Sometimes a television show or film will take an unorthodox narrative style. That’s standard. Sometimes the setting is surprising for the story or genre being depicted—an easily recognizable example would be Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which seems to largely shy away from admitting that it’s set in a version of the DC Universe. But a lot of people enjoyed that, so okay. That’s a stylistic choice.
But sometimes, a science fiction show is written more as a drama, focusing on “the human story,” not because of a genuine stylistic preference but because of, well, sexism. Courting a wider audience. Which translates to: “Courting a female audience.”
I will be honest: I have a vested interest in this topic, as I write fantasy (a broad umbrella term that includes science fiction). I would love to have some books made into television series. I would really love to micro-manage those shows (I’m a control-freak; it’s not an uncommon quality in writers).
But I’m also a viewer. I grew up watching a lot of science fiction (even when I was young enough that I would go and make LEGO reproductions of what I had seen). Stargate, Babylon 5, Farscape, and even Star Trek and Andromeda.
There is a lot less science fiction on television right now (especially now that Clone Wars has come to an end after five magnificent seasons). What little there is tends to be these sorts of terrestrial dramas. Campy science fiction like Eureka or Warehouse 13 combined with Battlestar Galactica to, well, kind of destroy science fiction. Wacky adventures with a relatively low-budget or gripping dramas that mostly capitalize on being upsetting aren’t what I want out of any television show. But people are letting networks get away with it.
And to networks? Well, shows that “tell stories about people” (most shows do; I only worry when they repeat that line again and again when advertising a new show) are really saying: “We don’t think that women will watch more traditional science fiction. Research says that women dominate certain markets of television viewership. We want to attract women. Women don’t like science. They like romance.”
Which is, um, incredibly insulting to women.
I’ll admit that any Star Trek series can be weird and episodic and so hit-and-miss that it’s usually easier to watch select episodes that are particularly good or deal with certain story-arcs than it is to watch the Overly Didactic Episodes (TM). But Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis? They told excellent stories with a small group of really interesting characters.
And Babylon 5? Guys, if Game of Thrones were set in space and dealt with alien races instead of human noble houses, it would just be called Babylon 5. Same kinds of excellent story-arcs. Same kinds of characters.
If you want people to watch your show or your films, make a good story. Make a great one. Give it a wonderful setting and execute it properly. Hire the right actors and make sure that your writing is airtight.
Don’t change your story angle because you think that if you use smaller words, girls, who like romantic comedies and princesses, will come flocking to watch your show. They’ll probably see it for being garbage and stop watching and be just as disappointed as your male viewers.
And then girls will actually have a thing against science fiction.
PS: Yes, this means you, SeeFee (“SyFy”) Channel. A few years ago, you suddenly forgot that your name was spelled “SciFi” and your programming turned into garbage. I mean, it’s great if you want to watch ghosthunters or professional wrestling. But, as it stands, the SeeFee Channel is an insult to everything that it used to be. Kind of like how Stargate Universe was a big, stupid slap in the face to the previous two Stargate series.