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These Are The Continuing Voyages…

October 25th, 2005

The Sci-Fi Channel announced today that it had renewed Stargate: SG-1 for a tenth season, making it the longest-running American science-fiction television series. The X-Files was the previous leader in this category, though of course neither can match the longevity of Britain’s Doctor Who, which will be heading into its 28th season in 2006.

As someone who grew up during the time that televised sci-fi shows were lucky to escape cancellation before completing a single season, it still seems odd that so many recent entries have gone the distance. Consider this list:

  • The X-Files: 9 years.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation; Deep Space Nine; Voyager; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; The Outer Limits (remake): 7 years.
  • Hercules; Xena: 6 years.
  • Babylon 5; Sliders; Angel; Earth: Final Conflict; Andromeda: 5 years.
  • Smallville: 5 years and going strong.

Even Enterprise, the least-loved of the modern Trek series, outlasted the original by a season and a half.

Compare to the “good ol’ days”:

  • The Twilight Zone (original); The Incredible Hulk: 5 years.
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: 4 years.
  • Star Trek (original); Lost in Space; Wonder Woman; Batman: 3 years.
  • The Outer Limits (original); Land of the Giants; Buck Rogers: 2 years.
  • Battlestar Galactica (original); Planet of the Apes; The Time Tunnel; V; Fantastic Journey; Quark; and many, many more: 1 year (if that).

Viewers who got hooked on sci-fi in the ’80s, especially those who started with Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, really don’t know how good they have it. After Next Generation, which proved that movie-quality special effects could be done on a syndicated TV budget, it became much more likely that sci-fi/fantasy series would survive to a second year and beyond.

Back in the day, there wasn’t much point in getting invested in an on-going plot or an interesting character, because they weren’t going to be around for long. We never found out if Varian and Liana escaped the Bermuda Triangle, if the Resistance sent the Visitors packing once and for all, or if any of Carl Kolchak’s newspaper stories ever saw print.

This year, three of the five (!) new sci-fi/fantasy dramas on network TV have been picked up for the entire season. (Of the other two, Threshold has an order for three more scripts, but the Night Stalker remake is almost certain to face the axe.) The second incarnation of Battlestar: Galactica is a shoo-in for a third-season pick-up, meaning that it will last a minimum of two years more than its inspiration. And for the first time in the history of television, the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series this year went to a genre series: Lost.

Times have certainly changed. And I’m grateful for it. But I still wish that I knew how that business in the Bermuda Triangle turned out.

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