Spec Fic TV Show Trivia

In the cultural desert that was my childhood, there was one bookshelf in my home with about five books on it. There was only a black and white TV- it was all anyone had in those days in Australia. There were 4 TV stations which ran re-runs over and over until I felt ill at the sound of the theme music. We could have gone to ‘the movies’ but with 4 children an expensive trip to the movies was very rare. I craved the mystery and wonder that I later came to associate with speculative fiction books and movies, although at the time I didn’t have a word for it.

I saw this post about favourite Spec Fic TV and movie characters which got me thinking about my favourite TV shows and how they shaped my perception of the world.

My favourite TV show of my childhood was ‘Bewitched’. Who didn’t love Samantha? I wanted to grow up to be Sam. Let’s not talk about why she put up with Darren and his restrictions while trying to fit into his world. There was ‘I dream of Jeanie’, but I never got into that show. Jeanie was too subservient. Sam was always finding a way around Darren.

There was ‘Startek’ but I only ever saw one or two episodes because it came out when I was too young to watch it and then you could never find it again. (This was before videos and DVDs). In the early 70s there was ‘Catweazle’. He was a bright spot in the week. I loved the way he perceived our modern world – electricity was electrickery.

In the mid to late 70s there was ‘Blakes’ Seven’. Oh my… we used to look forward to that show each week. The character who lit up the screen for me was Supreme Commander Servalan. Who couldn’t like a woman who was smart, beautiful and ruthless? I enjoyed the interesting duality of Avon’s character and the dynamic that developed between them.

Also from the seventies was ‘Dr Who’, with Tom Baker and my favourite companion was Leela. She might have not had much education but she was ruthless and didn’t put up with any nonsense.

I don’t remember coming across many Spec Fic shows on TV in the 80s. Maybe they were being made in the US and the UK but not reaching Australia. Maybe because I had small children and fell into bed exhausted I didn’t have the time to discover the shows that were out there.I used to watch ‘Monkey’ and ‘Worzle Gummidge’ with the kids. I did find the ‘Young Ones’, not strictly spec fic but absurdist social satire that was a change from the standard situation comedy.

Maybe you can remember some spec fic TV shows for grownups that were on past my bedtime.

The 90s …Β  That was a high density child rearing time for me, too. With 6 children in 10 years between 84 and 94, I didn’t really come up for air until about 97, but I did find ‘Red Dwarf’. Although there were no female characters (until Kochanski turned up), there were plenty of quirky off-the-wall types. Also from the 90s were ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and the 4 ‘Black Adder’ series, again lovely social satire, which comes from a place that is similar to where Spec Fic comes from. Both take a step back from this world and makes us look at it again and see how strange and alien it is.

Due to the challenge of our family, I didn’t discover ‘Stargate’ or ‘Farscape’ until after they ended. In fact I didn’t discover ‘Buffy’ until the series was over which, in a way, was a bonus. It meant, when we found we liked ‘Buffy’, we were able to buy the whole set on DVD and watch it in extended marathons. I enjoyed the each one of the series for different reasons. A few episodes were absolute classics. My favourite character from the series had to be Anya, the reformed Revenge Demon. She was so literal and tried to make sense of a world that, when you examine it, doesn’t really make sense. The musical episode where she sings about her fear of Bunnies is a delight.

So I discovered ‘Buffy’ in the 2000s, plus ‘Angel’, which was never as quirky. I didn’t find ‘Firefly’ until it was over. Brilliant show. Every character was well drawn. The dynamics as they interacted was fascinating and the world building was great.

I think I’ve already written about the shows I’ve enjoyed recently.

Because we keep track of the reviews, we can find the new shows and get the DVD sets. No waiting around for the TV stations to put them on late at night, then change the slot without telling anyone. What you took off (insert TV show name) to show football? Are you crazy?

I’d like to say how much I admire what Felicia Day did with ‘The Guild’. It started out as a self funded webshow and has gone from strength to strength. Quirky characterisation with elements of social satire. Not something the big networks would have picked up, but the show has proved popular despite this. It’s interesting how the paradigm for producing shows and books is changing.

Looking back at the spec fic TV shows I enjoyed, the thing that strikes me is the strong characterisation. And often the characters are trying to make sense of our world. (I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten).

What TV shows did you watch while growing up? What TV show characters have lingered in your mind? What makes a character so powerful that you remember them years afterwards?

22 comments

  1. Ack. I don’t think I ever lived with less than 500 books in the house! (yes mostly second hand, and some very old) And those were ALWAYS too few. I can’t imagine a childhood without books. I was TV deprived as TV only got South Africa when I was already 11th grade. No loss as far as I was concerned – but radio plays…. _I_ heard the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the original :-). I suppose the Cat in Red Dwarf made most impression since.

  2. Early TV . . . all the dog and cat shows for me, my Dad watched all the westerns. ‘Bonanza,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Paladin.’ And of course, ‘The Lone Ranger.’ So I saw a lot of those.

    The first full out spec fic I remember was ‘Lost in Space.’ Ah! They don’t make them like that any more, and I am no longer the perfect age to watch them. And a darned good thing.

    Then ‘Star Trek’. Never missed that one. I have a vague memory of some absurd UFO series. ‘Space 1999’ never grabbed me. Sorry, you just can’t blast the Moon out of orbit so easily. ‘Time Tunnel.’ Loved that show, more out of control tech. ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.’ Really cool futuristic submarine.

    I’m sure there were more, that I don’t remember at all.

    1. _Loved_ “Have Gun Will Travel* (Paladin). It’s still one of my favorite Westerns. I mean, hello. The Writer in Black here. πŸ˜‰

      *(Yes, Hollywood, you really can do a dramatic series with good stories in a half-hour format. They don’t all have to be sitcoms.)

      1. I loved, and still love, “Have Gun – Will Travel” My husband has been wonderful and bought me the series as they become available (I think Season 4 is the latest that I’m waiting for, come Christmas πŸ™‚ ). CBS also did something interesting. Unlike, say, “Gunsmoke” which ran for years on radio and then, in the early years, was both a radio *and* TV show, but with different cast and different ‘slant’; Have Gun – Will Travel was so successful it’s first year (1956 – 57, IIRC) that CBS turned it *into* a radio show. Here’s the interesting part: They used, essentially, the same scripts. My brother-in-law found the radio shows for me. Take a *visual* show — one of the first was one where the “shootout” was timed by the drips of water from a nearby pump! — and turn that into a medium that works only with words and sound. Amazing job. And quite interesting from the writer’s pov. I’m a very visual person. I see and hear the scenes and characters. Translating that into words on a page without doing lots of unneeded descriptions is hard. I like seeing (heh) how other writers have done it.

  3. My parents (mostly my then stepfather) were big TV SF buffs so I grew up on the Irwin Allen shows: Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and whatever else there was. Also The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Then there was The Invaders.

    We rarely missed Bewitched. Usually watched I Dream of Genie. We never missed Star Trek . . . ever.

    Space 1999 was “meh” at best. I have a very flexible WSOD center but even I had trouble with that one. Trying to evacuate back to Earth was too risky but every time they came across a planet in passing (come again? the moon’s drifting through space but they pass a supposedly habitable planet every week?) evacuating to that planet is the first thing they consider?

    UFO was surprisingly good for its day and even today I find it pleasantly dark.

    Battlestar Galactica. Greatest American Hero. Quark. Third Rock from the Sun. And here was this really stupid series about this puppet that eats cats. πŸ˜‰

    Those are just the ones that come to mind now. There may have been more over the years.

  4. Television wasn’t much of a factor in my childhood. We lived in a remote valley, so even when we *did* have a working television (about half of the years I lived at home), we only got one-and-a-half channels. But, as Dave described his own childhood, other than meals and sleep I can’t remember very many instances when I was stationary and not reading. My journey into spec-fic is entirely attributable to my third-grade teachers, who took us to the nearby state university campus to see a stage adaptation of “The Hobbit”. I hunted down the book at the village library the next day, and consumed it almost in one sitting.

  5. Hi Rowena,

    Yeah, Red Dwarf, Twin Peaks, Monkey (I don’t think they got Monkey in the US). I pretty-much own every series I used to watch now on DVD. Tansy said that Neil Gaiman was remaking Monkey. It won’t be anything like the original I guess but knowing him it will be awsome.

    I saw Serenity the movie before I knew anything about Firefly – but it was all good.

    1. Yes, Firefly was such a waste opportunity. Serenity as a movie tried to do so much, that unless you had seen the TV series you didn’t get all the significance.

      I can’t imagine what Gaiman would do with Monkey.

  6. Hi, Rowena. I also grew up in a bit of cultural vacuum – thank God for TV shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, Dr Who and Blake’s Seven. Wasn’t Blake’s Seven so cool? How many times can they run down the same corridor. . . hee hee.

    1. Chris the thing about Blakes’s Seven was that the world they landed in did not look like southern California (as in Star Trek) or a disused quarry (as in Dr Who). Although I seem to remember some quarries.

  7. I don’t know how I managed to never ever see Blake’s Seven. Not once.

    Also, my husband informs me that it is possible to purchase a Codex (yes?) costume for Halloween. πŸ˜‰

  8. As I’ve mentioned, I’m older than dirt. One of my favorite TV shows from childhood was “Men Into Space”. In fact, I just looked it up and added it to my Amazon wish list πŸ™‚

    I can remember when Start Trek premiered. I couldn’t wait for it. SF on TV! I’d watched all the Irwen Allen shows (Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, etc) and The Outer Limits (first run) and Twilight Zone (OK, that one creeped me out and I usually “watched” it from around a book I could duck behind). But this was a *whole* *show* dedicated to people *living* in space! On a *spaceship*. I loved that show.

    But, I’d add “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to speculative fiction. It was funny and futuristic, and I still have a thing for David McCallum πŸ™‚

    I have to agree with the Space 1999 pan. And the fact that it had sucked out my two favorite characters from “Mission: Impossible” to be in it didn’t help πŸ™‚

    Another, not childhood, speculative fiction show I thoroughly enjoyed was “Quantum Leap”. I don’t have the DVDs for that. Don Bellasario did some of the best moments in TV with music as *part* of the scene. Not background. Not a music video. Just inextricably wound through the scene. And the US version doesn’t have the original songs. Whatever you can buy in the UK (and, apparently, Europe) does have them. Yeah, I guess I’m kind of a snob πŸ™‚

    The other spec fic that have been mentioned (Stargate, Firefly, Red Dwarf, Dr. Who etc) were things I made sure my kids were exposed to. And it was gratifying to see that they enjoyed them, too πŸ™‚

    Question: would you consider Highlander (first movie and TV series) speculative fiction? I enjoyed it a lot, and loved the ideas it brought up (something like Lazarus Long and “ephemerals” but with swords and starting far further back in time).

    1. You’re right, Lin. Man from UNCLE was spec fic. And yes, I would consider Highlander well and truly spec fic.

      Did you find it frustrating how you’d just discover a show and then the station would drop it or move the time slot without telling anyone? Or maybe they didn’t do it to spec fic shows in the US and UK.

      1. Most frustrating. And yes, it was done *constantly*. I think the worst one was, for whatever lamebrained reason, the local NBC affiliate moved Star Trek (original series, original *run*) to 10pm local. Prime time started at 6pm and went til 10pm. Local news started at 10pm. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson started at 10:30pm (also on NBC). And not only 10pm — 10pm *Friday*. Most of the people who watched the show were high school / college age. Most of them did not sit around watching TV on Friday nights. (I was in marching band and had football games and basketball games I was obligated to go to, for instance).

        Seems to me Quantum Leap went through that, too.

        And then there’s Firefly. I never saw it first run. But I’ve watched the DVDs and I think it’s one of the best written SFs out there. But it’s also true that when it was originally broadcast, the episodes were totally out of order. Some shows you can do that with. Not Firely.

        Having lived through the, “you missed it, that’s it.” dark times of TV, I’m just glad that there are DVDs and VHS of these shows.

        My brothers (if I’m older than dirt, they probably caused the Big Bang) speak rhapsodically of “Captain Video”. After the show ended, the boss of the network (supposedly because he hated the lead actor so much) had all the film of every episode rendered down for its chemical content. I think that Heinlein gives a glancing salute to Captain Video in “The Rolling Stones” — there’s that space opera that the father is a writer on, which Hazel takes over. If ever a time machine came into existence, I think I’d steal copies of Captain Video. Of course, it would probably be awful by today’s standards, but it’s the “great thing that the can never be recovered” so it grows better every retelling πŸ™‚

    2. Yes, to Firefly and I’m so glad that we can find shows now because of the web. It takes the frustration out of relying on TV stations who just don’t get it.

      Never heard of Captain Video, but we lived out in the dark ages here. The TV stations just bought a couple of seasons of shows like Bewitched and kept showing them over and over. I never knew there was a season where Samantha had a son!

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