Making Sci-Fi Work on TV

Successful science fiction shows on network television are about as rare as an actual laugh in an episode of Two and a Half Men.

That doesn’t stop TV networks from trying.

With the premiere of Awake on Thursday and the upcoming premiere of Touch on Fox, there will be about a half-dozen quality sci-fi shows on the air, all of whom are risky bets to be on the air come September just because of the viewing public’s history with TV sci-fi.

nbc would have no right to cancel awake based on the quality of its pilot episode


Premieres: Tonight and airs 10 p.m. Thursdays (NBC)

Plot: A cop is in a car crash with his wife and son and afterward lives two different realities — one where his wife survived, one where his son survived. At least we know he survived. Or do we?

Chances it’s on the air next year: 80 percent. As long as it doesn’t completely crash and burn in the ratings, NBC’s schedule is so devoid of buzz-generators that it can’t possibly cancel a show this good. It’s not 100 percent because, you know, this is NBC. Anything can crash and burn. But if the show stays as good as the pilot was, then it deserves another season regardless of the ratings.

why do i feel like he should be asking this poor kid for the location of the nuclear footballs?


Premieres: Now March 22 after the preview episode reruns March 15 (Fox)

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Danny Glover

Plot: Sutherland is a single dad coping with his son Jake who has never spoken a word, but has special gifts. We’re not exactly sure what those special gifts are just yet, but that’s why Glover is around. In the preview episode, Jake saves lives by putting together some numbers and sending his old man on a chase around New York City.

Chances it’s on the air next year: 75 percent. If nothing else, 24 fans want to see Sutherland on a good TV show again. Yeah, we were that loyal to Jack Bauer. The ratings say 12 million people showed up to see the preview episode, and who knows how many more checked it out online or OnDemand since then. If it can hold on to about 9 million viewers — which shouldn’t be that hard since the pilot was very good — then this show will be back. Doesn’t hurt that it’s got the American Idol lead-in for its spring run.


Comes back: Finished its 13-episode first-season run in December with its future unknown (Fox)

Stars: Jason O’Mara and a bunch of dinosaurs.

Plot: Earth has become so inhabitable in 2149 that some people are picked to time travel back to the age of dinosaurs to try and start civilization all over again. Dinosaurs are an issue, but so is a splinter group of humans.

Chances it’s on the air next year: 40 percent. No one seems to have any idea what Fox is going to do with this show. Fox might not know either, since it originally said it would decide on the show’s fate in January, but never did. It’s expensive. It had so-so ratings. It never lived up to the hype. But for as so-so as the ratings were, in today’s era of network TV, they weren’t terrible. They certainly weren’t Fringe bad. Maybe if Fox can figure out a way to trim the show’s budget, it can be back. But how do you do that, get rid of the dinosaurs? I’m leaning toward the ax.

three years of fringe joy may have to be enough


Comes back: March 23 (Fox)

Stars: You should probably know by now since it’s been on the air for three years.

Plot: Where to start? Let’s just say it’s about a girl, a boy, his father and a lot of insanely crazy FBI cases that only these people can solve.

Chances it’s on the air next year: 10 percent. If that. It’s barely getting 3 million people to watch every week, while its lesser Friday night sci-fi competition, CBS’s A Gifted Man, triples that. There are all kind of conspiracy theories floating around for how it makes a fourth season — don’t want to piss of JJ Abrams, the need for one more year before it can go into syndication, etc. — but the chances just aren’t good. Enjoy these upcoming six new episodes, Fringe fans. They could be the last.


Airs: 9 p.m. Mondays (Fox)

Stars: Sam Neill, the big guy from Lost and the show’s producer, JJ Abrams

Plot: Somehow, the inmates at Alcatraz in 1950-something all disappeared. Now they’re back, they haven’t aged a day, and they’re on a killing spree unless one cop can stop them all.

Chances it’s on the air next year: Getting slimmer by the week, let’s put it at 60 percent right now. It premiered to more than 10 million viewers in January, but was already down to under 6 million by the end of February. Chances are Fox won’t be able to cancel all four of its sci-fi shows, but at this point you can’t rule it out.

is it just me, or does snow look like penny from happy endings here?


Airs: 8 p.m. Sundays (ABC)

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlye 

Plot: Another alternate reality show, only the alternate reality is actually the world of fairy tales. Every person who lives in the real world also has a famous doppelganger in the fairy-tale world. Sounds corny, I know. But somehow, they make it work.

Chances it’s on the air next year: 100 percent. It’s one of the breakout hits of the TV season. Just thought I’d throw it in here because if I didn’t, someone would have said, “Hey a-hole, hows come you didn’t mention Once Upon a Time????”

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