Can Sci-Fi/Fantasy Come Back to Mainstream Television?

The question above is one that I ask myself on a regular basis. Obviously, there will always be a market for science fiction. Heck, SyFy is still bringing in high numbers regularly, and its original programing is quite good. Other cable networks, like TNT, have one or two sci-fi shows packaged into their lineup, while the big stations like Fox and NBC usually have one new sci-fi show a cycle. ABC’s Once Upon a Time is kicking butt right now, and is putting up good numbers despite currently fighting Sunday Night Football for ratings.

However, I consider Once Upon a Time to be an exception, and I worry for its future, particularly since the “Big Four” networks, CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox, all seem pretty disinterested in sci-fi and fantasy programing.

The last major sci-fi television boom was in the mid 1990s. The Next Generation just finished seven strong seasons, Deep Space Nine was just starting the Dominion War arc,and Highlander, Hercules, and Xena were putting up strong numbers in syndication. Around this time, SyFy was created, then called simply “The Sci-Fi Channel.” The WB Network and UPN were looking to create a brand for themselves, and were using Sci-Fi/Fantasy to do that.

The problem with this boom? Except for picking up shows on syndication, The Big Four had minor roles in the game.

Fast forward to present day. WB and UPN are gone and replaced by the CW Network. While Supernatural is going strong, the show is wrapping up. Also, sadly, we’re still a good bit away from the S.H.I.E.L.D television show jumping on television.

I also don’t trust some of the executives for The Big Four, particularly NBC’s higher-ups. The Event came and went, and their new show Revolution, while promising, seems to be just J.J. Abrams combining Lost with Falling Skies. I’d love to be wrong, though. On top of that, I thoroughly blame NBC for taking an amazing first season of  Heroes and following it up with bad. So much bad.

The other worry I have is silly, but somewhat heavy on my mind; has science fiction and fantasy told all the stories? Are there any new stories to tell? We’re on the tail-end of the vampire kick. What’s next? Any ideas? Or will it be just a rehash of the old stories that were once popular, but told in a poor way.

Really, I do think science fiction and fantasy can have a new boom, but they need to get new blood into the system. Someone needs to come up with an idea that lights a fire under the writing community. Maybe Once Upon a Time will do that. Maybe S.H.I.E.L.D will. Maybe once Jersey Shore is done, people will start watching more intelligently-written shows. Unless Jersey Shore is secretly about eight aliens pretending to be humans a la Mork and Mindy.

Wishful thinking, I guess.

Maybe science fiction and fantasy will come back soon. Only time will tell.

4 thoughts on “Can Sci-Fi/Fantasy Come Back to Mainstream Television?

  1. I’d like to come at this issue from another angle and ask if the big four are really mainstream anymore. Cable stations bring in huge ratings most of the time, and the most critically acclaimed shows are usually on HBO, Showtime, or a cable station.

    Network doesn’t mean quality programming. Cable mainstays have died by going network. The most recent example I can think of is UFC which has seen a downgrade in quality since it jumped to FOX. Its UFC on FOX events have been panned aside from UFC/FOX 2. Networks also rely on a different audience to bring in ratings usually, and so if you’re wondering if Game of Thrones could exist beside Big Bang Theory, my take would be no. I mean Community fell fast on NBC mostly because it started doing things that would have gotten huge numbers on Comedy Central.

    But Game of Thrones is still out there, and gets a ton of mainstream attention. So I actually think Fantasy has already made a comeback (and has since around 2000-ish), to see that you just have to look at the highest grossing films from year to year. We went from Titantic and the like to Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Avengers, and friends rather fast.

    • Your point about cable having the most critically acclaimed shows is immensely valid, and I thank you for mentioning it. You are also correct in saying that Sci-Fi/fantasy movies are catching up in terms of box office draw. However, the Big Four still garner the highest numbers in terms of regular viewers. For example, in 2011 CBS claimed “most watched television network,” while Fox brought in the 18-49 demographic (source:

      Game of Thrones is getting a lot of attention, true, but because it is on HBO, it only averaged 10.4 million viewers for its Season 1 finale ( Compare that to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which brought in 27.8 million viewers for its series finale, and X-Files, which, despite its problems in the final season, still brought in 13.2 million for its series finale (

      My point is this; while the Big Four are not as strong as they once were, they still are strong. They still bring in the highest number of households. So while a new boom isn’t relying on the Big Four, it would help immensely. And if they could not bury the genre with bad attempts, that would be helpful too.

      • The numbers for Star Trek: TNG finale blew my mind. I had no idea that show was that popular.

        So yeah I see your point.

  2. Sci-fi fantasy is still very strong. We would just like more of it. In todays world its getting harder to create something new but more new comes along. I think we have to look at how things of changed. Take for instance, video games. Playing a fantasy/sci fi video game to me is like being in the movie! Halo the longest scifi video games offers something tv series/movies dont. You play the characters in the story line. Halo just launch a web series called Forward unto Dawn, other anime/cartoon story line fill ins and several years ago made a movie “Legends” in Anime.

    Also, dont forget about Anime, very rare but u can find that scifi/fantasy series/movie and decent one comes out every now and then. I just finished watching BLUE GENDER a scifi series, its also shortened into a movie form on Netflix which was decent. Dont forget about Clone Wars a great Animated series where people actually die. Battle Los Angles graced our theaters last year, even though it could have been bigger if it was expanded into 2 movies. Remember District 9? The movie was great but it kinda left us hanging for more. A sequel now wont have the same impact. From a movie perspective you are gonna see more than several scifi/fantasy movies a year. Series on the other hand are far and few between or short lived.

    Remember Stargate which ended up in 3 different series? A great sci fi series. Although the writers of last one ruined it and it got cancelled. Its easier and cost effective for a network to create a comedy than having people run around in make up and special effects. ABC ruined V, they did because they were always putting breaks inbetween episodes. I got so tired of it, I stopped watching. I think big networks kill scifi, tThey dont want to truly invest like SYFY. Its like they start strong and just get bored with making Sci FI series.

    If u look at the last 10 years there have been many great films and series. Some I wish never ended like Smallville and Stargate. Game of Thrones is a great example of taking a book series and turning into reality. IDMB has a great list over the last 10 years of fantasy and scifi series/movies. You can also find a few DVD releases on Netflix as well.

    But if you are truly interested in expanded your fanstasy/sci fi universe and you havent watch any Anime I will suggest a few titles to satisfy your thirst.

    Fantasy: BASILISK, Legends of the Dark King: A Fist of the North Star Story, Ninja Gaiden.

    Finding great Anime stories in Fanstay Sci fi is hard to do, but there are more than what I have listed here.

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