At least once a year, the broadcasters and networks cast a critical and often unforgiving eye over the viewing figures and cull those shows they consider are under-performing. The result is that the Cult TV landscape can change quite a lot over 12 months. This time last year, to give you some idea, this column was commemorating the end of Xena: Warrior Princess and Star Trek: Voyager and looking ahead to the future of the newly-arrived Smallville and the shortly-expected Enterprise.
This year, the most striking impression one gets from the bird’s-eye view is of the ‘big beasts’ of Cult TV slowly departing the scene, and making way for the younger and fresher series to take their place. At the time of writing, it still seems unclear whether Buffy will survive beyond its current season, but fairly clear that we’re not going to see another full year of Farscape. Lesser, though still significant, casualties this 12-month have included Roswell and Dark Angel, and though we’ve yet to see the final episodes, the death knells have also been sounded for Earth: Final Conflict and Futurama. Most symbolically though, this was the year in which The X-Files finally snuffed out its candle, with more of a whimper than a bang. It was a sign of how much has changed since five or so years ago, when a new series had a hard task to muscle in between the giants of The X-Files, two Star Trek offspring and the mighty Babylon 5.
Paranoid and Sinister
Just as significant this year, I think, has been the slow fading of two franchises that were formerly among the most reliable and marketable of the genre. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, though still one of the most interesting and accomplished shows around, had another year beset with recycled and misfired ideas, in which the considerable talents of some of television’s best actresses were, for the most part, underused. For the majority of the year, indeed, it was decidedly overshadowed by its more imaginative younger brother, Angel. Meanwhile, the lukewarm reaction to Enterprise proved that it’s no longer enough to put out a series set on a starship in the Star Trek universe and expect people to get excited about it. The irony here is that Enterprise was often very good, particularly showing a talent for the paranoid and sinister previously unknown to the franchise. Unfortunately, the producers figured that the best way to get attention wasn’t to emphasize these elements but to push all the standard, auto-pilot buttons for the franchise, like casting Jeffrey Combs as just about every alien going.
by John Binns