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Science fiction first appeared in television programming in the late 1930s, during what is called the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Special effects and other production techniques allow creators to present a living visual image of an imaginary world not limited by the constraints of reality.
Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas".
The first Golden Age of Science Fiction, often recognized in the United States as the period from 1938 to 1946, was an era during which the science fiction genre gained wide public attention and many classic science fiction stories were published. In the history of science fiction, the Golden Age follows the "pulp era" of the 1920s and 1930s, and precedes New Wave science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1950s are a transitional period in this scheme; however, Robert Silverberg, who came of age in the 1950s, saw that decade as the true Golden Age.
The need to portray imaginary settings or characters with properties and abilities beyond the reach of current reality obliges producers to make extensive use of specialized techniques of television production.
Through most of the 20th century, many of these techniques were expensive and involved a small number of dedicated craft practitioners, while the reusability of props, models, effects, or animation techniques made it easier to keep using them. The combination of high initial cost and lower maintenance cost pushed producers into building these techniques into the basic concept of a series, influencing all the artistic choices.
By the late 1990s, improved technology and more training and cross-training within the industry made all of these techniques easier to use, so that directors of individual episodes could make decisions to use one or more methods, so such artistic choices no longer needed to be baked into the series concept.
Special effects (or "SPFX") have been an essential tool throughout the history of science fiction on television: small explosives to simulate the effects of various rayguns, squibs of blood and gruesome prosthetics to simulate the monsters and victims in horror series, and the wire-flying entrances and exits of George Reeves as Superman.
A raygun is a science fiction particle-beam weapon that fires what is usually destructive energy. They have various alternate names: ray gun, death ray, beam gun, blaster, laser gun, laser pistol, phaser, zap gun, etc. In most stories, when activated, a raygun emits a ray, typically visible, usually lethal if it hits a human target, often destructive if it hits mechanical objects, with properties and other effects unspecified or varying.
A squib is a miniature explosive device used in a wide range of industries, from special effects to military applications. It resembles a tiny stick of dynamite, both in appearance and construction, although with considerably less explosive power. Squibs consist of two electrical leads which are separated by a plug of insulating material, a small bridge wire or electrical resistance heater, and a bead of heat-sensitive chemical composition in which the bridge wire is embedded. Squibs can be used for generating mechanical force, or to provide pyrotechnic effects for both film and live theatrics. Squibs can be used for shattering or propelling a variety of materials.
Wire-flying is a theatrical stunt which involves suspending an actor from high-tension wires, normally with a harness concealed under the costume, to simulate the action of flying or falling, especially in the presence of other actors.
The broad term "special effects" includes all the techniques here, but more commonly there are two categories of effects. Visual effects ("VFX") involve photographic or digital manipulation of the onscreen image, usually done in post-production. Mechanical or physical effects involve props, pyrotechnics, and other physical methods used during principal photography itself. Some effects involved a combination of techniques; a ray gun might require a pyrotechnic during filming, and then an optical glowing line added to the film image in post-production. Stunts are another important category of physical effects. In general, all kinds of special effects must be carefully planned during pre-production.
Visual effects is the process by which imagery is created or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot in film making.
Post-production is part of the process of filmmaking, video production, and photography. Post-production includes all stages of production occurring after shooting or recording individual program segments.
Principal photography is the phase of film production in which the bulk of the movie is filmed, with actors on set and cameras rolling, as distinct from pre-production and post-production.
Babylon 5 was the first series to use computer-generated imagery, or "CGI", for all exterior space scenes, even those with characters in space suits. The technology has made this more practical, so that today models are rarely used. In the 1990s, CGI required expensive processors and customized applications, but by the 2000s (decade), computing power has pushed capabilities down to personal laptops running a wide array of software.
Babylon 5 is an American space opera television series created by writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski, under the Babylonian Productions label, in association with Straczynski's Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. Domestic Television. After the successful airing of a test pilot movie on February 22, 1993, Babylon 5: The Gathering, in May 1993 Warner Bros. commissioned the series for production as part of its Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN).
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of computer graphics to create or contribute to images in art, printed media, video games, films, television programs, shorts, commercials, videos, and simulators. The visual scenes may be dynamic or static and may be two-dimensional (2D), though the term "CGI" is most commonly used to refer to 3D computer graphics used for creating scenes or special effects in films and television. Additionally, the use of 2D CGI is often mistakenly referred to as "traditional animation", most often in the case when dedicated animation software such as Adobe Flash or Toon Boom is not used or the CGI is hand drawn using a tablet and mouse.
Models have been an essential tool in science fiction television since the beginning, when Buck Rogers took flight in spark-scattering spaceships wheeling across a matte backdrop sky. The original Star Trek required a staggering array of models; the USS Enterprise had to be built in several different scales for different needs. Models fell out of use in filming in the 1990s as CGI became more affordable and practical, but even today, designers sometimes construct scale models which are then digitized for use in animation software.
A scale model is most generally a physical representation of an object, which maintains accurate relationships between all important aspects of the model, although absolute values of the original properties need not be preserved. This enables it to demonstrate some behavior or property of the original object without examining the original object itself. The most familiar scale models represent the physical appearance of an object in miniature, but there are many other kinds.
Buck Rogers is a fictional space opera character created by Philip Francis Nowlan in the novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., subsequently appearing in multiple media. In Armageddon 2419 A.D., published in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine, Amazing Stories, the character's given name was "Anthony". A sequel, The Airlords of Han, was published in the March 1929 issue.
Star Trek is an American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry that follows the adventures of the starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and its crew. It later acquired the retronym of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) to distinguish the show within the media franchise that it began.
Models of characters are puppets. Gerry Anderson created a series of shows using puppets living in a universe of models and miniature sets, notably Thunderbirds . ALF depicted an alien living in a family, while Farscape included two puppets as regular characters. In Stargate SG-1 , the Asgard characters are puppets in scenes where they are sitting, standing, or lying down. In Mystery Science Theater 3000 , the characters of Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, two of the show's main (and most iconic) characters, are puppets constructed from random household items.
A puppet is an object, often resembling a human, animal or mythical figure, that is animated or manipulated by a person called a puppeteer. The puppeteer uses movements of their hands, arms, or control devices such as rods or strings to move the body, head, limbs, and in some cases the mouth and eyes of the puppet. The puppeteer often speaks in the voice of the character of the puppet, and then synchronizes the movements of the puppet's mouth with this spoken part. The actions, gestures and spoken parts acted out by the puppeteer with the puppet are typically used in storytelling. Puppetry is a very ancient form of theatre which dates back to the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece. There are many different varieties of puppets, and they are made from a wide range of materials, depending on their form and intended use. They range from very simple in construction and operation to very complex.
Gerry Anderson was an English television and film producer, director, writer and occasional voice artist. He remains famous for his futuristic television programmes, especially his 1960s productions filmed with "Supermarionation".
Thunderbirds is a British science-fiction television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, filmed by their production company AP Films (APF) and distributed by ITC Entertainment. It was produced between 1964 and 1966 using a form of electronic marionette puppetry combined with scale model special effects sequences. Two series were filmed, comprising a total of thirty-two 50-minute episodes; production ceased following the completion of the second series' sixth episode when Lew Grade, the Andersons' financial backer, failed in his efforts to sell the programme to American network television.
As animation is completely free of the constraints of gravity, momentum, and physical reality, it is an ideal technique for science fiction and fantasy on television. In a sense, virtually all animated series allow characters and objects to perform in unrealistic ways, so they are almost all considered to fit within the broadest category of speculative fiction (in the context of awards, criticism, marketing, etc.) The artistic affinity of animation to comic books has led to a large amount of superhero-themed animation, much of this adapted from comics series, while the impossible characters and settings allowed in animation made this a preferred medium for both fantasy and for series aimed at young audiences.
Originally, animation was all hand-drawn by artists, though in the 1980s, beginning with Captain Power , computers began to automate the task of creating repeated images; by the 1990s, hand-drawn animation became defunct.
In recent years as technology has improved, this has become more common, notably since the development of the Massive software application permits producers to include hordes of non-human characters to storm a city or space station. The robotic Cylons in the new version of Battlestar Galactica are usually animated characters, while the Asgard in Stargate SG-1 are animated when they are shown walking around or more than one is on screen at once.
In general, science fiction series are subject to the same financial constraints as other television shows. However, high production costs increase the financial risk, while limited audiences further complicate the business case for continuing production. Star Trek was the first television series to cost more than $100,000 per episode, while Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first to cost more than $1 million per episode.
The innovative nature of science fiction means that new shows cannot rely on predictable market-tested formulas like legal dramas or sitcoms; the involvement of creative talent outside the Hollywood mainstream introduces more variables to the budget forecasts.
In the past, science fiction television shows have maintained a family friendly format that rendered them suitable for all ages, especially children, as the majority of them were of the action-adventure format. This enabled merchandising such as toy lines, animated cartoon adaptations, and other licensing. However, many modern shows include a significant amount of adult themes (such as sexual situations, nudity, profanity and graphic violence) rendering them unsuitable for young audiences, and severely limiting the remaining audience demographic and the potential for merchandising.
The perception, more than the reality, of science fiction series being cancelled unreasonably is greatly increased by the attachment of fans to their favorite series, which is much stronger in science fiction fandom than it is in the general population. While mainstream shows are often more strictly episodic, where ending shows can allow viewers to imagine that characters live happily, or at least normally, ever after, science fiction series generate questions and loose ends that, when unresolved, cause dissatisfaction among devoted viewers. Creative settings also often call for broader story arcs than is often found in mainstream television, requiring science fiction series many episodes to resolve an ongoing major conflict. Science fiction television producers will sometimes end a season with a dramatic cliffhanger episode to attract viewer interest, but the short-term effect rarely influences financial partners. Dark Angel is one of many shows ending with a cliffhanger scene that left critical questions open when the series was cancelled.
One of the earliest forms of media fandom was Star Trek fandom. Fans of the series became known to each other through the science fiction fandom. In 1968, NBC decided to cancel Star Trek . Bjo Trimble wrote letters to contacts in the National Fantasy Fan Foundation, asking people to organize their local friends to write to the network to demand the show remain on the air. Network executives were overwhelmed by an unprecedented wave of correspondence, and they kept the show on the air. Although the series continued to receive low ratings and was canceled a year later, the enduring popularity of the series resulted in Paramount creating a set of movies, and then a new series Star Trek: The Next Generation , which by the early 1990s had become one of the most popular dramas on American television.
Although somewhat smaller, Doctor Who fandom considerably predates Star Trek fandom. Meanwhile, Star Trek fans continued to grow in numbers, and began organizing conventions in the 1970s. No other show attracted a large organized following until the 1990s, when Babylon 5 attracted both Star Trek fans and a large number of literary SF fans who previously had not been involved in media fandom. Other series began to attract a growing number of followers.
In the late 1990s, a market for celebrity autographs emerged on eBay, which created a new source of income for actors, who began to charge money for autographs that they had previously been doing for free. This became significant enough that lesser-known actors would come to conventions without requesting any appearance fee, simply to be allowed to sell their own autographs (commonly on publicity photos). Today most events with actor appearances are organized by commercial promoters, though a number of fan-run conventions still exist, such as Toronto Trek and Shore Leave.
The 1985 series Robotech is most often credited as the catalyst for the Western interest in anime. The series inspired a few fanzines such as Protoculture Addicts and Animag both of which in turn promoted interest in the wide world of anime in general. Anime's first notable appearance at SF or comic book conventions was in the form of video showings of popular anime, untranslated and often low quality VHS bootlegs. Starting in the 1990s, anime fans began organizing conventions. These quickly grew to sizes much larger than other science fiction and media conventions in the same communities; many cities now have anime conventions attracting five to ten thousand attendees. Many anime conventions are a hybrid between non-profit and commercial events, with volunteer organizers handling large revenue streams and dealing with commercial suppliers and professional marketing campaigns.
For decades, the majority of science fiction media fandom has been represented by males of all ages and for most of its modern existence, a fairly diverse racial demographic. The most highly publicized demographic for science fiction fans is the male adolescent; roughly the same demographic for American comic books. Female fans, while always present, were far fewer in number and less conspicuously present in fandom. With the rising popularity of fanzines, female fans became increasingly vocal. Starting in the 2000s (decade), genre series began to offer more prominent female characters. Many series featured women as the main characters with males as supporting characters. True Blood is an example. Also, such shows premises moved away from heroic action-adventure and focused more on characters and their relationships. This has caused the rising popularity of fanfiction, a large majority of which is categorized as slash fanfiction. Female fans comprise the majority of fanfiction writers.
U.S. television science fiction has produced Star Trek and its various spin-off shows of the Star Trek franchise , The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and many others.
British television science fiction began in 1938 when the broadcast medium was in its infancy with the transmission of a partial adaptation of Karel Čapek's R.U.R.. Despite an occasionally chequered history, popular programmes in the genre have been produced by both the BBC and the largest commercial channel, ITV. Doctor Who is listed in the Guinness World Records as the longest-running science fiction television show in the worldand as the "most successful" science fiction series of all time.
Science fiction in Canada was produced by the CBC as early as the 1950s. In the 1970s, CTV produced The Starlost . In the 1980s, Canadian animation studios including Nelvana, began producing a growing proportion of the world market in animation.
In the 1990s, Canada became an important player in live action speculative fiction on television, with dozens of series like Forever Knight , Robocop , and most notably The X-Files and Stargate SG-1 . Many series have been produced for youth and children's markets, including Deepwater Black and MythQuest .
In the first decade of the 21st century, changes in provincial tax legislation prompted many production companies to move from Toronto to Vancouver. Recent popular series produced in Vancouver include The Dead Zone , Smallville , Andromeda , Stargate Atlantis , Stargate Universe , The 4400 , Sanctuary and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica .
Because of the small size of the domestic television market, most Canadian productions involve partnerships with production studios based in the United States and Europe. However, in recent years, new partnership arrangements are allowing Canadian investors a growing share of control of projects produced in Canada and elsewhere.
Australia's best known Science Fiction series was Farscape ; made with American co-production, it ran from 1999 to 2003. Early series made in the 1960s included The Interparis (1968) Vega 4 (1967), and Phoenix Five (1970). A significant proportion of Australian produced Science Fiction programmes are made for the teens/young Adults market, including The Girl from Tomorrow , the long-running Mr. Squiggle , Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left , Ocean Girl , Crash Zone , Watch This Space and Spellbinder .
Other series like Time Trax , Roar , and Space: Above and Beyond were filmed in Australia, but used mostly US crew and actors.
Japan has a long history of producing science fiction series for television. Some of the most famous are anime such as Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy , the Super Robots such as Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Tetsujin 28-go ( Gigantor ) and Go Nagai's Mazinger Z , and the Real Robots such as Yoshiyuki Tomino's Gundam series and Shōji Kawamori's Macross series.
Other primary aspects of Japanese science fiction television are the superhero tokusatsu (a term literally meaning special effects) series, pioneered by programs such as Moonlight Mask and Planet Prince . The suitmation technique has been used in long running franchises include Eiji Tsuburaya's Ultra Series, Shotaro Ishinomori's Kamen Rider Series, and the Super Sentai Series.
In addition, several dramas utilize science fiction elements as framing devices, but are not labeled as "tokusatsu" as they do not utilize actors in full body suits and other special effects.
Among the notable German language productions is Lexx and Raumpatrouille , a German series first broadcast in 1966. Movies by Rainer Erler, include the miniseries Das Blaue Palais .
Star Maidens (1975, aka "Medusa" or "Die Mädchen aus dem Weltraum") was a British-German coproduction of pure SF. Danish television broadcast the children's TV-series Crash in 1984 about a boy who finds out that his room is a space ship.
Early Dutch television series were Morgen gebeurt het (Tomorrow it will happen), broadcast from 1957 to 1959, about a group of Dutch space explorers and their adventures, De duivelsgrot (The devil's cave), broadcast from 1963 to 1964, about a scientist who finds the map of a cave that leads to the center of the earth and Treinreis naar de Toekomst (Train journey to the future) about two young children who are taken to the future by robots who try to recreate humanity, but are unable to give the cloned humans a soul. All three of these television series where aimed mostly at children.
Later television series were Professor Vreemdeling (1977) about a strange professor who wants to make plants speak and Zeeuws Meisje (1997) a nationalistic post-apocalyptic series where the Netherlands has been built full of housing and the highways are filled with traffic jams. The protagonist, a female superhero, wears traditional folkloric clothes and tries to save traditional elements of Dutch society against the factory owners.
Italian TV shows include A come Andromeda (1972) which was a remake of 1962 BBC miniseries A for Andromeda (from the novels of Hoyle and Elliott), Geminus (1968), Il segno del comando (1971), Gamma (1974) and La traccia verde (1975).
French series are Highlander: The Series , French science-fiction/fantasy television series (both co-produced with Canada) and a number of smaller fiction/fantasy television series, including Tang in 1971, about a secret organization that attempts to control the world with a new super weapon, "Les atomistes" and 1970 miniseries "La brigade des maléfices".
Another French-produced science fiction series was the new age animated series Il était une fois... l'espace (English: Once upon a time...space). Anime-influenced animation includes a series of French-Japanese cartoons/anime, including such titles as Ulysses 31 (1981), The Mysterious Cities of Gold (1982), and Ōban Star-Racers (2006).
The first Spanish SF series was Diego Valor, a 22 episode TV adaption of a radio show hero of the same name based on Dan Dare, aired weekly between 1958 and 1959. Nothing was survived of this series, not a single still; it is not known if the show was even recorded or just a live broadcast.
The 60s were dominated by Chicho Ibáñez Serrador and Narciso Ibáñez Menta, who adapted SF works from Golden Age authors and others to a series titled Mañana puede ser verdad. Only 11 episodes were filmed. The 70s saw three important television films, Los pajaritos (1974), La Gioconda está triste (1977), and La cabina (1972), this last one, about a man who becomes trapped in a telephone booth, while passersby seem unable to help him, won the 1973 International Emmy Award for Fiction.
The series Plutón B.R.B. Nero (2008) was a brutal SF comedy by Álex de la Iglesia, in the line of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , Red Dwarf , or Doctor Who , with 26 episodes of 35 minutes.Other series of the 2010s were Los protegidos (2010-2012), El barco (2011-2013), and El internado (2007-2010), all three inspired by North American productions, with minor SF elements.
The latest success is El ministerio del tiempo (The ministry of time), premiered on February 24, 2015 on TVE's main channel La 1. The series follows the exploits of a patrol of the fictional Ministry of Time, which deals with incidents caused by time travel.It has garnered several national prizes in 2015, like the Ondas Prize, and has a thick following on-line, called los ministéricos.
Serbia produced The Collector (Sakupljač), a science fiction television series based upon Zoran Živković's story, winner of a World Fantasy Award. Several science-fiction series were also produced in various European countries, and never translated into English.
For a list of notable science fiction series and programs on television, see: List of science fiction television programs.
People who have influenced science fiction on television include:
A fandom is a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their fandom and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices ; this is what differentiates "fannish" (fandom-affiliated) fans from those with only a casual interest.
Stargate SG-1 is a Canadian-American military science fiction adventure television series and part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Stargate franchise. The show, created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner, is based on the 1994 science fiction film Stargate by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. The television series was filmed in and around the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The series premiered on Showtime on July 27, 1997 and moved to the Sci Fi Channel on June 7, 2002; the final episode first aired on Sky1 on March 13, 2007.
A fictional universe is a self-consistent setting with events, and often other elements, that differ from the real world. It may also be called an imagined, constructed or fictional realm. Fictional universes may appear in novels, comics, films, television shows, video games, and other creative works.
Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on romantic attraction or sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. While the term "slash" originally only referred to stories where male characters were involved in an explicit sexual relationship as a primary plot element, it is now used to refer to any fan story containing a pairing between same-sex characters. Many fans distinguish female-focused slash as a separate genre, commonly referred to as femslash.
Fan convention, a term that antedates 1942, is an event in which fans of a particular film, television series, comic book, actor, or an entire genre of entertainment, such as science fiction or anime and manga, gather to participate and hold programs and other events, and to meet experts, famous personalities, and each other. Some also incorporate commercial activity.
In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. The alternative terms mythology, timeline, universe and continuity are often used, with the first of these being used especially to refer to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief, while the latter two typically refer to a single arc where all events are directly connected chronologically. Other times, the word can mean "to be acknowledged by the creator(s)".
U.S. television science fiction is a popular genre of television in the United States that has produced many of the best-known and most popular science fiction shows in the world. Most famous of all, and one of the most influential science-fiction series in history, is the iconic Star Trek and its various spin-off shows, which comprise the Star Trek franchise. Other hugely influential programs have included the 1960s anthology series The Twilight Zone, the internationally successful The X-Files, and a wide variety of television movies and continuing series for more than half a century.
A fan film is a film or video inspired by a film, television program, comic book or a similar source, created by fans rather than by the source's copyright holders or creators. Fan filmmakers have traditionally been amateurs, but some of the more notable films have actually been produced by professional filmmakers as film school class projects or as demonstration reels. Fan films vary tremendously in quality, as well as in length, from short faux-teaser trailers for non-existent motion pictures to full-length motion pictures. Fan films are also examples of fan labor and the remix culture. Closely related concepts are Fandubs, Fansubs and Vidding which are reworks of fans on already released film material.
Starlog was a monthly science fiction magazine that was created in 1976 and focused primarily on Star Trek at its inception. Kerry O'Quinn and Norman Jacobs were its creators and it was published by Starlog Group, Inc. in August 1976. Starlog was one of the first publications to report on the development of the first Star Wars movie, and it followed the development of what was to eventually become Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
Fred Freiberger was an American film and television writer and television producer, whose career spanned four decades and work on such films and TV series as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Star Trek (1968–69) and Space: 1999 (1976–77).
Star Trek is one of the most culturally-influential media franchises, and is often regarded as the most influential science fiction TV series in history.
Eric A. Stillwell is a producer and writer who has worked on a number of television series, made-for-television movies, and motion pictures, including numerous Star Trek series and motion pictures.
"200" is the sixth episode of the science fiction television series Stargate SG-1's tenth season, and the 200th episode of the series overall. Unlike the more serious nature of the season's story arc, "200" is a light-hearted parody of both Stargate SG-1 and other sci-fi shows, as well as popular culture like The Wizard of Oz.
Canadian science fiction television was produced by the CBC as early as the 1950s. In the 1970s, CTV produced The Starlost. In the 1980s, Canadian animation studios including Nelvana, began producing a growing proportion of the world market in animation.
Star Trek and Star Wars are American media franchises which present alternative scenarios of space adventure. The two franchises are dominant in this setting of storytelling and have offered various forms of media productions for decades that manage billions of dollars of intellectual property, providing employment and entertainment for billions of people around the world.
A Trekkie or Trekker is a fan of the Star Trek franchise, or of specific television series or films within that franchise.
Star Trek Lives! (1975) is a reference work that explores the relationship between the Star Trek television series, and the fandom that emerged following the series' cancellation, co-written by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak, and Joan Winston.