SciFi Friday: Battlestar Galactica and 24

The top news of the week was predicted. Battlestar Galactica has been renewed for a fourth season. As discussed in this report from the Los Angeles Times, the Sci FI Channel is not likely to cancel the show regardless of ratings:

But “Battlestar Galactica” stands as one of the most critically acclaimed series on television. It also won the prestigious Peabody Award and was counted among the American Film Institute’s top 10 outstanding TV programs two years in a row. Critics often describe the show in lofty terms, referring to it as a multilayered allegory for a post-9/11 world that raises questions about the ethics and politics of war.

The Sci Fi Channel cites the series’ strong buzz and critical praise — a halo effect that can’t be quantified in ratings points or ad dollars — as the reason for its renewal.

” ‘Battlestar’ is a cachet show. It gives us a lot of credibility with the creative community,” said Mark Stern, head of programming for the cable network. “It’s the kind of series we want to continue producing in the future.”

Although Battlestar Galactica is Sci Fi Channel’s most expensive original series, part of the cost is also offset by DVD sales. While I doubt it brings in much money, the show is also currently rerun in high definition on Universal HD. I would assume that the show will be able to bring in money in the future in reruns on larger channels.

The article also notes what has been rumored elsewhere. “Moore and Eick recently confirmed rampant online speculation that by the end of the season, one of the main characters would be revealed as a Cylon, the robotic race set on wiping out its human counterparts.” I wonder if the character is someone who has realized they were a Cylon or if it is someone who has believed they were human such as with Sharon. If a main character (other than Baltar) turns out to knowingly have been a traitor I hope this is something which has been planned and will fit in with previous episodes. I hope they don’t make the mistake that 24 made when they decided late in the first season to make Nina Myers a traitor, or to suddenly change President Logan from a weakling to a traitor involved with the terrorist plots. When watching 24 viewers primarily are following the action and don’t pay as much attention to the continuity as science fiction fans typically do with a show like Battlestar Galactica.

While viewers of 24 might give artistic license to the plot details, they cannot help but note the frequent use of torture. As David Danzig, director of the Prime Time Torture Project for Human Rights First, said, “It’s unthinkable that Capt. Kirk would torture someone.” Discussion of the politics of 24 has increased since The New Yorker exposed the show’s creator, Joel Surnow, as a conservative:

Surnow’s rightward turn was encouraged by one of his best friends, Cyrus Nowrasteh, a hard-core conservative who, in 2006, wrote and produced “The Path to 9/11,” a controversial ABC miniseries that presented President Clinton as having largely ignored the threat posed by Al Qaeda. (The show was denounced as defamatory by Democrats and by members of the 9/11 Commission; their complaints led ABC to call the program a “dramatization,” not a “documentary.”) Surnow and Nowrasteh met in 1985, when they worked together on “The Equalizer.” Nowrasteh, the son of a deposed adviser to the Shah of Iran, grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where, like Surnow, he was alienated by the radicalism around him. He told me that he and Surnow, in addition to sharing an admiration for Reagan, found “L.A. a stultifying, stifling place because everyone thinks alike.” Nowrasteh said that he and Surnow regard “24” as a kind of wish fulfillment for America. “Every American wishes we had someone out there quietly taking care of business,” he said. “It’s a deep, dark ugly world out there. Maybe this is what Ollie North was trying to do. It would be nice to have a secret government that can get the answers and take care of business—even kill people. Jack Bauer fulfills that fantasy.”

In recent years, Surnow and Nowrasteh have participated in the Liberty Film Festival, a group dedicated to promoting conservatism through mass entertainment. Surnow told me that he would like to counter the prevailing image of Senator Joseph McCarthy as a demagogue and a liar. Surnow and his friend Ann Coulter—the conservative pundit, and author of the pro-McCarthy book “Treason”—talked about creating a conservative response to George Clooney’s recent film “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Surnow said, “I thought it would really provoke people to do a movie that depicted Joe McCarthy as an American hero or, maybe, someone with a good cause who maybe went too far.” He likened the Communist sympathizers of the nineteen-fifties to terrorists: “The State Department in the fifties was infiltrated by people who were like Al Qaeda.” But, he said, he shelved the project. “The blacklist is Hollywood’s orthodoxy,” he said. “It’s not a movie I could get done now.”

A year and a half ago, Surnow and Manny Coto, a “24” writer with similar political views, talked about starting a conservative television network. “There’s a gay network, a black network—there should be a conservative network,” Surnow told me. But as he and Coto explored the idea they realized that “we weren’t distribution guys—we were content guys.” Instead, the men developed “The Half Hour News Hour,” the conservative satire show. “ ‘The Daily Show’ tips left,” Surnow said. “So we thought, Let’s do one that tips right.” Jon Stewart’s program appears on Comedy Central, an entertainment channel. But, after Surnow got Rush Limbaugh to introduce him to Roger Ailes, Fox News agreed to air two episodes. The program, which will follow the fake-news format popularized by “Saturday Night Live,” will be written by conservative humorists, including Sandy Frank and Ned Rice. Surnow said of the show, “There are so many targets, from global warming to banning tag on the playground. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit.”

We’ve subsequently seen the failure in making a conservative version of The Daily Show. The effects of 24 in promoting conservative ideas have been mixed as other ideas have been brought into the show in order to attract a larger audience (previously discussed here). There has been considerable criticism of the unrealistic manner in which torture is portrayed. On 24 torture works within minutes to fit into the format of the show, while in reality it might take weeks to break a person, and even then it is questionable how reliable their information will be. On 24 torture is performed during ticking bomb scenarios in which it is hard to object to doing anything possible, but such scenarios do not represent the situation at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The situations on 24 also make viewers more accepting of torture as in many cases we have already seen evidence that the victim is hiding information which could lead to the deaths of a large number of people. In real life we do not have such confirmation of either the guilt of the victim or that they are hiding useful information. The producers have more recently announced plans to tone down the torture while denying this is in response to the objections raised.

SciFi Friday is a weekly feature of Liberal Values. This week’s edition is once again a featured post at Memeorandum.

Be Sociable, Share!

No Comments

5 Trackbacks

Leave a comment