People Don’t Watch Shows That Suck

You'd think that would be common sense but, apparently it's not. Case in point — today an Entertainment Weekly article questioned why so many science fiction shows this season are tanking while audiences are still flocking to science fiction movies:

Two weeks ago, Fox aired what was probably the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a pretty solid sci-fi show which nevertheless suffered from guttery ratings. Two weeks from now, Terminator Salvation will premiere in theaters — where it will likely make somewhere in the vicinity of $90 million in its first weekend, regardless of how "good" it is. Two separate extentions of the same franchise: one will be labeled a failure, the other a ginormous hit. Why?
Why don't we want science fiction on television anymore?

I think that the EW article is based on a faulty premise. People do watch science fiction TV shows…when they don't suck (good stuff like THE X-FILES, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, the first season of HEROES, etc). 

Unfortunately, most of them suck. 

People didn't reject TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES because it was science fiction…they stopped watching because it was lousy (and I say that as a guy who, inexplicably, didn't miss an episode). People turned away from HEROES for the same reason. The bottom line for science fiction shows is the same as it is for all shows in any genre:  they gotta be good or they'll die. 

That said, science fiction is a niche genre that has always appealed to a limited number of viewers…perhaps enough eyeballs to make a movie a hit but not enough to sustain a weekly TV show (which is why the SciFi network is so eager to broaden their brand and shed the "scifi" label). 

The other reason that science fiction TV shows haven't worked is that they are inordinately expensive to produce…which means they need to quickly and consistently draw a large audience to justify the expense/continued production. Most shows, sci-fi or not, have a hard time drawing viewers. But the networks understandably don't have the same patience with an expensive show as they do with inexpensive one.
So no, it's not science fiction shows that audiences are rejecting…it's poor writing, or a lousy premise/franchise, or bad acting, or the promotion was so weak, nobody ever noticed the show was on the air…or it's a lethal combination of all those elements.

As far as movies go, there is also the event/spectacle factor. A 100-minute movie like TERMINATOR: SALVATION costs as much to produce as 44 episodes of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. Of course the movie is going to be more awesome. Plus, you're only asking the viewer to make a two-hour committment rather than a 44-hour one.  It has nothing to do with science fiction as a genre and everything to do with a dozen other factors. 

In other words, EW was asking the wrong question. What they should have been asking is "Why is science fiction TV so bad lately?"

That would be a better question, but not a fair one, because I think science fiction is thriving on TV as never before. STARGATE  just ended it's eight (or was it nine?) year run. It's spin-off ATLANTIS is also ending a long run (five years?). BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, which only ended a few weeks ago, may have been one of the best, and most-acclaimed science fiction TV series ever on television…and it gave SciFi Channel the respect it has sought for so long (which is ironic, considering they are changing their name with the premiere of the BSG spin-off CAPRICA). FRINGE is doing great.  And if you throw fantasy/horror into the mix, it looks even better (SUPERNATURAL, MEDIUM, TRUE BLOOD, GHOST WHISPERER, etc). 

So no, this is not a bad time for science fiction. It's a bad time for shows that suck…or that were once good and have slipped…or ill-conceived shows that take too much time finding their creative footing.

Book Fest, the sequel

P4260123 It was another fine day at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I chatted with lots of authors and readers….and did a signing with my brother Tod, William Rabkin, Patricia Smiley and Denise Hamilton. BURN NOTICE creator Matt Nix also stopped by and signed some books wih Tod. I showed my MWA spirit, and my rippling muscles, by wearing the new SoCal MWA t-shirts that were hot-sellers at our booth. 

I was in so much back pain yesterday that I neglected to do a proper run-down of events here when I got home (all I wanted to do was lie down). So I didn't mention that Tod and I ran into Joseph Wambaugh, who gave my brother a big hug and me a signed galley of his upcoming novel HOLLYWOOD MOON. I think Tod was envious. Friends get hugs, fans get cool galleys.  

Tod moderated a very funny panel on humor and race with Christian Lander, Lalo Alcaraz and Larry Wilmore and only made a half-dozen references to mastubation and didn't mention his bowels even once. 

Some other observations…

The green room served the same food that they have in years past, which made me wonder if we were actually eating left-overs to save money.  

Barnes & Noble, Borders, Book'em and some other bookstores were noticeably absent this year but there were a lot more booths for self-publishing companies, cults (Scientology had at least two booths) and products, including one for Volvo. 

This was the first year that I saw a couple having sex at the Festival. Granted, it was in the parking structure, but it still counts. It's nice to know that books still make some people hot.

After my panel signing, me, Craig Johnson, and Robert Dugoni went over to the tent selling our books and offered to sign the remaining stock. But they were already packing the stuff up. I suggested they might want to keep some signed stock around for people who couldn't make it to our panel. The clerk says "we aren't a bookstore, we're the School of Health Sciences. We don't sell books." Apparently, they were only making the books available for the panels and then immediately packing up the unsold stuff without even trying to sell it over the rest of the Festival. This seemed particularly dumb to me. Authors and readers lose out…and so did the School of Health Sciences, which missed out on lots of potential sales. See, in past years, B&N or Borders handled the panel signing sales…and kept the books available all weekend, which was great. It meant you didn't have to snag immediately after the panels… you could come back later…in fact, you could browse by several times during the course of the Festival and always find new stuff. I wonder why the UCLA Bookstore didn't handle the sales this time. In any case, I hope they find a bookseller…or at least someone who will behave like booksellers…next year. 

(You can see more of my Lee-centric book fest photos here. I took lots of shots of the MWA booth, and the MWA sponsored panels, for our friends on the MWA National Board.  I wanted to show them the big bang we got for our sponsorship bucks)

Book Fest

Lee-victor I had a great time at the LA Times Book Festival today. My panel with Steve Cannell, Jan Burke, Robert Dugoni and Craig Johnson was a lot of fun — at least from where I was sitting (who knew Craig was so damn funny?).  All the authors were funny but also had some very revealing things to say about their approaches to writing and crafting characters. Afterwards, at the signing, a woman came up to me and said:

"I think you're very funny, and that you have a great personality, but I can't stand Monk or your books."Victor-brett-rabkin-denise-naomi

I kid you not. Robert Dugoni is my witness. But her comment was more than balanced out by the couple who came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed my novel THE WALK. Now that made my day.

(Photo upper left, me and Victor Gischler. Photo on right, Gischler, Brett Battles, William Rabkin, Naomi Hirahara, and Denise Hamilton, all at the MWA/Mystery Bookstore party. You can click on the images or a larger view).

More of This and That

Naomi-sara-gary I limped into the Mystery Bookstore party Friday with my bad back (thank God for Vicodin) and had a great time mingling with Victor Gischler, Denise Hamilton, Brett Battles, Gary Phillips, Colonel. Carol Higgins Clark (she was with me and Col. Bob Levinson in Owensboro, KY back in June), Robert Lugoni, Naomi Hirahara, Cara Black, Sarah Weinman, Paul Levine, Louise Ure, Mark Haskell Smith, and many many more talented folks. (Pictured: Naomi Hirahara, Sarah Weinman, Gary Phillips)

Tweeting About Twitter

I was quoted by reporter Chuck Barney for his Contra Costa Times article about celebrities using Twitter:

He says that, for many celebrity-obsessed fans, the glory of Twitter is all in the details.

 "I'm astounded by how mundane some of the interactions are," says Goldberg, a Walnut Creek native, who joined Twitter three months ago. "But it seems that the more mundanity there is in the tweets, the more personal and intimate the experience is for those involved. It's like, 'Hey, Madonna's having her period, and I know about it!'"

It's even more mundane than that. My Mom was totally thrilled to get a tweet from Neil Diamond letting her know that he was eating a Club sandwich for lunch. It allows people to feel like they have a intimate relationship with someone they actually don't know at all…and who doesn't know them, either. 

ABC Announces Renewals

TV Critic Alan Sepinwall reports that ABC has renewed just about everything on their schedule except their midseason shows (CASTLE, IN THE MOTHERHOOD, UNUSUALS, etc.) and two sitcoms — SAMANTHA WHO and SCRUBS. But the missing shows, with the exception of LIFE ON MARS, haven't been given the ax just yet. Pick-ups for those bubble shows still could come once the network announces their new schedule in late May.

The full list of those shows that will definitely be on the air for the 09-10 season: "America's Funniest Home Videos," "The Bachelor," "Brothers & Sisters," "Dancing with the Stars," "Desperate Housewives," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost," "Private Practice," "Supernanny," "Ugly Betty" and "Wife Swap."

The End Game Has Got Game

51oTHoBG32L._SS500_My brother Tod’s  BURN NOTICE: THE END GAME got a rave from Rod Lott at Bookgasm, who says, in part:

It is fun, capturing the show’s joyous, jubilant essence, but not, sadly, shots of well-endowed women in bikinis. […]The book is quick, snappy and forever mirthful — just like its source material. And until that starts back up in the summer, this is a fine substitute for a weekly fix.