Friday, September 15

Sci-fi fans are clicking up a storm

Source: The Globe and Mail

Once every decade or so, science fiction becomes respectable. The last time it happened was around 1994, when, in the heyday of the massively popular Star Trek: The Next Generation, one could say the words "Jean-Luc Picard" without having someone jump out from behind a corner to deliver a gigantic wedgie. The show got nominated for the best-drama Emmy; the chattering classes started paying attention. Liberation bells peeled through the halls of the world's high schools. Suddenly, the cool kids were into it.

And then, somewhere in the bowels of Hollywood, a gong sounded, and it was over. The fans all piled back into the closet, which at least turned out to have a good Internet connection.

Well, the glory days are here again. Battlestar Galactica, a first-run series from the NBC-owned Sci Fi Channel, has critics tripping over themselves to proclaim that the cool kids like this one too. The show returns to Canadian airwaves for its third season on Oct. 7, (9 p.m., on the Space Channel), and an innovative series of Web-only episodes have already begun -- but more on that presently.

For those who have been too busy watching Lost, Galactica tells the story of an advanced society, not unlike our own, whose robotic servants turn hostile, ultimately annihilating their masters in a nuclear holocaust. The remnants of humanity flee in a ragtag fleet under the protection of their last warship, the Battlestar Galactica. Desperate and hotly pursued, they set out to find the lost colony of man, Earth.

A television series could take this premise in a couple of directions. One was the space-opera attempted by the original Battlestar Galactica series; the semi-watchable 1978 campfest was cancelled after one season of goofy space battles. Today's remake, on the other hand, has turned the concept into a post-apocalyptic political drama, with tight scripting and tough questions. Add a cast of suitably beautiful people and a quota of exploding robots, and a critical success is born.

Now, with the show about to return from a six-month hiatus, its producers have decided to generate buzz in advance by prelaunching the new season on-line. A series of 10 miniature episodes -- webisodes, if you will -- is airing on the Sci Fi Network's website, at Each webisode is just 2½ minutes long, eventually adding up to a half-hour mini-episode between them.

Collectively called Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance, they tell the story of a resistance movement among humans, marooned on a planet under robotic occupation. Watching our heroes adopt some uncomfortably familiar terrorist tactics embodies the kind of relevance that won Galactica a Peabody award.

Notwithstanding, the move to such a tiny format is awkward at best. It's hard to fit more than two scenes into 2½ minutes, and yet each instalment needs a setup, a story and a miniature cliffhanger; each webisode gets in gear, then lurches to a stop. And the small box that frames on-line videos forces the director to rely on close-ups and medium shots to keep details from getting lost, which limits the visual palette.

And there's another catch: They're not available in Canada. The same network tricks that let Google display ads that seem to know where you live have allowed the people at to lock off access to people who aren't surfing from within the United States. Nor was the Space Channel, which broadcasts the show in Canada, offered the rights to show the webisodes on its own website. (This is especially irksome since the show is produced in Vancouver and features a contingent of Canadian actors, starting with Tricia Helfer of Canada's Next Top Model fame.)

Of course, where there's a will, there's a way. About a day after each webisode goes live on the website, it has popped up on, the video-sharing site that's heavily populated by clips illicitly taken from commercial shows. (Try searching for "Galactica Resistance.")

NBC has been playing whack-a-mole to have the clips removed, but since YouTube removes material only after copyright holders file a complaint, the webisodes have remained on-line long enough to be watched by thousands of foreigners.

One suspects that it suits NBC's interests just fine to have an unofficial back door promoting its show in markets where it can't or won't. After all, nothing generates a buzz on-line like telling people they can't see something. You can hear the frenzied clicking from the closet full of fans already.

Newshound: Reverend J

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