So today, Wired magazine tells us something most of us

already know, that DVRs are going to destroy the entire notion of

television commercials in the very near future (damn consumer

empowerment) and that advertisers have resorted to plot-driven product placement

as a new way to move merchandise. One ad exec interviewed went so far

as to say that in a few years’ time the ratio of placement to

traditional adverts will skew 9:1. The commercial is dead.

And, to my mind, that means TV sci-fi is dead, too.

You see, everyone is making hay about how CSI, 24, and Las Vegas

have been using the latest electronics and computer gadgets as plot

devices, and how this helps the cause of science oriented

entertainment. That’s crap. First off, the science in these shows is

questionable at best, but secondly, CSI and 24 are technothriller shows, not science fiction. And if you think that’s hair-splitting, consider this: how many places in Battlestar Galactica could Sony or Coca-Cola promo a product?

You see where I’m going now? Truly speculative science fiction and

fantasy shows–to say nothing of period shows like Westerns or

historical dramas–aren’t enough “like the now” to be compatible with

product placement, which means that these shows, which are already hard

enough to get on the air, will face an even greater uphill battle.

Sure, Deadwood will survive because it’s on a premium channel (HBO), but don’t look for a PG-13 counterpart on basic cable or broadcast TV.

When the next phase of product placement arrives–instant ordering,

where you can buy any product you see onscreen, from the stars’

wardrobe to the car they drive to trips to the locale they’re shooting

in–things will get worse for new sci-fi ideas. Established franchises

like Star Wars and Star Trek will thrive on the tube

because, while you can’t sell soap on those programs, every item

onscreen is a potential piece of collectible merchandise. I suspect

this will lead to painfully wild commercialization, with every season

of the next Trek show (and there will be one in a few years)

brandishing new crew uniforms (which you can collect) each week, new

upgraded phasers (which you can buy), new guest stars every week (with

available action figures) and a painful preoccupation of action over

plot (the better to sell video games).

Sadly, new shows without the huge franchises behind them will be a

hard sell. No product placement opportunities. No merchandise driver

opportunities. An educated audience expecting quality. Expensive

production requirements thanks to no “real world” sets or costumes, to

say nothing of special effects. Enjoy Battlestar Galactica

now, because as soon as DVR domination is complete, they’ll have to

hurry up and reach Earth. Easier to shill for Pizza Hut that way.