Since we’re all so brilliant….

What rules would you establish for your ideal SF or fantasy tv series? Sarcasm aside– fans occassionally suggest better ideas than the creators and producers of various shows.

I’ve listed five. They reflect my own personal ideas. I suspect a good many people here would enjoy voicing theirs.

ONE CAVEAT: Avoid just saying, “X was, like, the best show ever, so I’d make my show just like X!” Be more creative than that. Derive a rule from whatever element made X worth watching.

1. Think through the implications of elements you introduce, and live by them– or don’t introduce them in the first place.

If godlike beings wander around your cosmos and routinely interfere with human affairs, if Joe Anybody can cast magic spells, if the tech to create androids exists– then follow through with the implications. How did Picard ever know it wasn’t just Q being funny? Joyce’s android lover on Buffy is of unknown origin, and is later dismantled, so I’ll buy him– but why didn’t Warren become a multi-trillionaire by marketing pleasure-bots?

2. Hire genre writers now and then.

Seriously, the best eps of the original Star Trek were written by actual SF writers, the kind of people Berman & Braga seem loathe to hire.

Also: SF writers don’t need to be scientists, but it doesn’t hurt if they have at least a vague clue regarding what science is.

3. Continuity is not god and it’s going to get violated now and then, but at least attempt to avoid flatly contradicting previous episodes.

4. Story arcs are not a Tool of Satan, however…

…The soap-opera approach encourages the sloppy writing of flabby scripts where nothing in particular happens. Such eps seldom seem worth watching.

5. Regardless of genre, good tv features interesting characters who engage the story in ways that make sense, in context.

32 replies on “Since we’re all so brilliant….”

  1. y42 says:

    Don’t dumb it down
    But I still want to see stuff blow up and the occasionnal sexy alien chick.

    Also the show would need to be aired, on schedule, at a convenient time
    (not shuffled around until no one can know when or if its even on).

  2. Daemonik says:

    Realistic sexuality
    1. Don’t involve your characters with sexual encounters unless:

    A) It fits in with the established behavior of the characters in question.

    B) It advances the plot and feels “natural”

    C) Only involve characters that the viewers can believe would likely be getting laid, unless you’re shooting for a humorous plotline.

    2. Snappy special effects do not compensate for poor writing.

    3. Gratuitous sex does not compensate for poor writing … much.

    4. Time travel is a crappy plot device, under no circumstances should it be used.

    5. If you’re going to introduce an alien species

    A) Put some thought into the alien’s appearance, culture, behavior.

    B) A human with some bumps added to their forehead is a sad and pathetic attempt at an alien.

    6. Humans should get smacked down once in a while.

    • HulkStrongestOne says:

      Re: Realistic sexuality

      1. Don’t involve your characters with sexual encounters unless:

      A) It fits in with the established behavior of the characters in question.

      B) It advances the plot and feels "natural"

      C) Only involve characters that the viewers can believe would likely be getting laid, unless you’re shooting for a humorous plotline.

      D) It involves saliva strings between two women.

    • vanyel says:

      Re: Realistic sexuality

      1. Don’t involve your characters with sexual encounters unless:

      On the other hand, if you have characters in a naturally revealing situation, don’t make them do something blatantly unnatural to avoid showing something.

      • Alexius says:

        Re: Realistic sexuality

        1. Don’t involve your characters with sexual encounters unless:

        On the other hand, if you have characters in a naturally revealing situation, don’t make them do something blatantly unnatural to avoid showing something.

        You Were Pissed That Out Of Three Sex Scenes (On Buffy), Four Women Managed To Leave Their Tops On, Huh?

  3. GrimSean says:

    Just because they’re humans….
    …doesn’t mean they always have to win. Let them get smacked around a little first, and don’t deus ex machina the ending – nothing aggravates me more than “Well, if we put more power in the phasers” or “I just so happen to be working on a little something in my spare time which may help”. If you make the characters work to win, the show will be that much better for it.

    Also, don’t be afraid to kill off characters. If the viewers know you are willing to do this with established ones, they tend to watch fight scenes with a little more enthusiasm due to the added drama.

    The best enemy is either someone we know nothing about, or everything about (by this I mean the viewer only gets a few hints about the enemy’s nature, or the viewer gets an entire episode from the enemy’s point of view), and he/she should have most definitely read the evil overlords handbook. Also, the bad guy probably shouldn’t know the protagonist/hero very well, simply because the ‘old friends’ angle has been done to death.

    If all else fails, contact Joss Whedon and tell him you want to put Firefly back on the air. Not only will it be successful (I promise to watch), but SciFi fans around the world will fall down in thanks.

    • edo says:

      Re: Just because they’re humans….
      In this same vein, we don’t always have to follow the good guys, or the oppressed, or the righteous. For once it would be neat to see a sci-fi show where we follow the bad guys, know they are the bad guys, and like it. The problem is all the bad guys I have encoutered in scifi are evil personified. Why can’t we blur the lines – like when Jasmine brought world peace in Angel this past season?

      • fiziko says:

        Re: Just because they’re humans….

        In this same vein, we don’t always have to follow the good guys, or the oppressed, or the righteous. For once it would be neat to see a sci-fi show where we follow the bad guys, know they are the bad guys, and like it. The problem is all the bad guys I have encoutered in scifi are evil personified. Why can’t we blur the lines – like when Jasmine brought world peace in Angel this past season?

        If you’re in the UK, you can watch American Gothic tonight.

  4. chuckeye says:

    Old School

    Think through the implications of elements you introduce,
    and live by them– or don’t introduce them in the first place.

    A friend of mine watches a lot of the old, silent comedies… Buster
    Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, that sort of thing. He realized that part of their
    formula is to establish a rule and then follow that rule to an almost
    absurd extreme. So long as the rule has constantly been followed in
    every situation where it has come up, usually getting worse and worse,
    the audience will buy it no matter how silly things become. Self-
    consistency with your rules is key, and doesn’t necessarily have to
    dictate continuity.

  5. dram says:

    Relevant points on morality and society
    I think the best shows are the ones that are relevant to real life. Shows like The Twilight Zone or even The Simpsons to a certain extent (I only think of The Simpsons because their is a banner-ad trying to get me to buy Simpsons stuff.)

    I also think an overarching story line is a good thing. Babylon 5 was this way, especially towards the end. When Voyager first started I had high hopes for it, I was hoping that it wouldn’t just been a collection of episodes that had nothing to do with one another, but I found there was little that tied one episode to the next.

    Lastly, tech is not an end in itself. Yes, cool technology is…well, cool. But good drama is important. When writing a sci-fi show one should have the mindset that they are writing a drama, like Law & Order or The West Wing, not sci-fi, it just happens to be that it is also sci-fi. This includes the need for good writing and believable characters who are acted well.

    -Grant Henninger
    [ dram.teamslack.net ]

  6. joe__gee says:

    As I recall from B-5 …
    … not only did JMS have Harlan Elison on board as a resident “tech” consultant, he also had a sort of bible (detailing technology, physics, cultures, principle characters, and general story arc) he shared with script writers to keep them focused on what he had in mind.

    I guess in order to create a believable reality begin by creating rules, and then stick to them.

    -Joe

  7. Boglin says:

    Minor ideas
    These are mostly for stories set in a modern setting (ie X-Files or Buffy)

    1. When a town’s population is regularly halved by horrible events, someone should remember, unless you have a darn good explanation.
    2. The hero’s friends and relatives should not be magnets for disaster. I call it the Lois Lane test: If the hero had never been born and the friend had not been roped into fighting evil, they should still have an average lifespan (average possibly being adjusted for apocolypses which effect everybody).
    3. Unusual powers should not be bestowed unproportionally upon evil people. Not all of the worlds psychics, mutants, and freaks are serial killers.
    4. If the fans are crying for two of the characters to sleep together, don’t do it. That show’s that you’re out of ideas.
    5. On the other hand, when one character declaring their undying love for the other should effect episodes besides the season finale.
    6. Your protagonist isn’t Jesus. Stop trying to pretend that he is.
  8. Babbster says:

    My Rule
    Hire actors instead of faces and bodies – yes, even the ladies. Most people don’t want to watch someone learn to act over the course of a TV series, and when they’re weak people WILL notice. If you can get the whole package, that’s great, but remember that TV shows have scripts and microphones in addition to the cameras.

    The corollary to this is that if viewers of a dramatic series (whether SciFi or not) are talking mostly about “that hot chick” and her breasts then something’s wrong.

  9. is says:

    just a ditto
    Your five rules are just what I would say.

    I’d add my own thing.

    Since the viewer can only view the show in context of their own world, certain things have to be consistent and real (seeming).

    i.e. Military officers go thru training. This training literally programs them to think and act a certain way while in stressful situations. Breaking that really irks me.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: just a ditto

      A) Put some thought into the alien’s appearance, culture, behavior.

      B) A human with some bumps added to their forehead is a sad and pathetic attempt at an alien.

      And, instead of introducing new lame aliens every ep, reuse and develop the ones you’ve established. Why Trek never really took to this, when the aliens they bothered to develop proved so popular (and lucrative) eludes me.

      How many times could they have reused existing make-up and concepts? It leads to a more believable alternate reality.

      • vanyel says:

        Re: just a ditto

        And, instead of introducing new lame aliens every ep, reuse and develop the ones you’ve established.

        This goes to more than just the aliens: develop the characters in the show as well. Some of the best examples I can think of were Garak and Gul Dukat on DS9, J’kar, Londo, Garibaldi, Dr. Franklin on Babylon 5 (as I cut that list short it’s no wonder that was the best SciFi show ever!). It looks like they’re even going in the right direction with Tripp and T’Pol on Enterprise, though I’m afraid Tripp is going to go one dimensionally psychotic. I hope not. There’s also hope for Archer — they’ve started filling in a little of his history, albeit just barely. They started giving Tom Paris an interesting background and growth in Voyager, but that ended up going nowhere. On the other hand, the Doctor was a really interesting character as he learned and grew. And I was really impressed that Seven of Nine was more than a skin-tight suit — they did a good job of developing her as well. I’m much more interested in the characters than Yet Another BEM.

  10. n8f8 says:

    One Rule
    Hire Harlan Ellison

    • joe__gee says:

      Re: One Rule

      Hire Harlan Ellison

      HAHAHAHAHAHA :)

      I’m certain Harlan would agree to that rule too. :)

      -Joe G.

    • mbourgon says:

      Re: One Rule

      Hire Harlan Ellison

      Yeah, but don’t let him dictate everything. Straczynski was smart to use him as an advisor, but not as a writer.

  11. SciFi0964 says:

    My two cents…
    6) Every once in a while, do something in the story arc that is not the usual result to keep the viewer guessing.


    Have an episode in which the character may die or leave because of some life altering event? Take them off for a time!

    7) Show us that more effort need put into getting a result or that sometimes a result could not immediately be found. Heroes DO have to struggle sometime.


    “I reconfigure the asquath band with a few stokes of my keyboard and *poof* the hostile eargor drive self destructs thus taking out the ENTIRE fleet of Barg”

  12. TechnoGirl says:

    Rules for a Sucessful Science Fiction Series
    #1 If one of your writers ever…*EVER* uses the word "franchise" to refer to your series, beat him with a stick until he’s a carpet stain. Then go clean the carpet and never mention his name again.

    #2. It’s Science Fiction, stupid. That doesn’t mean that you get to invent new capabilities for your characters or their equipment each week by inventing new science-sounding techno-phrases. Establish your basic limitations early on and then STICK TO THEM. If one of your writers suggests getting out of a particularly stuiky wicket by "using the deflector shield to create virteron particles" the bring out that stick again and….

    #3. Good writing is ALWAYS about people and how they feel – NOT about their techno toys. Science fiction is a SETTING under which good writing takes place.

    #4. Bad Things Happen to Good People (and vice versa). Your main characters are not immune to this basic fact of life. Have your central character make a really BAD deciion and then explore the consequuences on himself and on others. Make your audience truly love someone…then kill them off. Corrupt a central character….make a bad guy a hero. Play (f*ck) with your audience’s minds…..

    #5. At the end of your story the audience should have actually FELT something. Disappointment, revulsion, hate , fear..excitement….SOME thing damn it! If everything always stays the same — if NOTHING central ever changes (one of the principal tennants of Star Drek these days) then your audience will go away feeling … nothing.

    #6. Hire other writers. Don’t try to script every episode yourself. B5 was a glorious exception — Voyager and Enterpoop are what you usually end up with. Let (proven) new talent (and hence new ideas) play with your Universe and see what they can do to it. One of the strongest points about ST-TOS was that it used some of the best science fiction writers of it’s time — Blish, Matheson, Bloch, Federic Brown, Spinrad…and that Harlan guy (I forget his last name.. hehehe)

    #7. Story arcs are your friend. There’s a name for television shows with no continuity – they’re called SitComs.

    #8. Don’t get fucking greedy. Plot put your story arc…tell it well…and then move on and get the hell out of there and move on. The TV executives will want you to spin-off or extend your series if you’re sucessful and will offer you wheelbarrows of money to do so. They’re assholes. Assholes with no vision and no art and no real capability for either. They’re why TV sucks as bad as it does now. Tell your story, move your audience AND THEN GO DO SOMETHING ELSE.

    #9. Don’t do it unless your sure you can do it well.

    #10. See rule #1.

    • nkuzmik says:

      Re: Rules for a Sucessful Science Fiction Series


      #7. Story arcs are your friend. There’s a name for television shows with no continuity – they’re called SitComs.

      Here’s something that they should do a Paramount. It’s called a “database” You go through every Star Trek script you have. If you don’t have a script for it, pull out the tape, find an Intern, give them a pen and paper. You index every script based on proper nouns, and interesting verbs.

        You obviously keep your indexing consistent. After a few scripts the computer will be able to help pic out all the goodies. After the first introduction, the DB should know that “Klingon” is a word to be indexed.

      This database should be multi-dimensional so that it can be referenced from Trek Universe chronology using standard Newtonian time, using Trek Universe time-travel/paradox time, and real world chronological order.

        Obviously this means reconciling Stardates. Again, bring on the Interns.

      Okay now that we have this supercalifragilisticexpealidocious database, we use it!
      Before a script gets approved it gets intered into the database. At which point the ever faithful Interns will look at the changes to the Index listings.

        “Hm… Looks like we already used the Reological impactor in epp. 94 of TNG. Lets just see if is a conflict…”

      I mean aren’t these interns really just Trekkies who are getting paid to do what they love?

      • TechnoGirl says:

        Re: Rules for a Sucessful Science Fiction Series

        I mean aren’t these interns really just Trekkies who are getting paid to do what they love?

        1. No they are not..”trekkies”. They are aspiring directors, actors,producers, cameramen etc…trying to get a foot in the door.

        2. Interns generally don’t get paid

        3. As a software developer I can tell you that even the “simple” search application that you speak of would cost between $40-80K to develop properly and take 4-8 months time minimum to do in a corporate environment. It would seriously cut into B&B’s coke budget.

        • Timeshredder says:

          Re: database

          3. As a software developer I can tell you that even the “simple” search application that you speak of

          Still, interesting idea. What about a database on a website with only a standard search function? In addition to its use by writers, fans could visit regularly, so banner advertising would be available.

          You could also impose the rule a friend suggested: if you don’t have any respect for the show’s history, you shouldn’t write for the show. Heck, that rule might’ve kept B&B from taking the helm in the first place.

        • SciFi0964 says:

          Re: Rules for a Sucessful Science Fiction Series

          3. As a software developer I can tell you that even the “simple” search application that you speak of would cost between $40-80K to develop properly and take 4-8 months time minimum to do in a corporate environment. It would seriously cut into B&B’s coke budget.

          Hmmm, Then again they could take a low, low budget approach by putting all scripts back to back in a simple word processor such as Wordpad, do a search on a particular word, and find all scripts with that relavent term. True it may be labor intensive at points… but they could turn off the office lights to make up for the expense.

  13. ehopper says:

    Emulate TV Drama Shows & Real life
    Yes, follow Law & Order & West Wing (except for the dumb lefty politics of both). And consider there is a bigger world out there.

    Not every alien planet is going to be run by a “council” with 10 or 12 guys who are dictators for life. They may have real governments, politics, media, even.

    If you are going to wipe out a path from Florida to Venezuela and 7 million people to go with it, consider the impact on the public psyche. If you need an example of how that works, look at Sept 11.

    Finally, seed your cast with characters we get to know, (not red shirts for one episode) then KILL THEM. That’s real life.

  14. Trekkie says:

    My Late to the Game Comments
    1) OK, so in the future we will have attractive female people. But do they all have to spray paint on their uniforms and all? I mean come on. Some of us sci-fi people would watch it if the female characters were all eight armed, no tit, slime covered creatures because we actually like PLOTS and STORIES.

    2) Continuity, continuity, continuity. I like a background story arc, I don’t need day to day updates, but when things pop up from time to time that’s fun. but I don’t think it needs to be hit up every episode. Babylon 5 was my best example of this. Things would pop up that were 2 seasons ago that made you go oooooooooooh, holy cow.

    3) Aliens need to be more alien. CGI is here, let’s use it.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: My Late to the Game Comments
      I’m surprised none of us have mentioned this:

      Dead is dead. I can think of two exceptions: short-term medical death, from which people can recover, and flashback appearances. Otherwise: character dies, character remains dead.

      • dram says:

        Re: My Late to the Game Comments
        Multiple dimensions works to bring people back. Think of Tasha Yar in Yesterday’s Enterprise. (I think that’s the episode name I’m thinking of.) This can be used once, and the character has to die off again, or go back to their own dimension. And of course it has to be done in a creative way, you can’t just copy what Star Trek did. But there are ways to bring back people for an episode, I even think there would be other, more innovative ways to bring people back, I’m just not that creative of a person to figure out what they are.

  15. Alexius says:

    Show Idea
    I Actually Had An Idea For A Show. Because I Love This Web Site, I’ll Use It’s Name (I Hadn’t Picked Out A Name):

    So, There’s A Government Organization, Bureau 42. In The Bureau, There Are A Few Characters, The Secrative Character, The Jock, The Nerd, A Few Others, and What Not.

    The Characters Are Part Of A Covert Team That Is Hired Out To Other Organizations. Of The Missions Are Top Secret, And They Always End Up Investigating Things Like These. You Have An Episode Where They Try To Find The Owner Of A Robottic Hand With Higher Technology Than Any Recognizes, But Is Severed At the Wrist. The Show would Be Fairly Episodic, Except For The Character Development, And Many A Few Running Themes.

    I Figure If Done Right, It Could Be Popular With The Illuminati Crowd. (I Got The Idea From Wharehouse 23)
    Fnord

    • Alexius says:

      Re: Show Idea
      Wow, Sorry For The Incredably Shitty Grammer And Spelling. I Was Using Preview To Figure Out How To Work The SuperTags. Should Have Actually Read The Post Again, Huh?

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