Of all the TV program genre, my favorite is science fiction. I watch other genre too, but my “there’s nothing on to watch” fallback is to tune in anything sci-fi! Sometimes that solution has to be DVDs or scanning cable channels, because traditionally the major broadcast networks have not embraced or been successful with sci-fi programming.
I am of the opinion that sci-fi programming is an under-appreciated genre, and too often relegated to “it’s just for geeks and nerds.” But, sci-fi has a lot to offer all of us, and I think it has an important niche in any viewing schedule.
There are a lot of examples of people who have been inspired to pursue a career in the sciences because of science fiction TV shows. In fact, many of the engineers who work or worked at NASA cite just such an inspiration.
My two favorite examples both revolve around Star Trek, and in particular Nichelle Nichols. Back in 2007, I was fortunate to attend a Star Trek convention where she was a guest. During her talks, she mentioned two instances in particular.
Dr. Mae Jemison, one of our former Shuttle astronauts, had been inspired by Star Trek and of course Lt. Uhura in particular to go into a career in the sciences and become an astronaut. She even became friends with Nichelle and invited her to a Shuttle launch. Unfortunately Nichelle was unable to attend due to her mother’s illness, but she tells a funny story of what happened when she called the Cape to try and tell Mae that she would be unable to attend. She went through about 5 people, thinking they had no idea who they were talking to, until she finally reached Mae, who was in quarantine at the time and was not supposed to be able to speak to outsiders. All of the people she spoke to at the Cape were fans and knew exactly who she was!
The second instance she mentioned was that at the end of the first season, she turned in her resignation from Star Trek, because she wanted to return to musical theater. That weekend, however, she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who it turned out was a Trekker! Star Trek was one the few shows he and his wife would allow their young children to stay up late to watch. He convinced Nichelle that as an officer on the bridge of a Starship, she was in an important non-stereotypical role, and she could not leave the show! That next Monday she retracted her resignation.
Variety of programming is very important. Despite the current trend towards medical and police dramas, as a full on fan of these shows, I still have to ask – just how many of these can we have on TV before we become saturated? Won’t we become bored as viewers, and the writers run out of interesting ideas?
For those that don’t care for shows that travel to other worlds and involve aliens, sci-fi shows can offer other plot lines! Off the top of my head, three earth based shows that do not include aliens are Warehouse 13 and the recently ended Eureka and Fringe. These shows are fun and inventive without having to visit other worlds.
Science fiction, or good science fiction, makes you think. You can’t always just sit back and relax, but need to remain fully engaged or you may miss the point. However, this attention can come with a reward of having expanded your horizons and providing you with an opportunity for personal growth!
One of my favorite parts of sci-fi TV shows is that they can make us challenge our beliefs without actually taking a side. Instead, they can just set up a moral situation on a different planet, and let it play out to a logical conclusion, and then force the viewer to contemplate if another alternative was possible. For example, many of the most popular shows took on the concept of “Manifest Destiny” and its morality. Stargate SG-1 actually approached the subject from different directions in more than one episode. In the 7th season episode, “Enemy Mine” war almost broke out between an alien species and humans over who had the right to mine a planet.
Returning once again to Classic Star Trek, since in some ways it is the grandfather of sci-fi on TV, the program was ground breaking in so many ways. It is much easier to be a pioneer when you disguise it as happening in outer space. Viewing public acceptance, not to mention network executive acceptance, is easier to come by for events occurring in the future or on another planet.
One important moment was TV’s first interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura. Despite the fact there is still debate about whether or not it was actually the first interracial kiss on TV, the fact it was scripted and happened at all, on a show being produced and broadcast in the 1960s, makes the moment very significant for our society. And, as mentioned previously, the fact that an African-American woman was an officer, considered an equal with the others on the bridge, was very important.
Many of you have no doubt heard the campaign NASA used to promote the benefits of the space program – the fact that much of the ordinary technology we have today, that makes life so easy for us, was actually developed for use in the space program or derived from NASA research. Memory foam anyone?
Something similar can be said for sci-fi TV. In fact, the internet is rife with lists of science fiction inspired innovations we use every day. For instance, the communicators used in Classic Star Trek inspired the development of cell phones by Martin Cooper who was a Star Trek fan. Some other items imagined in Star Trek and other sci-fi TV shows that are in common use today are tablets, tricorders, wireless earpieces, biometrics, personal computers and portable memory.
There are probably some reasons I have not thought of, so please feel free to add to my list in the comment section below. Also feel free to discuss my list – I love hearing from people!