Science fiction fans are like the bacteria in your stomach: most of the time, they help to keep you healthy. But when the pH balance goes wrong, and the bacteria start running the show, they can make you sick. We've expressed our view that Star Trek deserves euthanasia partly because it inevitably caters too much to its obsessive fanbase. Here's a list of examples of too-powerful fans hastening the death of a franchise.
- The "Ian Levine" syndrome. The BBC's Doctor Who was still a runaway success in the mid-1980s, partly thanks to the return of old monsters like the Cybermen and the Daleks after years in retirement. Producer John Nathan-Turner started going to conventions in the U.S. and England and listening to fans' questions about whether the giant-ant Zarbi would ever meet the giant spiders of Metebellis Three. Soon, he hired "superfan" Ian Levine as a "fan consultant." All of a sudden, you had stories with plots like, "The scientist from 1974's "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" tries to stop that sock monster we glimpsed briefly in 1964's "Dalek Invasion of Earth" from eating the cricket player from 1982's "Black Orchid," and we won't bother to explain what's going on. It'll be awesome!" Here's the "We Are The World"-style record which Levine produced to try and save Who after he'd helped put it on the verge of cancellation:
- Manny Cotto, savior of the universe. Star Trek: Enterprise was already on its last legs when Manny Cotto took over as show-runner, and started running episodes that answered lingering questions left over from The Wrath Of Khan, or finally explained why the Klingons didn't always have weird foreheads, or resolved inconsistencies between the different shows' portrayals of Vulcans. It was like the Discovery Channel for Trek maniacs. And the fans loved it. Everybody else? Too busy watching Iron Chef. To be fair, though, Cotto's fanservice* overkill was a symptom of Enterprise's fatal illness, not its cause. Here's Brent "Data" Spiner, playing the great-uncle of Data's creator, who it turns out created Ricardo Montalban by coincidence:
- "Dog-whistle" fanservice. When George Bush wanted to reassure conservatives that he wouldn't appoint any Supreme Court justices who supported Roe v. Wade, he used coded phrases that didn't mean much to most people, like "Dredd Scott." (These are called "dog-whistle" appeals, because they're only audible to some people.) In the same way, media SF sometimes slips in little nods to the fans that go over most people's heads. In Battlestar Galactica: Razor, you have Starbuck saying "I love it when a plan comes together," which is Hannibal's catch-phrase on former Starbuck Dirk Benedict's show The A-Team. Oooh, instant fangasm! (Weirdly, David Eick's Bionic Woman also had a gratuitous A-Team reference in its final episode.) More obvious fan-gifting was the inclusion of "classic" Cylons in Razor. And a recent Doctor Who episode turned a generic monster into the Macra from a 1966 story, but the reference was so vague that only fans would catch it.
- Shippers! Let's be clear here: romance subplots are a sign of a healthy book/TV/movie series, because you don't want your characters to be sexless robots. It's only when two characters get together because the fans demanded it (I'm looking at you, Mulder and Scully) that it becomes a problem. Sometimes, romantic/sexual tension is better kept tense. And sometimes, it doesn't actually exist. (I still love the Mary Tyler-Moore episode where she and Lou Grant finally kiss — and realize two seconds later that it's a dumb idea and they have no sexual chemistry.)
* - Yes, I know "fanservice" originally referred to sexy images in anime, but it's mutated now. I'm working on another post about the history of the term.