I have noted many times in this column that the world is changing for those of us who grew up as comic book and science fiction fans. During our youth, these two entertainment sub-genres lacked mass market appeal and only occasionally crossed into the mainstream. As a child and well into my teens, I was not overly vocal about being a fan of anything sci-fi, never mind comic books. Those who were, were ridiculed, or worse, accosted. Even meekly mentioning you watched “Star Trek” reruns led to as much fun as a daylong wedgie.
My father was a big science fiction fan, and I remember the joy of watching shows with him like the original “Star Trek,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Lost in Space” and even the old “Batman” TV series. Nearly all were in reruns by the time I got to them, though most had originally enjoyed short-lived success in the 1960s. By the 1970s, when I did most of my growing up, television moved away from pretty much anything sci-fi.
A review of the top shows at that point illuminates where sci-fi stood in the sociocultural strata. The 1970s were dominated by police procedurals, dramas and sitcoms like “MASH,” “All in the Family,” “The Rockford Files” and “Happy Days.” Among the most notable during that decade, two shine as outliers: “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Wonder Woman” (with maybe an honorable mention to “The Bionic Woman”). This is not to say that television wasn’t good, or great in many cases, it just represented a fairly minimal public interest in anything based in science fiction.
By the 1980s, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was pretty much the only sci-fi show with a significant share of viewers. “Quantum Leap” was able to reach some new audiences, like my mom, but its science fiction elements were limited, probably due to fear of losing audiences. The only other noteworthy show was the British import — finally getting U.S. distribution through PBS — “Doctor Who.” Although, perhaps many of us watched that one for its cheesy effects and acting as opposed to its cool sci-fi stuff.
For us science fiction fans, the 1990s was the beginning of the legitimization of our cultural value, thanks as much to “The Simpsons” as to any other television show. Its writers included many acclaimed comedians and authors who worked in millions of comic book and science fiction references. Then, factor in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Twin Peaks” and “The X-files,” and you had a tremendous shift beginning.
Now, less than 20 years later, science fiction rules the roost of the most popular shows on TV, and there are comic-book-based shows aplenty. “The Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld” and “The Flash” held the top four spots respectively on Parrot Analytics’ top 25 shows worldwide for November. As reported by Business Insider, Parrot is factoring in not only views, but social media, peer-to peer sharing and more.
“Lucifer,” “Gotham,” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” also made that list. An outlier — “The Big Bang Theory” — is not a true comic book show, even though its characters hang out at one. And it does not portray the fans correctly. It does, however, have innumerable science fiction and comic book references, kind of like “The Simpsons.”