Monday, September 15, 2008

Sanctuary - SciFi Weekly: 2008 Fall Preview: Part I

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September 15, 2008

2008 Fall Preview: Part I

By Kathie Huddleston

While it wasn't a fun year, it was an important year for television, which kicked off with a devastating writers' strike that killed shows, affected storylines and reminded the studios that writers have the power to bring Hollywood to a grinding halt. Beyond that, the Internet continued to play an important role by offering episodes online and creating original content that has its own entertainment value, including comic books and Web series that added to the mythology of a show.

While we lost a couple important shows (The 4400, The Dead Zone), there were also some series that never really clicked with audiences (Cavemen, Bionic Woman) and those that could have used more time to reach their potential (Moonlight, New Amsterdam). Jericho proved that while fans may have the power to resurrect a series, they can't always gather the necessary viewers to keep that series on the air.

Fall still remains the prime landscape when it comes to launching new shows. And while cable prefers to launch during other seasons, some of the bigger cable outlets felt comfortable going up against the big networks this fall with series like HBO's True Blood and SCI FI's Sanctuary. The other big development had to do with the resurrection of syndication for scripted drama, thanks to Legend of the Seeker.

One of the main trends in new shows has to be the continued use of a sci-fi or fantasy element in otherwise mainstream shows (The Ex List, My Own Worst Enemy). This blurring of what is sci-fi or fantasy and what is mainstream continues to become increasingly acceptable to the mainstream audience.

However, the most notable trend this season involves where the new series ideas are coming from. Most of the new shows are based on foreign television series (Eleventh Hour, Life on Mars, The Ex List), novel series (True Blood, Legend of the Seeker) or a past television show (Knight Rider). Only four scripted series offer original material (Fringe, My Own Worst Enemy, Valentine). We'll throw Sanctuary in the original category even though it started life as a Web series, since the original creative team is still behind the series.

And, as always, irony plays a part this year. Considering it takes years to get a series on the air, how odd that we end up with two shows about cutting-edge science gone wrong (Fringe, Eleventh Hour) in the same year. Or shows about organizations that download personalities into people so they become more effective spies, only to have the personalities become aware that they are not who they think they are (My Own Worst Enemy and Joss Whedon's midseason entry, Dollhouse).

All in all, it seems like a good season with enough variety, even among the similarly themed shows, to give viewers something to sink their teeth into. And better yet, when we add these new series to the continuing shows (Stargate Atlantis, Primeval) and the returning shows (Heroes, Pushing Daisies, Terminator, Smallville), it adds up to a great fall season where our biggest issue will be "How do we find the time to watch it all?" And that's not a bad problem to have.

Check out next week's "2008 Fall TV Preview: Part II" to find out the scoop on all the returning shows, midseason replacements, movies and miniseries.

New Shows


SCI FI, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET/PT
Premieres Oct. 3

Sanctuary is billed by SCI FI as the first television series to feature live actors against primarily virtual sets, along the lines of 300 and Sin City. While it began life as an eight-episode Web series, the television show features a two-hour premiere that starts at the beginning of the story. While investigating a murder case, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) begins to suspect the explanation offered at a murder scene. Will soon discovers that his suspicions are right. When a woman named Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) approaches him, she takes Will to a place she calls the Sanctuary and tells him an amazing tale. According to Magnus, the world is filled with Abnormals, fantastic creatures that are the stuff of fairy-tale books and incredible legends. The world needs to be protected from some of them, while others need to be protected from the world. Magnus has made it her mission to find and study these creatures, and to offer them sanctuary if they want it. She is joined on her mission by her fearless daughter, Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), a loyal butler who looks a lot like Bigfoot and their technical wizard, Henry. As Will learns more about Magnus' world and her nemesis, John Druitt, he must decide if he can "dare to believe in the unbelievable." Sanctuary is executive-produced by Tapping, creator Damian Kindler, Martin Wood and Sam Egan.

The Outlook: SCI FI's big new sci-fi entry, Sanctuary, offers to put Amanda Tapping back in action in a very different role than that of Stargate's Col. Samantha Carter, and that's a good thing. Beyond that, it's dripping with mythology and has loads of action and extremely cool visuals, not to mention some nicely drawn characters. Along with Fringe, Sanctuary has more of a fully realized world than any of the other fall offerings. Taking up residence on Friday nights, the series should be an excellent match for Stargate Atlantis. With 13 episodes ordered, look for Sanctuary to do very well for SCI FI.

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