One Man’s Captain Power is Another Man’s… Captain Power.
A while back, I wrote an entry on Jason of Star Command, which I’d never heard of and suspected was an elaborate prank played on me by Netflix and the world at large. I’ve since learned that it was a Saturday morning series, and thus didn’t have to make much in the way of sense. It was basically the Captain Power and The Soldiers of The Future of 1978.
People remember Jason of Star Command or Captain Power when you bring them up, but probably don’t ever think about them until the subject arises. There are a bunch of sci-fi series you could say that about, not all of them focused on kids: Lost In Space, Earth 2, Space Rangers, Land of the Giants, Space: Above and Beyond. These are series that are mostly watchable, but were mostly forgotten a year after they’d gone off the air. You might make an argument that Lost In Space was slightly more enduring, as it’ll still show up in vendor’s booths at science fiction conventions every now and again… but I also saw a Space Rangers T-Shirt for sale at Dallas Comic-Con a few years ago, so take that as you will.
So what makes a TV show endure? What makes something like Star Trek, Babylon 5, the more recent Battlestar Galactica and Firefly retain a measure of popularity after their cancellation, and even become more popular than when they were on the air? It can’t be longevity — Firefly was cancelled before it made a full season (just like Space Rangers). It can’t be production quality — as much as I love the original Star Trek series, the sets often took a lot of willing suspension of disbelief. And it can’t even be a reflection of the time they’re aired — Babylon 5 premiered in between Space Rangers and Space: Above and Beyond.
My theory is that it’s striking a chord with your audience. It’s finding a way to deliver your message without being heavy-handed, to explore the themes of humanity, progress, morality, and everything else in a way that’s entertaining. And in a way that almost sneaks the message in there, without beating you over the head with it (ignoring Kirk’s occasional speech that did exactly that… you know what, that theory is shot).
So I’m not sure. What is it, folks? What makes one sci-fi franchise succeed while others fail around it?