peripheral as a TV series. According to Gibson, if this series gets greenlighted, it will probably be filmed in 2019. See my review of the book here.
It would be impossible to watch all the SF/F on TV—let alone in movies—and still do anything else, so my wife (the Beautiful & Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk) and I have chosen only a few of them to keep up with. This doesn’t mean none of the ones we don’t watch are worthwhile (except in a couple of cases, in my opinion); it just means we have to be choosy. I’m not sure I can even list all the series available (not counting the ones directed at younger viewers), but here are some of the ones we’re aware of (most of this list is “shows you should be watching” from ranker.com):
Westworld*; Supernatural*; Stranger Things*; Doctor Who**; The Expanse**; Legion*; Black Mirror*; The 100; Outlander; Star Trek: Discovery**; Travelers; Timeless*; The Man in the High Castle**; Humans ; The Orville*; Colony; Sense8*; Killjoys; 12 Monkeys**; Fortitude; The Flash*; Arrow**; DC’s Legends of Tomorrow**; Supergirl*; Lucifer*; Altered Carbon*; The OA*; The Gifted; Counterpart; The Walking Dead*; Fear The Walking Dead**; Future Man; Dark; The Shannara Chronicles**; Lost in Space*; Runaways; Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams*; Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.*; Between; The Crossing*; Salvation ; Glitch*; 3%; Stargate Origins; Krypton**; Siren; Stargate Infinity; Ash vs. Evil Dead*; Into The Badlands**; and Marvel’s Inhumans**. There are also animated ones, like Rick and Morty and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and more! If you only watched those on this list, that would be a full-time job. (Some of these are on hiatus as Westworld was for over a year; some, like Sense8 and The Inhumans, have been cancelled as far as I know.
In the list above, those I normally watch have a single asterisk. Those I watched once or twice, but don’t watch now or just quit watching, have two asterisks. There are some I’ve never heard of, and some I’ve never watched for various reasons. One or two of the double-asterisk ones I may go back to, depending on time. And there are one or two I wouldn’t watch again for money! (Well, depends on how much money….)
In addition, there are numerous shows that we watched that are no longer on TV, though of course you can find them on Hulu, DVD or Blu-Ray and various other places; it seems since the original George Reeves Superman I’ve been looking out for and watching SF/F on TV. (I always enjoyed Reeves’ portrayal of Clark Kent, who was anything but a wimp.) I can’t always enumerate all the reasons I watch or don’t watch certain shows; some just charmed me, like Stranger Things; some because I like a certain actor or actress, like Supergirl; some because I’ve been watching for a number of seasons and haven’t yet quit watching even though the show no longer resembles what it started out as, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; and some for various reasons above plus they’re filmed locally. (For example, we watched the original X-Files faithfully, even when Duchovny got them to move to Los Angeles; since the show has returned, it fails to charm me or us.) But mainly I watch SF/F shows because they’re SF/F!
One thing we like to do, since we live in “Hollywood North,” is to visit places where they’re filming. One evening we walked through the New Westminster outdoor set of I, Robot (Will Smith), which was beautifully “dressed,” even though its actual onscreen time was probably about a minute. The people hired to “guard” the set tried to shoo us away and prohibit us from taking photos, but I pointed out—as I did at the most recent Supernatural shoot near our house—that it was a public street and they didn’t have the legal right to prohibit us (Figures 5 & 4 respectively).
(Last fall Steve Carell was being filmed for an upcoming movie, The Women of Marwen, and there were about 12 amateur photographers—and probably some paparazzi—taking photographs from across the street to the extent that one of the film people came over to plead with us to stop taking photos, as the shutter noises were interfering with the sound people! Not a genre movie, however [Figure 6].) William Gibson tells me that, although he has yet to watch a single episode, he has twice driven by sets or shoots for The Man in the High Castle.
The reasons Lynne and I watch SF/F on TV are varied; I wonder if your reasons are even more varied. If you feel like it, you can draw up a list of the SF/F shows you watch—and why—or stay away from (and why) and send to me at this email address. I’d be happy to look at your lists and reasons. Maybe we can draw some conclusions about TV SF/F!
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