Copyright © 2006 by John Zipperer.
These columns first appeared, in edited form, on TVBarn.
Fi Channel heads back to "The Outer Limits"
(9/26/00) "The Outer Limits" truly seems to have no limits anymore. The science fiction anthology series, which ran for six years on the Showtime cable channel before being canceled, has been saved from oblivion by the Sci Fi Channel. The science fiction cable channel has made a deal with MGM Television Entertainment to produce 22 new episodes for a seventh season of this long-running revival.
"Outer Limits" had its first run in the early 1960s, and it was brought back by Showtime in the 1990s as part of the trend of raiding TV archives for series that could be redone. It's kind of appropriate that Sci Fi should be the station to keep it going.
As I write this, the TV in the background is playing Sci Fi Channel's widescreen presentation of "Babylon 5." It's a nice presentation, but an even nicer reminder of the important role that Sci Fi plays in resurrecting SF shows and giving them a first-class presentation. After its well-received airing of tarted up episdoes of the original "Star Trek," this treatment of "Babylon 5" is welcome. It's even more welcome because the channel is showing some creativity, promoting the widescreen aspect instead of just trying to repeat the treatment it gave the other series (which included pre- and post-commercial segments starring the original actors that helped lard up the "Trek" episodes to fill 90 minutes).
Sci Fi's deal will enable it to start airing the new episodes in early 2001. (Syndication will follow in September of that year.) What may have made the deal sweetest for Sci Fi is that it will include production of at least three episodes that will serve as pilots for potential continuing series on the channel.
And as the final capper in the deal, Sci Fi acquired multiyear rights to the original 49 episodes of the series from the 1960s.
Other news and views
Season premieres this week: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" -- both on Tuesday night on WB. For a preview of "Buffy," the show's official Web site has set up a special page. Quicktime 4.0 is required on your computer.
Sci Fi, which picks up new and old SF series like you pick up germs on a public bus, has announced that it has acquired all 120 half-hour episodes of the 1960s "Batman" TV series. Yep, the Adam West series. They will begin airing this fall on Sci Fi. Expect to see lots of those marathons with caped crusaders shows in 2001.
The final words...
buy it as a viewer, because as I watch, I know how many takes we did
to get the scenes to work."
(9/19/00) Which TV series will take the fall for the current attention being paid to violence in media? With the arrival of Senate hearings last week looking into allegations that entertainment companies target youth when marketing violent material, the stakes have become clearer. Throw in the fact that Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Lieberman in on the committee, joined by former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, and--don't forget--GOP vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney is married to a culture warrior, Lynne, and she showed up for the committee hearings. So now that it's an integral part of our sober election season, we can rest assured that a sane proposal will be adopted for erasing this blight of violence from our children's lives, right?
Personally, I'd rather kids watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" than hear a Pat Buchanan speech or see advertisements for the NRA, but never mind. Let's just write up a casualty list so we're not surprised when some show gets the axe in a network or studio attempt to placate the Senate. Here are my candidates for TV shows most likely to draw the ire and the fire of the Congressional leaders.
"Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles": So what we have here is a computer-animated SF adventure series, aired during morning kiddie hours, that involves soldiers blowing apart aliens. Uh-huh. Possible defense: It's really, really, really good.
"Angel": The background here is that an undead hunky guy goes to Hollywood and fights demons. He finds demons in apartments, demons in law firms, and even evil in other timelines. Then he kills them. Possible defense: The bad guys are overpaid, over-tanned Hollywood people.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer": The parent show to "Angel," this concerns a teenage woman who finds demons in apartments, in school, and even among elected officials. Then she kills them. Sticks stakes through their hearts and things like that. Possible defense: The show focuses much more on teen sex than violence.
"FreakyLinks": A horror series from the creators of "The Blair Witch Project." It hasn't premiered yet, but I don't think Al Gore has watched "Buffy" yet, either. Possible defense: The killings were off-screen on "Blair Witch," or so I'm told. I got bored and left halfway through it.
"The X-Files": Oh, dear. A porn-addict man and his fellow FBI agent team up to track and kill monsters, demons, aliens, and serial killers. Oh, and there was that one episode, "Home," in which in-bred Southern brothers killed people who interfered with their mating with their mother, whom they kept on a tray underneath a bed. Possible defense: Did I mention that for the first five years, the bad buys were a government conspiracy? Oh, I suppose that's not a defense. Um...
"Star Trek: Voyager": In an interstellar quest to raise ratings, Captain Janeway and her crew of the starship Voyager kill aliens with hand phasers, photon torpedoes, and anything else that isn't bolted down. Possible defense: The ratings did improve for a while there, but that may have had more to do with wrestling on UPN.
But who'd a thunk it? The most sensible response to this well-intended silliness comes from George W. Bush, who said the answer isn't in bashing Hollywood, rather it's in good parenting and political persuasion.
Other news and views
On the newsstand: Catch the September 22 issue of Entertainment Weekly, which includes a cover story on the new season of "The X-Files," in which it examines how the new pairing of Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick changes the show's chemistry. Speaking of previews, the new issue of the official Star Trek: The Magazine features a preview of this, the final season of "Star Trek: Voyager" and includes an interview with star Kate Mulgrew. Collectors be on the watch for the duo covers. The October Fangoria includes a preview of the new "FreakyLinks" TV series from the creators of "The Blair Witch Project." Like that come-from-nowhere movie hit, this series is using the Internet to promote itself. So what do Sally Ride and Lou Dobbs have in common? They're both part of the Space.com company that, among other things, has launched the first issue of the company's self-named magazine.
Who wants to be an astronaut? Variety reports that NBC will pay $40 million for the rights to a program called "Destination Mir," in which one American will get ready to go to the Mir space station. Half of that cost will be for MirCorp, the Russian company that's trying to make money from the out-of-date station. NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier told Variety, "With every network buying reality shows, including us, this was something that took (the genre) to the next leve....It's a completely original idea. Nobody else is going to do another space shot."
Reader mail: Last week I asked for reader thoughts on "Lexx," which I admitted not keeping up to date with this season. David Hull writes, "When I first saw 'Lexx,' it seemed tasteless and silly, but after watching a few more episodes, it became a guilty pleasure--it grew on me like an aggressive form of kudzu. It didn't help that Sci-Fi started out airing the episodes out of order, preferring lame stand-alone episodes instead of going straight into the more interesting story arc of season 2. The final few episodes of season 2 were particularly fascinating as an entertainingly nasty villain named Mantrid destroyed huger and huger swaths of an entire universe. Season 3 is a bit slower-moving but has a curious and very unique look, and all the episodes seem to be linked in one long arc with lots of cliffhangers. I keep watching the show for the novelty of not-necessarily-likeable characters and the off-the-wall images and effects. It does a better job than most sci-fi shows of delving into truly alien environments.
"Unfortunately the Sci-Fi Channel, instead of running repeats of its original shows in October like it usually does, is pre-empting most of them for lame movies like 'Universal Soldier III.' This includes 'Lexx' and 'Farscape.' Since 'Farscape' has reportedly hit some Nielsen ratings heights recently, you'd think they'd want to rerun the early episodes for those of us who only discovered it recently. Meanwhile the less-interesting but still worthwhile 'First Wave' only gets one airing per Sunday in September and disappears entirely in October. When is the Sci-Fi Channel going to learn that its movies are absolutely awful (after all, they're drawn from the USA Network's hideous movie library) and its only worthwhile product is its original series--even if they are merely in reruns?"
Good point about Sci-Fi's movies. If they didn't have any series worth watching, one could see them airing some of the dreck they do. But they have some truly intriguing and well-done series of their own. Too bad. Hull also suggests looking to http://www.sftv.org/sftv/sftv.html for regular TV listings; I second the recommendation. It's already a bookmark for me.
And Ethan Besser follows up on this column's recent discussions with readers regarding Sci-Fi's upcoming airings of "Babylon 5" in widescreen. "I once asked Joe Straczynski personally why 'B5' isn't broadcast in widescreen if it's shot that way. His answer was obvious (most TVs are small), but he noted that it wouldn't make much of a difference anyway, since all the action has to shown within the standard TV frame. I suspect that showing it in widescreen will be a big disappointment to many excited fans, since most of the space on the side will either be a wall or wide open air. Also, B5 has never been shown in widescreen in Israel, at least not during the three seasons I watched it there."
Maybe they could place product placements in the blank parts of the screen? Maybe not.
And, finally, Lauren Snell asks, "Have you considered posting the episode titles of the syndicated run of 'Stargate SG1'? I don't get Showtime, but have been watching the episodes as they reach syndication and would love to know what's coming up."
Good question. I am admittedly subjective in which listings I include below and which I don't. I'll consider adding the "Stargate" syndicated listings. In the meantime, you may want to check the link a few paragraphs up on this page, where you'll be able to subscribe to a semi-monthly listing of every darned SF and fantasy TV series. It doesn't give story synopses, but it does list episode titles, and lots of them. And if you should check out http://www.windowseat.org/tv/ where you can subscribe to a daily rundown of TV shows of interest. So much good stuff on the Internet!
The final words...
"I will not
be anyone's puppet!"
yourself out of a corner
(9/12/00) Writers strikes may come and go, but there will always be writers. Yes, that's a particularly bland statement, until we add that it's the good writers with talent and original ideas that at times seem to be endangered. I was reminded of that a week ago when I listened to three writers discuss their experiences battling production hell; they reminded us often impatient and harsh-judging viewers that writers have numerous obstacles to navigate to get to the point where they can deliver an excellent script that will not only entertain but will poke our consciences or otherwise make us think.
The writers--all three were veterans of "Space: 1999"--were part of a panel discussion at the MainMission: 2000 science fiction convention in Manhattan. Having worked on a syndicated British SF series at a time when first-run syndication was still largely untested in this country, they knew what it was like to be flying below people's radar; perhaps it's more accurate to say they could identify with a small group of people shot into space to confront unknown wonders, which is what they wrote about.
The key to getting one's ideas from mind to paper to screen certainly includes intelligence, talent, and thought, but there's another critical element in television: "Discover the best producers," according to George Bellak, a writer on "Space: 1999" and "The Tenth Level." A good producer can fight some of your battles for you, as well as give you a few of your own, leaving you to decide where you want to compromise. "Either you are going to say 'This is what I want to do, buy it, Jack' or you do it Hollywood's way," said Bellak.
Sometimes Hollywood (or the Brit equivalent) lets you do it nearly your way. One of the best features of science fiction is its ability to explore questions beyond who's sleeping together or who killed the guest star, and the assembled "Space" writers were asked about how they tackled the sometimes-metaphysical stories of that series. "We never set out to write a metaphysical story," said Johnny Byrne, who, in addition to serving as a writer and story editor for "Space: 1999," counts "Doctor Who," "All Creatures Great and Small," and "Heartbeat" to his credits. He said they had a different priority: They set out to write quickly. "Like the Alphans [the regular characters on the series, residents of Moonbase Alpha], we had been pitched out...and we were searching for stories to write."
Bellak agreed. "You don't sit around discussing philosophy; it emerges." So much for all those dreams hatched over bear at the student union.
Some have argued that the writers for TV today face a different paradigm, where you not only have to go through a producer, but you go through a battery of producers, who take your story idea, tear it apart, repace it, rework it, and make sure it fits every nuance of the series they work on every day. It can be a dispiriting experience, as one audience member--a writer of two "Star Trek: Voyager" episodes-- noted that after breaking in relatively easily through an interview with one of that show's producers, they then faced the staff of writer/producers for which that series is famous. As a result, the final scripts sometimes had little in common with the original story idea.
But the producers are trying to ensure that the show fits its mold, and if that means they shave off a few rough edges of incoming scripts, so much the better, they must think. And though they may try to impose a standard story formula of pacing and character interactions on all new scripts, even that can be overcome by a good enough and determined enough writer, or so said Chris Penfold, also a writer and story editor on "Space: 1999," and a contributor to "Casualty." Penfold has taught writing and has done script editing, and when he chooses writers, he tells them "to ignore as much as possible the baggage of the show, the formula, and to write a stand-alone show." If the story can stand alone, then fit it to the needs of the show afterward.
That formula can have another advantage. "A writer has to be grateful for that kind of a hook," said Byrne. "It gives you an entry," helping to set up a story that might otherwise require much exposition. "A writer can take that and the world is your oyster," he adds. "I'm absolutely in favor of that....it's only when the formula becomes all controlling that it's a problem."
Luckily, writers have an ability to destroy when necessary to protect their abilities to create. "I named all my characters after friends," said Johnny Byrne. "And the ones I didn't like were always being sucked out into the vacuum of space."
"Babylon 5": Always intended for widescreen
In last weeks' SF Loft, I noted that the Sci Fi Channel was going to be airing widescreen versions of "Babylon 5" beginning September 25. What I didn't know was whether or not the show was originally filmed in that format or if Sci Fi was going to slice off the top and bottom of the frame to make it look widescreen. (Don't laugh; it's been done by others.) Well, numerous readers wrote in to let me know that "B5" was indeed filmed in widescreen format. Anthony Foglia pointed me to the Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5, which explains: "Babylon 5 is filmed in widescreen (16:9) format, so that when HDTV arrives, the show can be remastered for full-screen video release. The extra picture space is just a bonus; directors compose scenes to fit entirely in the normal 4:3 aspect ratio of today's television, at the same time making sure that the edges of the picture can be included later on. You can see the widescreen film in action during the title sequence, which is shown letterboxed." You can bet I've bookmarked the Lurker's Guide, something I probably should have done long ago.
Jason Snell was one of the readers who told me about the widescreen filming, adding: "However, the CGI wasn't done in widescreen -- I'm interested to see how they handle that. When I visited 'B5's' production offices a few years ago, they indicated it would take a lot of work to go widescreen, because of the effects... but I've heard nothing about how they've actually handled it for Sci-Fi."
Edward S. Chen notes that the widescreen shooting holds true for all of the "B5" episodes and television movies, but not the pilot episode. According to the "B5" FAQ he cites, the CGI special effects have already been re-rendered for widescreen because some markets showed the series in that format, but otherwise the rest of the CGI would require reworking. They certainly wouldn't have spent the money if it wasn't necessary; the fact that it was filmed in widescreen at all was only because, as Bob Hodge writes, "the incremental cost was apparently pretty minor, since [producer J. Michael Straczynski] is famous for having pinched pennies in the show's production."
And we'll give the last word to reader John Lotshaw, who puts it in perspective: "Even as far back as 1992, when the 'Babylon 5' pilot was shot, the producers were already looking ahead to high definition television. The live action plates were shot in 35mm, with the action staged in a very small area of the frame. This was done to a) accommodate the 16:9 aspect ratio of the HDTV image which was framed, and b) to accommodate the 4:3 aspect ratio of NTSC/PAL standard definition television images.... It made things a little complicated for the cinematographer, but that's what he got paid the big bucks for... :^} The computer generated imagery was composed for 16:9, but was rendered at both 16:9 and 4:3. As I understand, there were two countries that actually broadcast the widescreen version of 'Babylon 5,' but I could be wrong (I seem to remember it was Israel and Finland)."
In other news and views
C. Jones writes to ask us if there will be another review here of the "Lexx" series on the Sci Fi Channel. I haven't revisited that series since getting a preview of a couple episodes early last year, so it'll take me a while to get up to speed on it again. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from readers (especially readers who may be in countries seeing episodes ahead of their U.S. debuts) with their thoughts on how "Lexx" is doing. Jones also asks for some fan action: "'Lexx' is 2 episodes into Season 3, with the third episode showing this Friday. Last month, 'Lexx' fans across the world received e-mail notification from Paul Donovan, the series creator, asking us to contact publications to request some coverage for this dark and funny show." The impetus was worry that Sci Fi wouldn't pick up the show for another season. He asks for help in letting Sci Fi know how important the show is, and points us to http://dragonfliers.homestead.com/. The good news for "Lexx" fans is that that Web site announces Sci Fi has agreed to acquire 24 more episodes of the series, but it still asks for fans to let the cable channel know that they're watching and appreciating the series. Visit the site for more info.
Sonic Images has released "Prime Time," a CD with the theme music from 12 television series, including such SF shows as "Babylon 5," "Crusade," "Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict," "Outer Limits," "Poltergeist," and "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." I've heard it, and it's a nifty little trip down recent-memory lane for SF addicts.
Sci Fi Channel is delaying its "Babylon 5" Sciography. The hip documentary series (which debuted this summer with a "Battlestar Galactica" show and lots of annoying narration) was due to present the "B5" show September 24. The producers say they want the show to be of the highest quality. Which means probably more than they're saying.
In the next couple of weeks, we'll be seeing repeats on UPN of the "Star Trek: Voyager" episodes featuring appearances from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" characters Reg Barclay (portrayed by Dwight Schultz) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). As you may already know, they'll be returning in the seventh and final year of the show, playing what is believed to be an important part in the return to the Alpha Quadrant of the lost starship. The official Star Trek Web site reports they'll appear in episode 252, "Inside Man."
The final words...
set out to write a metaphysical story."
Schell returns to "Space," kind of
(9/5/00) Rarely is popular perception so accurate as when it comes to questions science fiction fans ask their heroes at SF conventions. Yes, people really begin questions with, "In episode Such and Such, in the scene where you and Martin Landau were stranded on the ship..." It's proof that fans have incredibly strong memories, or at least well-worn videotapes of old episodes. I don't think people will ask such questions of the Seinfeld cast 20 years hence, but for well-loved but short-lived SF series such as "Space: 1999" from the mid-1970s, the chance to meet the people who brought those series to life and ask them questions that have long remained unanswered is a treat too good to pass up.
Actress Catherine Schell was on the receiving end of this treatment when she made a rare convention appearance at Manhattan's MainMission 2000 this past weekend. Schell, who portrayed a shapeshifting alien named Maya during the second and last season of "Space: 1999," was as gracious as, well, as only Europeans can be when confronted with hundreds of adoring Americans. While there, she did the usual -- signing autographs, helping auction "Space: 1999" materials for the con's two charities (Gay Men's Health Crisis and the National Parkinson Foundation), and answered a lot of audience questions about the series and her other acting work.
Perhaps the hardest thing for SF actors to do is establish the idea in their fans' minds that the actors do have professional careers apart from the SF series or film that first attracted the fans. Schell, whose non-"Space" work includes "Return of the Pink Panther," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and "Doctor Who," says she also once had a shot at being in the work of Federico Fellini. Her agents told her Fellini was waiting to interview her at a hotel. "I knew he liked strange people, and I'm far too straight. So I had to do something to myself." She borrowed odd shoes and redid her hair and makeup. "I looked very odd; I actually looked a bit like a tart. I went to the hotel for the meeting. Now, at this hotel, there were ladies of the evening in the lobby, and they probably thought I was one of them." Told to wait for Fellini, she sat and smoked -- setting a plant alight in the process, but otherwise nothing happened; Fellini was at his office, not the hotel, so the two of them never met. "I didn't get the part," she says. "And I tried so hard!"
Another part she didn't get would have been a ticket to a lifetime of SF conventions: Captain Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager." She confirmed that her agent had sent in her resume, but nothing came of that. "Obviously, I didn't get the part," she laughs.
Acting in a science-fiction series like "Space: 1999" had its own challenges, with special effects, monsters, human-to-alien transformations, and whatnot. Schell says she got along with second-season producer Fred Freiberger, who has a negative reputation among many fans for his presence during the final seasons of "Space" and the original "Star Trek." "It is a very civilized place, in England," she says. "No one brings guns to work." Whether Freiberger's reputation is deserved or not is up to others to decide (though even "Trek" scribe David Gerrold, who has had some well-publicized complaints about the producer, now says he at least understands some of the pressures Freiberger was under, being brought in to save troubled TV series). But Schell did mention that she found it fruitless to bring her concerns to the producer about certain directions of the series, in particular the trend in presenting aliens as hairy apelike monsters.
But she had to beg off when asked for specifics on individual episodes, remembering one only after prolonged prompting from the audience established that it included location shooting, a rare occurrence for that stage-bound series. (And her memory of that was largely limited to the fact that the entire cast was ill during the filming, thanks to a drought and a heat wave in England at the time.) But as for her favorite episode, she protested, "I don't know them anymore!"
In other news and views
The good news is that J. Michael Straczynski will be making a bigger paycheck with his next series than he did with "Babylon 5" or "Crusade." The bad news is that he's not giving a lot of details about it. He did chat up a few fans in a "B5" Usenet group, reports Fandom.com. There, he announced that he is writing the pilot for a new SF series for a pay cable TV network. If the pilot sells, they'll begin shooting in February or March for a Fall 2001 premiere.
Speaking of Straczynski's earlier series, Sci Fi Channel will be running "Babylon 5" in letterboxed format beginning September 25 at 7:00 p.m. I'm curious about whether the show was filmed in the wider format or if the TV-framed series will be cropped to make it look like a letterboxed feature film; I've been unsuccessful finding an answer. Anybody know?
GalaxyOnline.com announced that it has entered into an agreement with Net studio AtomFilms to license George Lucas' student film, "THX 1138, The Electronic Labyrinth." GalaxyOnline will have Internet rights to showcase the film, along with three others ("Plug," "Solid Action Love Partner," and "Una Dia Perfecta."). The licensing agreement gives the Web site a two-month period to offer the films; GalaxyOnline began offering all four films September 1.
Anyone remember Gerry Anderson's "Thunderbirds"? Neither do I -- too young. But I've heard a lot of older folk talk about it as if it was something special, and those in England will get a chance to see a digitally remastered version of the series on BBC-TV. The UK newspaper The Independent reports that repeats of the series were chosen for this special treatment because they were "unique for their time." You can bet that sooner or later those revitalized episodes will make it to this side of the Atlantic.
The official "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Web site has posted a sneak preview of the premiere episode for the series' fifth season. See it here.
The final words...
"It's so long ago.
Some of you weren't born."
leads at "The X-Files"
(8/29/00) What does "The X-Files" producer Chris Carter have up his sleeves for its eighth season? The former surfer dude has given some clues in recent interviews with genre journalists, and it looks like it'll be a season unlike any that preceded it.
At the end of last season, we had seen a wrapup of the long-running issue of the disappearance of Mulder's sister, Samantha. And we saw major changes for our two leads, FBI agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). Scully found herself pregnant, with no clue about the identity of the father. And Mulder finally got himself abducted by the aliens he had pursued for years and years. Those dramatic changes set up this next season, in which Duchovny has agreed to appear in only 11 episodes (with it still untold how those appearances will be distributed throughout the year). As for Scully, she'll have both the pregnancy to deal with and a new partner.
Cinescape reports in its fall SF-TV preview that the new teamup will be a reunion of sorts, at least in name. The new character, to be played by "Terminator 2" vet Robert Patrick, will be named John Doggett after sportscaster Jerry Doggett. Doggett, see, was co-announcer of Los Angeles Dodgers games with Vin Scully. It's a small world. Anyway, Doggett will be a by-the-book skeptic, with a bit of a switcheroo for Scully, who will be less of the skeptic than she originally was.
But don't worry; it doesn't sound like Patrick will just play a male Scully to Scully's female Mulder. Doggett is "very much an insider at the FBI," Carter told writer Ian Spelling in a two-part interview in Starlog. "He's part of the fraternity. Mulder has always been an outsider--the consummate outsider. We wanted somebody who was blue-collar, a former cop, a man's man."
And he has some words for those of us--we know who we are--who complain when a cherished series premise is tinkered with. He acknowledges that the show's original setup worked. "That doesn't mean that you can't threaten the paradigm, can't threaten the model....In fact, dramatically speaking, you had better do that every once in a while, or else you're going to have a very stale show."
Spelling also puts to rest the idea that Carter is obsessed with the Fox's premature eradication of his "Harsh Realm," which the network cancelled last fall. He apparently takes a little pleasure in the fact that the network exec who killed the show has himself been removed. But his focus seems to be on making his next series, "The Long Gunmen," a success. That series, due to launch in January 2001, will focus on the three occasional characters on "The X-Files" who published a conspiracy zine under the title of The Lone Gunmen. The three are admittedly minor characters on which to base a spinoff series, but that may work to its advantage by allowing Carter to go in different directions--to threaten his paradigm--as opposed to being stuck too much to the "X-Files" premise. Hey, it worked for "Cheers" when it spunoff a series centering around a third-banana doctor character named Frasier.
The new season of "The X-Files" won't premiere until November.
In other news and views
While the "Star Trek: Voyager" producers are trying to figure out a way to get John DeLancie to reprise his "Q" character on that series' final season, it looks like the actor will be making an appearance in an episode of "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda" series. According to Slipstream, a Web site devoted to the new series, DeLancie will guest star in an episode titled 'The Pearls That Were His Eyes," written by "Earth: Final Conflict" scribe Ethlie Ann Vare. More info is available at the official "Andromeda" Web site.
Reader mail: In my column on the new Japanese "Godzilla 2000" film, I wrote about the human action spliced into the monster mayhem: "In between, there's the head of the crisis team who is determined to kill Godzilla even if it means the deaths of innocent human bystanders." Reader Michael Jones writes, "Sad. I'm sure if the Japanese had just asked us, we would gladly have sent Janet Reno over to head this crisis team. There's no way she would let this wimpy monster monopolize a city." Hmm, she sure wouldn't prosecute the big monster.
On the newsstands: Cinescape magazine features its fall SF-TV preview in its new issue, and they do a pretty good job of it, too, with more-extensive writeups for each show than is usual for preview issues. Star Trek The Magazine features Jeffrey Combs, who played the alien helper to the shape-shifting baddies in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." He also has a few roles in low-budget horror cult favorites (such as "The Reanimator") that have made him a fan favorite. Sorry I was late on this one, but the September Playboy features a 20 Questions with Seth Green, who plays werewolf Oz on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And the October Starlog features "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda," with executive producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe promising that the new series from Tribune will be "a return to what made SF fun...It will stimulate your brain, but also make you laugh." Ha-ha.
The final words...
touched the nerve of not knowing what's real and what's not. it's
the nerve of the '90s, because of the Internet, because of computer
in unfamiliar territory: the cinema
(8/22/00) I've always thought Japan's "Godzilla" series was made for the medium in which it usually played in this country: television. When Centropolis came out with the U.S. version of the giant lizard flick, it seemed like typical American overkill. It was, of course, but largely because it tried to translate a cheesy kids film into a summer event movie. And while longtime giant-monster fans eagerly anticipated the release of Tojo's "Godzilla 2000" this month to American theaters, it looked like our Japanese friends had learned the American art of milking a TV-grade product by throwing it in the multiplex. Couldn't we simply have waited for this to hit TV?
The answer is yes, we could have waited, but we'd have missed a little treat. It's still not Kurosawa, but "Godzilla 2000" is entertaining and for more than just observing the wobbly sets as men in rubber monster suits knock over things. In fact, the special effects were surprisingly good, especially to those of us who were exposed to "Godzilla" mainly through airings of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." There's a mixture of computer-generated effects and, yes, rubber suits, but they work together fairly well, and the camera is smart enough not to linger too long on a bad effect.
The story is, well, "Godzilla." Giant monster goes to Tokyo, knocks over buildings, fights other monster, boom, blast, kaboom, crash, etc. In between, there's the head of the crisis team who is determined to kill Godzilla even if it means the deaths of innocent human bystanders. One of those bystanders is an independent researcher who thinks people should be studying Godzilla instead of trying to kill it. Boom, blast, crash, etc.
Though some adults in the audience who saw it with me were watching it as camp, it's really a film best seen by children. The violence is clearly cartoon violence, and the plot is certainly not too clever for children. The one caveat is that the dubbed English language dialogue has some surprisingly crude language for a kids' film. Whether that is the fault of the American translators or the original scripters, I can't say.
When told by Fangoria magazine about his film's release in American theaters, director Takao Okawara said, "I am curious to see what sort of business it will do....I make my films with the hope that they will appeal to Western audiences. I guess 'Godzilla 2000' will be the test." You can see for yourself who does the Big G better. Go see "Godzilla 2000" on the big screen, and then watch the American "Godzilla" on the small screen this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on Showtime. And share your verdict.
In other news and views
So the rumors continue that one of the crew members of "Star Trek: Voyager" will not make it to Earth. The latest fuel to the fire apparently comes from Kate Mulgrew, who portrays Captain Kathryn Janeway. Cinescape and Sci Fi Wire report that she said on the "Late Late Show" that one of the characters should die in the very last frame as the ship goes up in flames. Why not Neelix?!?
One of the more eagerly awaited projects on the SF TV slate is the Sci Fi Channel's miniseries "Dune." Based on the novel of the same name by the late Frank Herbert, the six-hour TV project will debut this December. Starring William Hurt as Duke Leto Atreides, Alec Newman as his son Paul Atreides, and Saskia Reeves as Jessica, the film was directed by John Harrison and produced by Richard P. Rubinstein, Mitchell Galin, and David Kappes. "Dune" was made once before, by the (take your pick) great or weird David Lynch in the 1980s, a version that left nothing more in our minds than the image of Sting in some sort of metal underwear and the conviction that we didn't really want to see Sting in his underwear. But this new, longer version won't be entirely without controversy, either; hell, nothing's without controversy. Fans are already complaining on the Sci Fi message boards that the show looks too European and not Middle Eastern enough, whatever that means. (It was filmed in Prague, for what that's worth.) "Taraza" posted that she agreed with that statement: "It should have more of a Middle Eastern feel and instead, [evil imperial troops] Sardaukar look like samurais wearing Jason masks from 'Friday the 13th,' Helen Mohiam has this Viking opera look, Irulan has this large metal moon on her head, and the emperor dresses like he's [part] of the flying trapeze act in a circus."
Canadian SF production "Starhunter" has been the target of picketers protesting that the series uses non-union actors. The 22-episode show is owned by an international group of companies and has been sold in France, Spain, and Eastern Europe.
Fangoria's Web site reports that "Bless the Child's" producers Clifford and Ellen Green are working on a remake of "The Thing" for NBC. The film has been made twice before, most recently by John Carpenter in the early 1980s.
On the newsstands: The October issue of Cinefantastique magazine features its annual episode-by-episode review of "The X-Files'" previous season. And judging just from the starred reviews, reviewer Paula Vitaris didn't like the seventh season very much. Commenting on the return of bad guys Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias in the final episode, she writes, "If only next season could be the Alex and Marita show; these two lusty, conniving rogues would inject a jolt of electricity, mischievousness and sly fun into an exhausted show that's been running on fumes for far too long." Ouch. You may want to compare her reviews with those of Thomas Deja in the September Fangoria. He writes "Bizarrely, the series found its slightly above-mediocre level early on and stuck to it for most of the run." Hmm, I rather liked the season.
We'll do better this time
(8/15/00) After a lackluster sixth season, UPN's "Star Trek: Voyager" is gearing up to deliver what could be a strong finish. Like the previous two "Trek" series, "Voyager" will bon-voyage after seven years, releasing its actors to other pursuits and many of its producers and production crew members to the next, still-in-development "Trek" series. Whether or not the network that carries "Voyager" will last the season is another question.
With the move by Fox to purchase Chris Craft stations that currently carry UPN in many markets, it will be time again for the Viacom/UPN/CBS/Paramount brain trust to see once again if they want to keep the little wrasslin' network going. Should they give up, I won't shed a tear -- the only show I ever found worth watching on the entire network was "Voyager," and during rerun season I tend to forget the network exists at all.
But plans are to launch a season, so launch another season they will. "Star Trek: Voyager's" seventh and final season will premiere October 4 with the second half of "Unimatrix Zero." In the first part of that episode, Janeway tried to insert a virus into the Borg group mind that would spawn individualism. But the alien Borg had their interstellar McAfee loaded and updated with the latest software, so they caught Janeway and turned her into another human-machine Borg.
The Borg, of course, shot to fan fame in earlier series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," where they represented a fairly radical break from the run-of-the-mill, bumpy-headed alien antagonists. They've lost a bit of luster and mystery with each successive visit, though their appearances in subsequent episodes (and the big-screen "Star Trek: First Contact") did add some interesting background to them. But the writers would inevitably repeat themselves, and they ended up doing it with their sixth-season cliffhanger, in which Janeway becomes a Borg. Way back when the Borg were first introduced, they made their statement by turning Captain Picard into a Borg. Hmmm.
Viewers are not the only ones worried about the Borg overstaying their welcome. "We won't see a lot of Borg stories in season seven," producer Ken Biller recently told the official Star Trek Web site. But he promises that because the Voyager has to get past the Borg in order to get home, "the Borg will present at least one more great, big obstacle."
Biller also says we'll see a general summing-up of the characters' story arcs, including the romance between Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres and the maturation of Harry Kim. And though he dances around the issue of whether or not Voyager will return to Earth (why he dances around it is unknown; it's an open secret that the ship will return), he does say there will be one or two return appearances of the characters of Reginald Barclay and Deanna Troi, who are involved in an effort to contact and bring home the Voyager crew.
Now, put that in the hopper with all the rumors of a crew member who doesn't make it home, and a reprisal of John DeLancie's character Q, and the appearance of some "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" characters, and you have a season that might be worth following. If the network can stay together through the springtime.
In other news and views
On the newsstands: The current Sci Fi magazine has an extensive if poorly edited survey of the fall science fiction television season. Reading the gripes from the "Star Trek: Voyager" crew is particularly interesting. Fangoria includes an interview with "Buffy" regulars Anthony Stewart Head and Alexis Denisof. It also includes the magazine's annual review of "The X-Files." And for more "Buffy," check out the cover story in the new SFX.
The final words...
there will be an alternative to Regis Philbin."
on the street
(8/10/00) The Sci-Fi Channel brought a little of its corporate television self down to the level of the proletariat last week when it held the first Exposure: Future of Film Festival in Manhattan. Like the "Exposure" TV series that gave the event its name, the festival featured independent works from beginning filmmakers hoping to make it to the big time. At least until the Internet becomes an established platform for introducing new talent to Hollywood's closed system, this kind of festival is valuable as a means of offering a platform for aspiring artists beyond just hoping a Hollywood producer will pick up their submission out of a pile. (See Reader Mail below for another view on unsolicited scripts.)
The event did have some problems. The day I attended, Saturday the fifth, the audience was kept waiting outside in the hot sun. To their credit, the very friendly staff offered the waiting fans free candy and soft drinks to make the heat more bearable. Inside, it was pretty cool, not just in terms of temperature but in terms of the design and layout of the screening rooms. The large, open space was marked off into several small, funky theaters. (Instead of chairs, there were giant bean bag chairs that were surprisingly comfortable.) But the big negative came after viewing the first film of the day in one of the theaters when the customers were informed that the festival had sold too many tickets, so those who had watched the first film would have to leave and let the next batch of people into the theater for the second film.
In addition, because all of the theaters were largely open to the others, sound bleed was a big problem, and the voices in the relatively quiet film I was watching ("Storm") were, from time to time, drowned out by another theater's film that apparently included much screaming and explosions. Maybe they were tuned into Fox.
For a $5 admission (which included a free copy of the channel's Sci Fi magazine), attendees got all-day admission, assuming they were able to fit into the screening rooms for the films they wanted to see. And best of all, the event was non-profit, with ticket revenue being donated to the Independent Feature Project, which works to support the production and distribution of independent films. So congrats to Sci- Fi for daring to be more than just a cable television channel, and for doing it in a way and for a cause that will help fuel creative talent in future years.
In other news and views
Fans and actors made the best of a strange situation at a recent "Star Trek" convention when a bomb scare caused the evacuation of the hotel where the event was taking place. According to reports from the Star Trek Continuum and Sci Fi Wire, the convention at Philadelphia's Adam's Mark Hotel was disrupted while police checked out a suspicious item, which turned out to be a box of clocks for the Republican National Convention, which was also taking place in the city of brotherly love. While the crowd was outdoors, actors signed autographs for the fans and demonstrated Klingon fighting techniques. In case the Republicans invaded, we presume.
Well, some actors develop an antipathy for SF when they act in its movies or television; remember star William Katt's negative comments about the genre when he starred in the short-lived "Greatest American Hero" two decades ago? Other actors, such as "Roswell's" Katherine Heigl, grows to like the scruffy little entertainment niche. She tells TV Guide Online that she began to appreciate the storytelling possibilities once she began acting in "Roswell." "They create these other planets and lives and all this stuff that I really find fascinating." Welcome to the club.
Last Thursday at The Next Twenty Years symposium in Manhattan, Dr. Michio Kaku gave his predictions for the next two decades. One intriguing idea he mentioned was that scientists such as himself had worked up an idea that civilizations that reach into space come in three phases: Phase One has learned to control planetary-level powers, such as global weather; Phase Two has learned to control the power of a star; and Phase Three is able to control the power of an entire galaxy. (By the way, he says we're currently at Phase Zero.) This idea was applied to the United Federation of Planets in "Star Trek," for which Dr. Kaku serves as a scientific advisor. And he brings an impressive background to that advising, certainly; currently a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, he's published on topics ranging from superstring theory to supergravity to supersymmetry and beyond; he's also the co-founder of string theory. So what? Well, first of all, I just find that exciting. But it does make you wonder how "Star Trek" could have such astounding talent in its scientific advisors yet be so astonishingly cavalier about its treatment of science--just think of their many time-travel stories. Why even bother having such exalted advisors if you're not going to really pay attention to them (and, you know, really mine SCIENCE fiction)?
Though most of the tracks on Silva Screen Records' "Space3: Beyond the Final Frontier" are film themes, television SF is represented by "The Menagerie" suite from the original "Star Trek." Okay, that's the excuse for me mentioning it in this column; chances are, what'll interest you about this two-CD set is music from "Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace," "The Matrix," "Aliens," "Galaxy Quest," and other big science fiction films. The recent release was recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic, which is just another reason to celebrate the collapse of the iron curtain.
Britney Spears does appear to be set to guest star in an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" this next season, reports Sci Fi Wire and EW.com. In addition, "Buffy" stories will focus on family matters in the Fall.
The final words. . .
Without his brain, he's become all quiet and helpful."