Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Going Rambo on Time Travel

So now Sylvester Stallone is a time traveler? I can imagine, were it true, he would have loftier ambitions than Pope Gregory IX at the Vatican. Snooze, right? I picture him in more of a butt-kicking revolutionary soldier. Here's Jack Black, Brad Pitt and a few others celebrity doppelgangers if you're up for comparing.

Now that the Vortex is re-calibrated for time travel again, I present my theory that has only recently solidified: time travel and television don't mix.

Sure, there are a few obscure series who have found a niche audience, but for the purposes of my argument, I'm talking major networks, major audience, major prime-time exposure. And sure, shows like the Twilight Zone and Star Trek tackled time travel successfully, but in the context of single, self-contained episodes. 

First, lets tackle the audience. We have the attention span of a gnat. We find men who can withstand extensive groin-kicking entertaining.We have hundreds of channels at our fingertips that splinter our viewing experience to channel-surfing sound bytes.

Then, there's the networks. Executives at pitch meetings hear a fantastic high-concept for a series: Awake,  Alcatraz, Journeyman, Terra Nova, Life on Mars to name a few. Perhaps they are people like me who love time travel and all its complex dynamics and inherent conflict. They think if they cast hotties from the UK into lead roles, it will drive American audiences to their couches each week.They forget their audience is comprised of gnats who would rather see fake tans and bad sex than anything remotely stimulating to the intellect. But mostly, they forget that if the premise of their show is based on time travel, it can't be wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end of the hour. And therein lies the problem.

Television is inherently fragmented. Anyone not on board from the beginning will not step onto a moving, swirling vortex of time travel confusion and the series is headed for cancellation before it ever starts.

The late 1980s series Quantum Leap worked because, for the most part, each episode was self-contained. There was a larger mythology, but it wasn't necessary to understand the bigger picture to enjoy Sam and Al's time leaps. It also aired at a time of fewer choices, thus, a more concentrated, devoted audience.

Another exception was LOST. However, the time travel element was brought in long after it hooked audiences based on the initial scenario of plane crash survivors when audiences were so far committed into the WTF-ery that they would think: polar bears? On a tropical island? Sure, why the hell not!

This all makes me want to write J.J. Abrams a letter. Tell him I adore him for loving time travel the way that I do then advise him to stick to movies. Self-contained vessels for a more discerning audience.

What is your theory on why time travel shows can't succeed on network television?


Rick said...

Wait! Wait!! Wait!!!

Hotties from the UK? What channel? Wait until I tell the rest of my friends from Mensa.

the walking man said...

Because of the grand paradox presented in backwards time travel none of the television shows would work in my head. And if I saw someone seeing themselves on television getting ready to attempt to change their future I would change the channel to stop them.

Not out of know they being able to travel back in time and all despite the paradox presented and I couldn't but rather because I would be changing my prsent to affect my future which then is me traveling in my future through my present and no paradox would exist.

And yes I can suspend belief but why go after time travel on television when Duck Hunters is available and can be recorded which then would be reverse time travel of a sort.

Charles Gramlich said...

I saw that on AMerica's got talent, and it made me think of the movie idiocracy, in which the most popular TV series of that future was "oww, my balls."

Todd Wheeler said...

Time travel contained on earth leads to many logical questions. If that happened back then, we'd have known about it now kind of thing. So, plot lines would have to be constricted to keeping the past/future the way it would have been/would be.

Which is no fun.

Doctor Who works much better since the characters can go anywhere and if there's meddling in some alien civilization or human affairs 500 million years from now, not so much worry about paradoxes.

Even that show has loosened up if you will, allowing many very public alien events to remain in the mundane public timeline (ala "gee, every Christmas London gets invaded by aliens; let's spend the holidays in the country"). So, the suspension of disbelief can be maintained somewhat since it is happening in an alternate reality.

But, as referenced above, the bigger issue in the U.S. is a lack of imagination on the part of corporate media networks, more focus on bottom line advertising dollars, and a willingness to create content catering to the lowest common denominator.