Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Look Back

Got bored last night while The Wife was on the computer, so on a whim, I pulled out an old book I had on the shelf, titled The Best of Science Fiction TV. This is one of those throwaway compilation books thta publishers seems to shovel out by the thousands every year, lots of small snippets alternating with a ton of pictures. "Lavishly illustrated," as they say, with screen captures of cheapo television shows.

The book was published in 1987, almost 20 years ago, and it sort of amazed me to page through it. A couple of months ago, see, I attended a panel at Conestoga about "The Year in Television," and the consensus seemed to be that it had been a slow year. Other than Battlestar Galactica and Lost, nothing else had really seemed to take hold and thrive. Even Star Trek, long the most durable and dependable of franchises, no longer had a show in production.

But looking at this book, you realize just how far we've come. The list of the top twenty-five science fiction in shows of all time, voted on by a group of respondents including prominent TV critics, SFWA writers, and SF fan groups, was this:

  1. Star Trek (and at that time, there was only the one)
  2. The Twilight Zone (the original)
  3. The Outer Limits (still only the one)
  4. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (BBC series)
  5. Dr. Who
  6. Amazing Stories
  7. Mork and Mindy
  8. The Wild, Wild West
  9. V ("the miniseries," the book qualifies, not the follow-on series)
  10. The Prisoner
  11. The Invaders
  12. Quark
  13. The Jetsons
  14. Captain Video
  15. The Adventures of Superman
  16. Space Patrol
  17. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet
  18. The Twilight Zone (80's revival)
  19. Lost in Space
  20. Way Out
  21. The Avengers
  22. Battlestar Galactica
  23. Science Fiction Theater
  24. My Favorite Martian
  25. Blake's 7
This was the state of science-fiction TV in 1987. Of the twenty-five shows on the list, only three were products of the decade in which the book was written (Amazing Stories, Blake's 7, and the 80's revival of The Twilight Zone), other than Dr. Who, which had been running constantly for over two decades. The most recent of the rest had gone off the air five years previously (Mork and Mindy, which started in 1978 and lasted till 1982). Several of the shows had lasted only one season, or had been cancelled before their first season had ended (Quark, which aired only eight episodes). Two of the shows in the top 25 also placed in the top 10 Worst Shows (Lost in Space, Battlestar Galactica).

The point here is that, before Star Trek: The Next Generation ushered in a new wave of serious science fiction shows, the bench was really thin. Some of the shows that are fondly remembered now were not watched because they were good, but because they were the only even vaguely SF-nal thing on at the time. In those days, fans took what they could get. Nowadays, we get more than we can take.

So before you jump on the Aaron Sorkin bandwagon, dercying the degeneration of television into a horrible wasteland compared with some golden past, take another look at the titles on this list, and compare them to what's on today. We have it pretty damn good right about now.

No comments: