Don’t Read This If You Don’t Care About First Light Coming to an End or Good SF Television or Anything Like That

by Christopher DeFilippis

DeFlip Side Vol. 1, No. 17
(First Appeared: August 2000; First Light E-zine, Issue 94)

So, I only have eleven more cracks to try and get this thing right, eh? Or so that’s what Editrix E has told me, and the rest of the FL staffers. As of the June/July 2001 edition, First Light will be closing up shop and taking DeFlip Side along with it–unless, of course, there has been a multinational conglomerate eyeballing this column and waiting for me to become a free agent so they can make my writing the centerpiece of a million dollar web startup. Hey, if it could happen to the guy who launched www.doodie.com why not me?

But barring the intervention of such deep pockets and questionable judgment, I only have two-hands’-and-a-toe’s-worth of months to pummel you with my unsolicited opinions, banal observations and clumsy attempts at humor.

E told me that the theme of this issue would be “Changes”—I guess to mirror those occurring at First Light. In light of that, my intent for this month was to take stock of why I began writing this column in the first place, and then see if I accomplished everything I originally set out to do.

And then I thought of all the readers out there gleefully taking their own lives long before they reached the final paragraph. I mean, how goddamned boring would that be? What the hell do you care WHY I sit here plunk out this copy month after month? Bottom line, you enjoy it or you don’t. If you do, I am humbled. If you don’t, get bent. Relief is a mere mouse-click away.

To be honest, I never had an agenda other than to keep writing and occasionally sound off about things that really piss me off. And since I’m not a hostile person at heart, that means I usually sit down and riff about whatever’s on my mind at that given moment. Some months the copy flows. Others I sit here for six hours laboriously choking out the first two paragraphs. And no matter the changes occurring at this ‘zine, that will never be any different.

Thank you Vanity Fair!

So I guess what I’m saying is that you won’t be seeing many changes around here. The copy could be as droll as the Gore/Liberman ticket or as scintillating as my desktop wallpaper of Jennifer Aniston in sheer gauze reclining under a waterfall. Stay tuned.

And speaking of staying tuned (does anyone else smell a segue?) I want to tell you all about what I’ve been doing on my summer vacation. You see, Sci Fi TV is back and you can catch it all on, well, Sci-Fi TV.

Yes, I speak of none other than “The Summer of Sci-Fi” on the Sci-Fi Channel. In the space of a couple of years, the Sci-Fi Channel has gone from a re-run laden cable backwater to the smartest, slickest, boldest channel on the tube. I’ve haven’t seen such innovative—or shameless—self-promotion since the early days of MTV. And on the whole, it’s warranted. My television producer hat is continuously doffed to the creative team that labors to maintain such an aggressive channel identity.

The re-runs, of course, still make up the bulk of programming. They’re the mainstay of all cable outlets after all. But Sci-Fi is always coming up with ways to package them that lends continuous appeal.

Let’s use the Trek example. When Sci-Fi execs swiped exclusive rights to air the original Star Trek series, they went all out. Instead of the syndi-cut versions that I grew up with, they presented remastered, uncut versions, most of which hadn’t seen air since the original run.

But what to do with all that lost commercial revenue? Simple: expand the eps to an hour and a half, fill the remaining time with introductions and commentaries from the series regulars (Shatner and Nimoy each did special wrap-arounds for all 72 episodes) and bolster it with “behind the scenes” bumps where the supporting cast and guest actors relay stories about the production particulars for any given episode. All in all, it was a terrific way to make something old new again.

This summer, they’re doing something equally fresh with their re-runs. They’ve scrapped a set on-air schedule for “Sci-Fi World.” Each day from 10 am to 4 pm is devoted to a mini-marathon of a single show. So say, like me, you’re plunking along, researching an editorial, and the television in your cubicle (have I mentioned before how great it is to work for a cable a company?) is spitting out the same old mindnumbing stream of CNN. What do you do?

Racktastic!

That’s right. You flip over to the Sci-Fi Channel and low and behold, there are six continuous hours of Wonder Woman in progress. You’re not a hard-core fan, but what a rack! Go Wonder Woman!

Now isn’t that better than another story about the Republican National Convention? And if you get really lucky, it could be Quantum Leap, or Time Tunnel, or another true favorite. In fact, the only SF shows that seem to be missing from their roster are Buck Rogers and The Greatest American Hero. If you like it, you’ll eventually catch it.

But I can hear you now. “What if,” you wail despairingly, “I don’t have access to my own personal television all day?!? What am I to do?” Fret not. That’s where the original programming comes in.

As in all other areas, Sci-Fi makes a lot of ballsy choices in filling its original production slate. In my opinion, they pay off. Three shows in particular are worth a look: The Invisible Man, Farscape (which I mentioned in my last column) and Crossing Over with John Edward.

Like the channel it airs on, The Invisible Man takes an old idea and makes it new again. What stands out most is the writing. Sharp, funny and quick, I’ve never seen another first-season SF show find its legs so fast and run so far in such a short period of time. The characters are quirky, well-defined and will seem like old friends after a single episode. I don’t know of any other show besides Quantum Leap where I’ve been able to say that.

Farscape I told you about. To recap quickly, think of it as an adult space opera. It’s not afraid to be crude when it needs to, will actually openly refer to sexuality and features likable, compelling characters. Red Dwarf meets Star Wars. It’s a real breath of fresh air. The only thing I can’t stand about it is its reliance on Henson creatures for many of its aliens. I never found the Henson look particularly suited to adult fair. But, seeing that it’s primarily backed by Henson Productions, I don’t think things will change anytime soon. I’ll manage to live with it. . . some how.

The last show deserving special mention is Crossing Over with John Edward. Edward is a medium who can relay messages from the other side. And that’s what the show is all about; he scans his studio audience, picks up a vibe from some of them, and proceeds to deliver messages from the dead. He’s so accurate it’s spooky. If you watch once, your doubts will disappear.

I was watching it one night and jokingly wondered if any of my dead relatives were with me at that moment. No sooner did I complete the thought than did a plate fall off a shelf on the other side of the room and crash to the floor. After swallowing my heart, I went to investigate. The plate had been in a holder and placed behind a matching cup at the top of a shelf we have hanging in our dining room. I got the stepladder and investigated. Thanks to the dust, I could make a clear reconstruction.

There were three trails that corresponded to the three points where the plate holder rested on the wood, leading off the right edge of the shelf. At first I thought it might be a vibration or something from the air conditioner, but nothing else had budged—not the cup that went with the plate that had fallen, nor the eight other pieces in the set. It was as if someone had carefully pushed the plate and holder off the edge. Weird. So, to whomever it was, hello and thanks for almost giving me a heart attack. You’ll get yours when I shuffle off this mortal coil and cross over.

To get more information on scheduling and other programming, log onto the Sci-Fi Channel website. Like the entity that sired it, it’s one of the best websites I’ve been on. And there’s a lot more there than shows; news, book reviews, interviews, chat billboards, columns, web originals and much, much more for the SF/Fantasy fan. It’s a great resource.

And don’t forget to catch this month’s Sciography, which features a profile of Quantum Leap. Need I say “Oh Boy!”?

To what do we owe this spate of good programming? Changes. Changes in the television industry, changes in the way cable outlets view their role as original content providers, changes in the expectations of the viewing public, changes in the economy that are greasing all of these creative wheels.

Change is essential to growth, and First Light is no exception. Let’s embrace those changes and make our last 11 months our best.

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