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Invasion Of The Sci-Fi Series

6/06/2011 12:02 AM Eastern

Later this month, Academy Award-winning film producer Steven Spielberg will debut his latest
major project, a special effects-laden blockbuster that pits a ragtag group of survivors against a brutal alien
force hell-bent on destroying all human life on the planet.

The project, Falling Skies, will open June 19, but not at your local AMC or Clearview multiplex theater but
rather on your home, big-screen HDTV via TNT — one of several science fiction-themed cable-based scripted
series that promise to rival big-ticket Hollywood theatrical films for the hearts and eyeballs of genre fans.
New sci-fi -themed cable series such as Skies, Starz’s Torchwood: Miracle Day, MTV’s Teen Wolf, ABC Family's The Nine Lives Of Chloe King, BBC America’s space opera Outcasts
and even Disney Channel’s tween-targeted My Babysitter Is a Vampire are expected to draw big audiences this summer.

The paranormal push will extend to theatres, too: Hollywood’s summer crop this year will include Cowboys and Aliens, starring
Harrison Ford; the vampire-themed Fright Night; and the fantasy thriller Super 8.
Cable’s summer sci-fi fling also extends into the superhero realm with Syfy’s new series Alphas, whose cast of superhuman heroes
will flex their muscles in a summer season where films featuring comic-book crime fighters Captain America, Thor and Green
Lantern
will hit cinema screens.

Network executives said this summer’s science fiction-based shows will hopefully entertain — and even scare—
audiences looking for escapist summer programming, as well as reach young audiences enamored with such recent boxoffice
franchises as Twilight and Transformers.

“Summer is the time of year for fun, escapist speculative
fare, and so it does seem like the right time of the
year to put that type of programming on the air,” Syfy
president of original programming Mark Stern said.

Both the broadcast and cable networks have dabbled
in the sci-fi space over in recent years, with mixed
results. The CW’s The Vampire Diaries has enthralled
young viewers since 2009, but NBC and ABC recently
cancelled their respective sci-fi-themed series, The
Event
and V, after just one season.

Mainstream cable has found an audience with the
success of AMC’s freshman zombie drama The Walking
Dead
and HBO’s vampire-tinged True Blood, which will
return for its fourth season this month.

MTV hopes to add to cable’s sci-fi success with
the launch of Teen Wolf, a takeoff of the 1980s movie
starring Michael J. Fox. Its hope is to reel in the
young 12-to-34-year-old audience that made the threefilm
Twilight
franchise a $1.7 billion worldwide boxoffice phenomenon. The series, which was scheduled to debut
June 5, stars Tyler Posey as Scott, a teenage outsider whose
fortunes literally turn beastly after he is bitten by a werewolf.
To further complicated matters, Scott’s love interest is also the
daughter of the town’s resident werewolf hunter.

“The Twilight franchise is an undeniable hit with our
core audience and helped build the franchise into a megahit,
so there is a real appetite from our audience for this
type of programming,” David Janollari, executive vice
president and head of programming for MTV, said. “I think
[Teen Wolf] has real broad appeal beyond a very specific
genre show, but it definitely delivers real state-of-the-art
effects, real suspense and real scares week to week”

Starz is hoping the alternate reality storyline of series Torchwood:
Miracle Day
will resonate with a slightly older viewer.
Miracle Day
— a continuation of the BBC’s popular Doctor
Who spinoff Torchwood
, whose prior iterations aired in the
U.S. on BBC America — follows the exploits of a small team of
alien hunters led by Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

Miracle Day,
a Starz/BBC Worldwide co-production, examines
the ramifications of a world in which no one dies,
according to Stephan Shelanski, Starz executive vice president
of programming. Added to the cast are such wellknown
U.S. actors as Mekhi Phifer, Bill Pullman and
Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under).

“It’s sci-fi in the sense that it’s otherworldly, but it’s
not so far removed from a crisis that could occur with
overpopulation,” Shelanski said. “It’s a statement basically
on the effects of overpopulation and what the world
is moving toward in a much more dramatized manor,” he
said. “We thought it was a very fascinating project and we
could make it very interesting on a pay channel.”

Shelanski believes the recent theatrical success of such
classic comic-book stories as Iron Man and the X-Men
franchise have endeared older audiences to the big-screen
science-fiction genre. That’s paving the way for such fantasy
content to thrive on cable.

“When you look at this year’s summer [movie] lineup,
there’s so many of the comic-book-based stories becoming
huge theatrical films,” Shelanski said. “I think it’s becoming
a much more readily acceptable form of content,
and the natural progression of what you see working a lot
in the theatrical world is now migrating over to television.”

Indeed, this summer theatrical run by comic-book
heroes includes a pair of new films based on Marvel Comics
properties, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The
First Avenger,
as well as a movie based on DC Comics’ The
Green Lantern.

So far, the genre has already proven its box-office might:
Thor, also based on a Marvel franchise, has already grossed
$162 million since its May 6 release. Syfy’s Stern said the
superhero-themed summer movie lineup will hopefully boost
interest in the network’s new series Alphas, set to bow July 14.

Alphas stars Malik Yoba (Girlfriends, New York Undercover),
Warren Christie (Supernatural), Laura Mennell
(Fringe, Smallville), Ryan Cartwright (Mad Men) and Azita
Ghanizada (NCIS: Los Angeles) as a team of ordinary people who use their extraordinary mental and physical abilities
to solve cases involving similarly endowed indviduals.
The theatrical interest in comic-book heroes could
translate into big ratings for Alphas, Stern said.

“The [Alphas] characters are more human than superhero,
so in that regard it’s a little less of an overt superhero franchise,
but it definitely is playing in that space,” Stern said. “I think that
anything that we offer that is referential feels like we’re in the
zeitgeist without us feeling like we’re being derivative.”

TNT is banking that the bravery and will of ordinary people
fighting to survive extenuating circumstances will draw
its core 25-to-54-year-old viewer to the “drama” network’s
alien-themed, apocalyptic drama series Falling Skies. The
series stars Noah Wyle (ER) as the leader of a group of humans
trying to survive and fight an alien attack on earth.

While the sci-fi genre is a new for a network that has
mined most of its original series success in the crime and
justice space, Michael Wright, executive vice president
and head of programming for TNT, TBS and TCM, said
the aliens serve a backdrop
to the human drama at the
series’ heart.

“In terms of the storyline
and the nature of the character,
[Falling Skies] has
enough of the DNA of a TNT series while at the same time
exploring new territory for us and providing new surprises
for our audience,” said Wright. “It is very much a piece
of the TNT programming, but the sci-fi world is different
for us, so we’re trying to bring something new to our audience,
while in the same package we’re bringing them
something that they should find familiar.”

Wright also said he’s not concerned about Falling Skies
suffering from potential genre overexposure due to the
proliferation of sci-fi -themed cable shows and theatrical
movies this summer.

“You can have five series that are essentially cop shows,
but when broken down, they are very different takes on
the genre,” he said. “Barney Miller and Southland are both
shows about cops, but they couldn’t be more different.
Even though they fall into the category of science fiction,
once you hold shows like Torchwood, Teen Wolf and Falling
Skies
up for comparison, I think you’ll see they are three
very different TV shows, and because of that they will draw
overlapping but different audiences.

Shelanski added: “What we’ve found more likely than
not is that [competition in the genre] actually strengthens
our ratings. When you have people that are used to
consuming fantasy/sci-fi shows, it makes them want more.
Having more genre programming is actually a good thing
for us.”

September