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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu

We've got a serious question for you this week. Having just come back from Dragon*Con, where among other things they had a gathering of a world's record 571 people in Star Trek costumes—that's probably more people than ever had speaking parts in the original series, the spinoff series, and all of the movies combined—a serious question might seem out of place, but nonetheless, here it is.

Why is it that some science-fiction or fantasy-themed TV series develop devoted fan followings, while other more commercially successful series don't?

It's worth remembering here that the original Star Trek series was a commercial flop. It was canceled in its second season. Fan protests did a miraculous thing and convinced the network to rescind the cancellation bring it back for a third season, but it received the definitive stake in the heart at the end of the third season. Ratings-wise, it was even beaten out by some Irwin Allen steaming heap, though I can't remember now whether it was Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And yet, in the forty years since, Star Trek has become the focus of an almost cult-like fan following, and a multibillion-dollar multinational industry.

Likewise, Firefly lasted all of 13 episodes and one movie, and yet today, there are more Browncoats than ever, begging for another movie or a revived series.

Now compare these to series like—oh, Charmed. Beauty and the Beast. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel. Babylon 5. The X-Files. Perhaps even Stargate. All of these were science-fiction or fantasy-themed series that had long and commercially successful runs. All of them had decently high or even better ratings while they were in first-run production, and while they were airing, strong fan followings. At least one or two of them should make you scratch your head now and think, "Oh yeah. There was a series with that name, wasn't there?"

So here again is today's question: what is that mysterious je ne sais quoi that enables one series to develop a fan following so strong it lives on in the fans' hearts and minds long after the original series ends, while another series has its run and then fades from memory as if it was never there?

Let the arguments begin.

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, True Blood, The X-Files, The X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF- or fantasy-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.
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