Monday Tales of Ego Boosting

A couple of things out there that give my ego a healthy self-satisfied glow this Monday morning:

1. Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch Blog wonders why Sci-Fi Channel hasn’t given me my own show. Yeah, Sci-Fi Channel! What the hell are you thinking? And not just me:

Why aren’t you engaging today’s premiere purveyors of genre material and giving them ten episodes to do whatever the hell they want? I’d watch contained, BBC-style series from folks like Neil Gaiman, William Gibson, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, Warren Ellis, Charlie Huston, Neal Stephenson, or China Mieville. The names alone would attract viewers by the truckload. And even if what they produced were failures, they’d be interesting failures—marked by reaching too far, instead of not far enough.

I have nothing bad to say about this idea. I might even have an idea or two ready to roll. Not only that, but I think I know someone who could handle the novelization! They should have their people call my people. It will all have to wait until the writer’s strike is done, however.

2. Hub Magazine declared Whatever the Best Blog for 2007, saying “Scalzi puts more effort into his blog than many writers put into their dayjob.” Well, you know. Now I have no day job. Have to do something to fill those hours. It’s either this or Parcheesi. They also give out other awards for SF/F/H-related media.

How’s your morning?

32 thoughts on “Monday Tales of Ego Boosting

  1. Morning’s good. Getting packed up to head out. Let 2008 begin!

    I think EW underestimates you, frankly. Sci-Fi Channel, sure. But kinda obvious. Now, an Outdoor Network show like “Scalzi and Lopsided Cat Field Dress a Squirrel”? Hallmark Channel’s “Scalzi Walks Down to Get His Mail and Ruminates”? ESPN’s “Scalzi Gets Winded Walking Back from the Mailbox”? That’s entertainment!

  2. Jeff,

    You missed one. History Channel could do a docudrama. Scalzi in Plantation Owner’s garb sitting on the porch watching his Father in Law mow the lawn. Sepia toned film stock. This stuff just writes itself.

    Morning’s lovely, BTW, John.

  3. The problem with EW’s statement is that it starts with an assumption that Sci-Fi is willing to pay good writers.

    Battlestar Galactica was a fluke. They drifted away from their original mission statement (reruns of classic SF & horror), now they’ve drifted away from their 2.0 mission statement (quality original SF and horror) in favor of reality TV such as “Guinea Pig”, “Crossing Over” and a wrestling show.

  4. Congratulations on the Hub Award. Although in many of their categories the mentioned works predate 2007.*

    The Prestige, for instance, was up for the Hugo in 2007 meaning it was released in 2006.

  5. “…And even if what they produced were failures, they’d be interesting failures—marked by reaching too far, instead of not far enough…”

    Man, if only that were the Sci-Fi Channel’s motto: Let’s Reach Too Far. What a channel that would be! Instead, we get the ‘Let’s spin the giant insect/reptile/dinsoaur of the week to find out what will be killing people on Saturday night.”

    I would just absolutely love it if SciFi would release shows like that. Can you imagine an anthology show featuring those writers?! I’d be so excited I’d probably watch it live instead of Tivo’ing it. Or they come out with a remake of Flash Gordon… that actually had to do with Flash Gordon. Guess that’ll never happen either.

    Great. Now my morning is sad and depressing because you’ve made me realize just how much good TV we are missing out on because they want to put out something like When Zombie Smurfs Attack! Oh well… I suppose I could read a book or something. :o)

  6. shsilver @ 7: It’s entirely true that many of the works predate 2007, but as I mentioned in the intro:

    “These aren’t necessarily items that were published/released in 2007; rather, they are indicative of the best I have enjoyed this year – thus, there may be works that have been produced prior to 2007, but that (for whatever reason) I didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy them when they were first released.”

    “The Hub Awards” is also a bit of a misnomer, as they’re really *my* personal favourites of the year, rather than Hub’s favourites of the year.

  7. Back to college to get myself S-M-R-T.

    Everytime I flip past the SciFi channel playing a giant/mythological creature movie, I get so angry, I want to punch a baby. Seriously, that one was mined out somewhere b/t “Night of the Lepus” and “Them”. (If there’s anything better than cheesy music playing whilst bunnies scamper across obvious scale model sets, it’s having the MST3K team skewer the whole thing). Don’t go there. No one wants to see a knockoff of ‘Anaconda’.

  8. I’m in for parcheesi too.

    Congratulations, John, on the blog award. It’s well-deserved.

    As for SciFi – does it break any union rules to think about it?

  9. I think much of the trouble is that a good science fiction store doesn’t beget fifteen years of episodes. Good fiction, as written by all the people on that list, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story resolves. What makes money, however, is the “tune in next week for the further adventures of…” show. If they were to do, for example, a killer miniseries version of “Old Man’s War” for SciFi, they might get eight hours of television out of it. But sense the audience for TV is at least an order of magnitude more than that for written fiction, they’d have to market the heck out of it to get viewers to tune in for the first installment, only to have to do it all over again when it is over and they move on to the next bit of real SF.

    On the other hand, they can just produce “Stargate: Dead Horse” and get nearly the same audience with a tenth the advertising.

    The other trouble is that when you create a miniseries, you have to build lots of sets, hire lots of actors, etc. that then get discarded at the end. If you create a multi-year series, you can reuse all that stuff indefinitely.

    Don’t get me wrong…I’d dearly love to see real SF on SciFi…I just don’t think it’s very likely as I don’t think it’s very profitable.

    I suspect a better path would be to get real SF writers involved in the creation of original series content, the way Harlan Ellison was at least somewhat involved with Babylon 5.

    Battlestar Galactica was luck. The pitch for that show was essentially “We’re going to remake a shlocky late seventies crapfast and add supermodels!” The quality of that show has nothing to do with the money men that bought it and everything to do with the people who actually tricked those money men into making something good.

  10. While I think it’s a marvellous idea, I wonder why the proposed list–as always–only contains men.

    Congratulations on the blog award. It’s well deserved. :)

  11. Scalzi TV! As long as the Space channel here in Canada carries it, I’ll watch it!

    The morning would be better if I wasn’t at work and hadn’t had a weird “Dance Wars” dream last night.

  12. Sick, puking, glad my own blog loads faster, horrified at amount of content still needed to pump into thing, hope to hell that the transfer went through at work but doubting it did.

    In other words, fairly normal.

    I am very happy for you, though. The Whatever totally deserves that award. Of all 50-some blogs in my reader, it’s only the Whatever that I visit first and foremost whenever anything appears.

    I have no idea what to think about the SciFi channel. All I know is that somebody, somewhere, not necessarily SciFi, will want to house such wonderful things. Someone was quite willing to produce A Game of Thrones (though the writer’s strike has thrown everything into the air), and it’s not like GoT has market share like anything on the bestseller lists.

    The writer’s strike itself has been interesting enough to me to replace the TV shows I would otherwise be watching (Heroes, House M.D.). I look forwards to the Golden Globes, or lack thereof.

  13. Pea soup fog. Can’t find most of my kitchen or bedroom due to a recent relocation. And now, totally bummed that SciFi Channel DOES NOT have aforementioned shows being filmed as we type. Then they would finally have something on their schedule I would tune in to watch.

  14. Well, the Sci Fi channel ruined the Dresden Files. It is fun, urban fantasy series of books that Sci Fi channel optioned and half-assed. I would hate see them do that to other novels.

    Congrats on all the good accolades.

  15. Jeff@19 wrote:
    SFWA could start a cable channel. I know I’d be watching. :)
    Much more entertaining would be the arguments going on in the SFWA newsgroups arguing about the channel…which would also preclude it ever actually coming to fruition.

  16. Having seen you speek extemporaniously in person, I can honestly say that I’d sit up to watch a TV series where you just got up and talked for an hour each week about… well, “whatever”.

    It’s a nice editorial about the current quality of the skiffy channel, though. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch “Python vs. Mansquito in the Alien Apocalypse”… *grin*

  17. Congrats! You do rock… I think Sci-fi should explore the new writers too, especially you! I hope your writers block stops soon…

    be wlel,
    Dawn

  18. Congrats on the awards. But the best award had to be quiting the day job. Trophies are like big frosting, Looks good but not very tasty. SciFi channel. Such an idea, that came up short. Sigh.

  19. No offense to John, I think having short BBC style miniseries by popular authors would be great (though speaking of which, Neil Gaiman doesn’t need the scifi channel, he already has the BBC doing that for him), but I would rather the SciFi channel resurrect Sci Fi shows that I loved but were canceled. The shows already had a proven cast and scripters to provide for them, they just happened to be on network TV, which is horribly cutthroat (the obligatory FireFly nod here, but I’d also love to see the resurrection of Space above and beyond and a few others. Hell, i wish they would resurrect the dresden files in place of that crap Flash Gordon show; it wasn’t amazing but Flash absolutely sucks).

    If they insist on mining old properties for new content, I think a remake of the Shadow radio drama would be interesting provided they don’t get a Baldwin to play Cranston.

  20. Hey, EW has it exactly right. Let some excellent writers run with the ball a while, and stop concentrating on multi-year series and try some high-quality short runs instead.

    The legendary Fawlty Towers? Twelve episodes. Twelve. I mean, it was no Married With Children, but still…

  21. What, am I the only one old enough here to remember when Sci-Fi Channel actually had a Sci-Fi *news* program? And not only that, it had Harlan Ellison doing a commentary from time to time!

  22. I’d like the SkiiiFiiii Channel to do a talk show. Yes, a talk show. They tried one back at the start (no, Mike, you aren’t the only one who remembers the news show they did), but did not give it a chance. Interview writers. Interview producers, actors and the like as well, if you need (to attract a larger audience), but interview the writers!

    Think “Charlie Rose Meets the SF Genre”. Bet it’ll get a bigger audience than the wrasslin’.

  23. Joelfinkle:
    >The problem with EW’s statement is that it starts with an assumption that Sci-Fi is willing to pay good writers.

    SciFi IS paying good writers. Before you can make that statement, you need to delve into how TV works. Just as it’s not easy for TV writers to move to novels (finding this out as we speak), it’s not easy for novelists to move to TV. So you would invite novelists to create TV shows without having any experience with continuing storylines, budgets, production, development… it’s a pretty steep learning curve and if you don’t know how to game the system, you can wind up in a world of hurt.

    Now, when you factor in the ratings for ABC’s “Masters of Science Fiction,” you can see why there might be some issues with handing over millions of dollars. And by the way, SciFi wants to be in business with Harlan Ellison. The feeling is not mutual.

    Bob:
    >Hey, EW has it exactly right. Let some excellent writers run with the ball a while, and stop concentrating on multi-year series and try some high-quality short runs instead.

    You’re talking about a network that actually DOES produce miniseries. And their miniseries have been fairly profitable for them. Tin Man, for example, did huge ratings. The real money in TV is and will always be in series, however. Sci-Fi would try more series, if they had more money. Their licensing fees are minuscule, which means that the budgets for the shows are tiny as well. They don’t produce very many pilots but I’m telling you from firsthand experience, they want to, and they want to do quality.

    I would love it if they would do more miniseries or limited series. It works beautifully in England. But you have to take into account two things — one, the execs in charge. Not the ones in charge on a daily basis. I haven’t met smarter executives. Seriously. But the higher-ups. That leads to part two — the higher-ups don’t want to do science fiction. Yep, that’s right — the SciFi Channel doesn’t want to produce science fiction. You see, their programming must be ‘relatable,’ and there’s nothing relatable about spaceships or the future. That’s why Flash Gordon didn’t take place on Mongo, for example.

    There’s some precedent for this. Battlestar Galactica has never gotten the ratings it deserved. They simply cannot market the show without mentioning, you know, SPACE. And the future. And robots. The reasons they have to try and market the show this way is because of the public. If you want to place blame for the failure of Galactica, don’t place it on the network or on the show itself. Blame the public. They rejected it.

    This has led, directly, to SciFi’s paradigm — no science fiction, and close-ended episodes. Anything serialized is done as a miniseries.

    Steve Burnap:
    >I think much of the trouble is that a good science fiction store doesn’t beget fifteen years of episodes. Good fiction, as written by all the people on that list, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story resolves. What makes money, however, is the “tune in next week for the further adventures of…” show.

    Which is exactly why it’s a huge risk to give a series commitment to a novelist who doesn’t think that way. But the notion that a good science fiction story doesn’t beget a series? Poppycock. Right off the top of my head, Isaac Asimov’s robot novels would make a great futuristic detective show. Alistair Reynolds’ “Century Rain” could be developed into a series. As could the Jack McDevitt books. Heinlein’s “Rolling Stones” has potential as well.

    In other genre (which they also won’t do), There’s a series in the Talamasca from Anne Rice’s witch books. Tanya Huff’s “Blood Ties” is doing just fine on TV. Of course not every science fiction or genre novel is set up for a series, but some of them could be.

    >The other trouble is that when you create a miniseries, you have to build lots of sets, hire lots of actors, etc. that then get discarded at the end. If you create a multi-year series, you can reuse all that stuff indefinitely.

    Sure, you amortize the cost of the sets throughout the life of a series, but generally the budget per miniseries episode isn’t that much more than the budget per series episode. Which is a huge problem, by the way. Budgets are much higher than they should be, because of all the chaff the studio inserts into the pattern budgets of shows, and mainly because of the weight above the line. With a miniseries, you don’t have that weight. There’s no staff to pay. So right there, you have more room to play with your miniseries budget and actually put some of that money on the screen.

    >Don’t get me wrong…I’d dearly love to see real SF on SciFi…I just don’t think it’s very likely as I don’t think it’s very profitable.

    It certainly hasn’t proven to be, and that’s unfortunate, especially when you come up with terrific sci-fi series ideas and have nowhere to pitch them.

    >Battlestar Galactica was luck. The pitch for that show was essentially “We’re going to remake a shlocky late seventies crapfast and add supermodels!” The quality of that show has nothing to do with the money men that bought it and everything to do with the people who actually tricked those money men into making something good.

    But that’s not luck. That’s a particular skill at being able to stand up for the vision of your show, come in on budget, and deliver a show that’s a critical success. The executives at SciFi love the show, and they’re frustrated by the public’s response to it.

    Look, there aren’t that many people who set out to make crap. Even the execs think they’re doing good work. But there are so many factors that go into producing a television show that people can lose sight of the end game. It’s so bloody hard to sell a pilot, get it shot and get it on the air that you’ll do anything you can to keep it, even if it means making concessions that ruin the show. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. The geniuses of our industry are those who always maintain their vision. There aren’t many, but they’re out there.

    Now, with all this talk about science fiction on TV, it’ll be interesting to see how Sarah Connor does. That is definitively science fiction, and the people involved (I’m not one of them, but I know the whole bunch) are extremely proud of the show. They all stood their ground, despite a lot of pressure.

    Science fiction is a tough nut to crack on TV. You simply can’t go in and pitch a sci-fi show. They won’t even listen to you. Either you find a way to do the genre without ever saying that’s what you’re doing (Lost), or you get a big-name feature writer to come in with an existing property (Sarah Connor). Or, you do a period show on a small network, point out how you’re exploring drama in a similar way to science fiction, and watch peoples’ heads explode (Mad Men).

    This is a long and officious post, but hell, I’m on strike and procrastinating…

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