Just in case you've missed my gushing about the shows of SciFi Friday and the various and sundry cool SF and Fantasy movies that have come out over the past few years--oh, and let's not forget the subject matter of my writing and the books I read--I'm a big SF and Fantasy buff. So you might be surprised to learn that I have no intention of watching Threshold (CBS), Invasion (ABC), Surface (NBC), or Killer Instinct (Fox). And you might be even more surprised to learn that I have not been tempted once to watch any of these shows. Well, I did try to catch some of Invasion during the Law & Order commercial breaks last week, but that was more because our dinner guest was somewhat interested in the show. Why would a SF and Fantasy fan not be interested in these shows?
First off, the Killer Instinct promos showed BIG, HAIRY, UGLY SPIDERS crawling over people. I have better things to do with my time than watch a TV show as phobia-conditioning therapy. Plus, I can't for the life of me figure out what the hell the show is supposed to be about other than watching creepy crawlies do their icky creepy crawly thang.
Secondly, the promos for the other three shows always struck me as promos for a mini-series at best but really more appropriate for a made-for-TV movie. I either couldn't get a sense of what was going to happen in the show, or I couldn't find a thread that would last for more than a few episodes, making me wonder just the heck I was supposed to be watching. I'm suspecting this is more a fault of the network advertising campaigns than the writing quality of the shows, but I'm not in the least bit driven to find out if I'm right. Let's look at each show.
Threshold - There's an alien invasion coming, and they've used some cool looking crop circle symbol to brainwash us (I think?) in advance of their arrival. That's all I got from the promos. Cool premise for a movie, maybe even a mini-series, but a full-blown series that is supposed to have staying power for more than one season? I'd need to know more about why the aliens are invading or just what the heck they hope to accomplish other than "take over the world." Yawn. Why would I watch that show when I can watch the SG-1, Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica summer season reruns on SciFi instead?
Invasion - Aliens are HERE! And a young girl's mother smells funny! Watch this show! Yeah. That was the gist of the promos I saw. And the snippets of the premiere I caught last week didn't even get me caring about any of the characters, with the possible exception of the cat that ran out in the storm. Again, why are aliens here? A premise of "aliens used a hurricane to cover their invasion" is not going to get me to watch a TV show. Again, why? When you've got two other shows running with "ALIENS ARE COMING/HERE" as the hook-the-viewer premise, you'd think one of the networks would try to find a way to make their "oh no, aliens" show at least sound unique. And "Mommy, you smell funny" just don't cut it. I haven't been all that enthused with Law & Order for a while, but I'd still rather watch that than Invasion.
Surface - This looked like a cheesy SciFi original movie from the first promo I saw. Not only did I have no sense of a premise that could fill a series, I was left wondering why I should care about an alien from the deep brought ashore. It should really tell you something that I don't even consider this show procrastination-worthy material for my Monday night writing times.
When you pitch a series to me as part of a fall line-up, you've got to do a couple things. First, you need to hook me with a complete premise. Just screaming "The ALIENS are coming! The ALIENS are coming!" ain't gonna do it. That's hardly a premise. The aliens are coming to do what and why. That would be better. It'd be even more complete if you worked in the human response. You know, the conflict. The premise the major networks gave for their SF shows is the query letter equivalent of "Please buy my 150,000-word epic fantasy about an evil sorceror." Yeah, that'll grab an editor or agent right out of their chair. Second, if you want me to invest my hard-earned free time in your new show, you better give me a sense that this will be viable series for at least one season but hopefully more. Pitching me an incomplete premise is not going to instill any confidence in this matter. And, for cryin' out loud, if your competitors are running with similar shows, spend some time telling me why yours is unique when you pitch the darned thing.
I dunno, maybe I'm not their intended audience. Maybe these series are pitched to short attention spans who think the premise of "AACK! ALIENS!" is enough to waste an hour once a week on. Maybe market research demonstrated to the networks that promos don't have to provide a complete premise or the sense of series longevity. But as a SF and Fantasy fan, reader, viewer, and writer, the networks really failed to generate even a smidgen of my interest in these shows. Even the curiosity of "is it the writing of the show itself or just the network promotions" isn't enough to get me to watch even one of these things.
Or this could just be a sign that I've outgrown television as a viable use of my free time. That a show has to offer more than 30 or 60 minutes of passable entertainment for me to take the time to watch it.