As we head into the new year here are some of the trends in sci fi TV that I have noticed from the last year or so that look to carry over into 2018.
Trending Up: Peak TV
Believe it or not, Peak TV continues to roll on. We are currently at over one hundred airing, returning, and upcoming sci fi and fantasy shows, and that does not include shows that have not been scheduled yet as well as the many, many projects in development. I thought things might have slowed by now, and perhaps we are seeing that with several of the cable channels (Chiller is closing down, A&E and WGN appear to be getting out of the scripted show business) and maybe even the broadcast nets to an extent, but the streaming services and premium channels are picking up the slack. The good news? We are getting A LOT of quality sci fi and fantasy (Game of Thrones, American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Orville, Westworld, The Expanse to name just a few). The bad news? Well, continue on to the next point.
Trending Down: The Ratings
There are plenty of shows to watch, but only so many hours in the day to watch them. Peak TV continues to fracture the audience and the many networks out there are scrambling for the ratings scraps. At some point, that will take its toll. The good news from this is that the networks are becoming less reliant on the Nieslen numbers to determine the fates of their shows as they turn to international partnerships and syndication along with streaming deals and more to make up for the revenue lost due to dwindling advertising rates. The bad news, though, is that the bubble will burst at some point. We may have a year or two, and it may not be a complete collapse of Peak TV, but the market will seek to correct itself eventually.
Trending Up: Space Shows
Just a few years ago you could barely find anything resembling a space-based show across the many channels and streaming services. Now, you can take your pick, with plenty more on the way. Star Trek: Discovery has brought that franchise back to the small screen and The Orville has brought the spirit of the earlier Trek entries to today’s audience with a humorous twist. In addition, we have The Expanse, Killjoys, Missions, and Agents of SHIELD has even ventured into space this season. On the way is Krypton (which Syfy is billing as a sci fi epic), Lost in Space, Galaxy Quest as well as adaptations of the Foundation Trilogy, Ringworld, and more. Television has made a bold journey back into space and we are quite happy about it.
Trending Down: Zombies
The “Walking Dexit” continues for The Walking Dead as that show is down to the lowest numbers it has seen since its second season (though it is still the highest rated scripted show on all of television, so AMC is not crying too much). Syfy’s Z Nation was down notably in its fourth season (though it did get the fifth season renewal), and The CW’s iZombie has not been able to expand beyond its cult following. Zombies once looked like the hottest trend on television, but the rot definitely appears to be setting in as we head into 2018.
Trending Up: Fantasy Epics
HBO’s Game of Thrones will be coming to an end with its eighth season, but fantasy epics are just getting started on television. That network is already working on multiple spin-offs from its hit series, and everybody else seems to want to get into the game as well. Showtime is working on an adaptation of the Kingkiller Chronicle, Netflix is working on adaptations of The Witcher and The Wheel of Time, Amazon launches Britannia in January and also has a Lord of the Rings prequel series in the works. So even though GoT will be bowing within a year or so, there will be no shortage of epic fantasy on television over the next few years.
Trending Down: Supernatural Dramas
The CW’s Supernatural is still going strong in its thirteenth season and Netflix’s Stranger Things has become a binge-worthy series, but the supernatural drama which seemed to dominate genre television just a few years ago seems to be fading. Syfy’s two new shows Ghost Wars and Superstition both bombed in Fall, FOX’s The Exorcist has failed to develop much of a following (despite its critical success), AMC’s Preacher struggled in the ratings in its second season, Cinemax’s Outcast seems to have been cast out (even though it has a completed second season that has aired outside the U.S.). And there are quite a number of cancelled or ended shows in that vein from the past couple of years such as Bitten, Damien, Penny Dreadful, Salem, and more. And perhaps it is a good thing to give this sub-genre a rest because it has already been well-used during the Peak TV era (and before). We may eventually want a respite from the space shows and fantasy sagas, but those definitely seem like a nice change of pace after so many supernatural / paranormal shows seemed to have dominated the airwaves.
Trending Up: Women Getting More Screen Time
The sausage-fest that once was sci fi TV appears to be slowing down as many genre entries are casting women in the leading roles or at least giving them equal time with their male stars. Shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Killjoys, Wynonna Earp, and Supergirl have centered around a strong female lead and plenty more with ensemble casts have women getting as much screen time or more as their male co-stars such as Agents of SHIELD, Black Mirror, The Orville, and Legends of Tomorrow. This has actually been an upward trend for the last few years and it continues to build momentum moving into 2018
Trending Down: The Post-Apocalypse
We still have quite a number of post-apocalyptic shows on television such as The Walking Dead and its spin-off, The 100, Van Helsing, and Into the Badlands, but that sub-genre is not quite as prominent as it once was. There was a time not too long ago when supernatural / paranormal and post-apocalyptic shows dominated sci fi TV, but that trend appears to be waning. TWD is not quite the juggernaut it once was, The 100, Z Nation, and Van Helsing all appear to be on the downswing (and the latter show’s fans will almost certainly let me have for that comment), Extinct (kind of a quasi-post apocalypse entry) did not quite catch on its first season, and there is not much development in this vein currently in the pipeline. Television goes through cycles, though, and I expect the post-apocalypse to return, but for now sci fi and fantasy TV seems to be shifting away from that direction.
Trending Up: Superheroes
Believe it or not, superhero overload has not set in despite the many shows in that genre on television. Sure, The CW’s Arrow-verse entries are down in the ratings this season, but then so is everything, and they are still among the strongest performers for that network. In addition, we have Netflix’s Defenders shows, The Gifted on FOX, Legion of FX, and Runaways on Hulu. Coming in the next few months or so we have Black Lightning (CW), Titans (Disney), the return of Young Justice (Disney), and Cloak & Dagger (Freeform). Coming further down the line is New Warriors, Watchmen, Wildcards, and more. So for now, the superheroes continue to soar on television.
Trending Down: Syfy
The network allegedly dedicated to the sci fi and fantasy genre continues to struggle with its core audience. It had some success after its 2009 re-branding from The Sci Fi Channel to Syfy when it focused on “sci fi-lite” shows like Warehouse 13, Haven, and Being Human. But those are long gone, and the network has failed to find a hit show to replace them. To make matters worse, the network execs indicated in late 2015 that Syfy would return to its science fiction roots, but never really followed through on that promise. They did deliver The Expanse which has been a fan-favorite but which has failed to deliver ratings success. They also gave us Killjoys and Dark Matter (though they canned the latter series after Summer), both of which developed small but loyal followings. But this Fall there was nary a science fiction show to be found on the network, and its supernatural slate tanked badly in the ratings. There is still some promise in 2018 as the Superman prequel Krypton has been billed as a sci fi epic, but genre fans just have not been buying what this network is selling, even when it is exactly what the want as in the case of The Expanse. NBC Universal’s horror channel Chiller closes its doors at the end of 2017, and you have to wonder if Syfy could follow if its audience continues to shrink.
Be sure to keep up with the latest sci fi and fantasy TV news at this site and the Sci Fi TV Twitter Site. And keep up with the ratings results and renewal / cancellation prospects of the current genre shows at CancelledSciFi.com and the Cancelled Sci Fi Twitter Site.