The Real Reason Sci-Fi Shows Can’t Hack it on Fox

Almost HumanLiane Hentscher/FOX

Another one bites the dust. Last week, Fox canceled one of its few sci-fi shows, Almost Human, reaffirming the network’s reputation as a bad home for science fiction programming. The network may have given rise to the sci-fi kingpin The X Files, as well as the well-liked Dark Angel, but they haven’t been able to find another hit since, which may be the result of too many early cancellations. Most notorious of the killed-too-soon sci-fi series are Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Dollhouse. But Whedon wasn’t the only victim: Terra Nova, Tru Calling, and now the J.J. Abrams produced detective series were all canceled before their time. So where is Fox going wrong?

It’s safe to say that Fox’s first misstep took place in regards to Firefly. The show became such a cult hit that Whedon revived it for a concluding film, Serenity, and was asked if he might resuscitate the long-finished series after the Veronica Mars Kickstarter raised enough money to fund a film. Firefly was canceled after a mere 13 episodes when it wasn’t receiving the kind of viewership Fox expected. Given the amount of praise the series has gained in the 15 years since cancelation, it’s easy to see that Fox missed out on a diamond in the rough.

The problem with Fox is that the network never fully commits to its sci-fi shows and expects too much. If Fox wants to have a successful science fiction series on its network, they should give those shows creative freedom. For instance, Fox shouldn’t air episodes out of order (like it did with Almost Human) or try to force a show in a direction they think might be more successful (like it did with Firefly). 

At this point, Fox’s bad reputation with sci-fi series has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more that Fox mistreats its science fiction series, the more sci-fi fans decide not to even bother investing in those shows. Science fiction is a niche genre that won’t appeal to as wide a range of viewers as reality competition shows, but that doesn’t mean the audience isn’t there. However, fans aren’t going to invest in a show that could very likely be canceled after 13 episodes. 

Either Fox needs to decide it really wants to draw in science fiction fans, which might mean letting a show run a little longer than a single 13-episode season to allow viewers a chance to actually get invested; or, Fox should just give up. They’ve seemed to hit gold with its paranormal drama, Sleepy Hollow, so maybe Fox should stick with projects of that ilk and leave the sci-fi series to networks that will give them a real chance.