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The New Norm: Geek-Worthy ≠ Genre?

Images of Castle, Community and The Big Bang Theory, plus the Comic-Con International logo

Oh, Comic-Con. Every year we anticipate your cornucopia of nerdtastic offerings, and still your jam-packed schedule ends up giving us at least one – and usually five or six – apoplexy-inducing conflicts of interest. You’re like the abusive boyfriend who entreats us with pretty gifts and sweet-talk and then leaves us in tears. This year I thought Thursday’s slate was unusually tough, but Saturday’s damn near made me cry: If I spend all day loitering around Hall H waiting to see the Paul and Cowboys Vs. Aliens sneak peeks, I should just forget about seeing the Fringe and Guild panels. Wait… and I’d never make it back from the Guild panel at the Hilton to get into the Fringe panel, either. Oh, Gaius Christ! (Head, meet desk.)

But I digress, sorry. </vent> Really, the impossible to navigate, industry-driven scheduling of SDCC as we know it today is only the jumping-off point for what I really want to talk about: What comprises appropriate con programming, and why?  Are the lines between genre and mainstream TV starting to blur beyond recognition? It’s not a question with an easy answer, in part I think because every individual’s response is subject to their own personal preferences and interests. Comic-Con has long since diverged from its pure comics and publishing origins to embrace geek-beloved films, TV, and now internet properties.  Beyond that,  what we see more and more every year is the presence of titles that even less than a decade ago would have seemed all but irrational as Comic-Con-audience interests. Especially in the TV offerings – more sitcoms, more dramadies, more procedurals, all adding to the criss-cross mayhem of trying to figure out how best to spend your time at the con. (Apart from time you adamantly set aside for getting in the trenches on the exhibit floor and exploring the indie merchants and small-press exhibitors, which you really should do. Really.)

The gang at io9 recently chimed in with a run-down of TV titles that will have a presence at this year’s SDCC and which, as they interpret it, the industry is attempting to communicate that the geek community should be watching. For the most part, their logic is sound and their assessments on the money*, particularly the stuff about cast members that command nerd loyalty; it’s easy to question if a show like Castle, diversionary and fun though it is, being as much a Comic-Con priority for ABC if it didn’t star Nathan Fucking Fillion. Declarations of “WTF” on the Hawaii Five-O remake taper off a bit when you recall that it stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. (I still think the show ought to be titled Jin Kwon and Sharon Valerii Will MAHALO You In the Face, but that’s just me.)  I do think a few on io9’s list might not really be that puzzling at all – The Big Bang Theory may be a sitcom, but if that’s not a show aimed at the con crowd, I don’t know what is – yet I get what they’re driving at.

What I don’t see being discussed in the io9 article, or very much at all with regard to this issue – and this is what I want to posit to you, Nerdist readers – is the notion that quality can, and often will, trump content with regard to wanting the opportunity to geek out over a show that you love. It’s been my theory that over the past decade, the quality of scripted television has soared so high in part as an result of the reality television boom; viewers flock to excellent and challenging cable shows, which is successful counter-programming, and some scripted network offerings have to step up their game in order to get the network to green-light them in favor of a cheaper reality show in the first place. It’s because the shows are good that fans delight in them in such nerdtastic proportions, not necessarily because of who they star or what they are about. It’s a pet theory (and maybe a cock-eyed optimist’s one), but one that I feel a teeny bit vindicated on every time I lurk around LiveJournal and see yet more elaborately-designed Mad Men and Community icons and banners, and one that I’m curious if anyone else shares.

*I’d categorically disagree, though, that White Collar is merely a “Burn Notice wannabe.” It may not co-star Bruce Fucking Campbell, but it’s much more than that.

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8 comments

  • I think as pop culture has evolved, what it means to be a geek has also evolved. Geekism has gone from being a subculture thing to more mainstream. I think the mainstream caters more to the geek culture and in a way, the geek culture has come to celebrate things that are more mainstream.

    The lines have been blurred.

    Everything has a fandom. It’s not just genre specific anymore. And honestly, maybe it’s better for people to be celebrating good quality shows regardless if they fit into a preconceived mold of what we should be geeking out over.

    At the same time, I can understand the frustration because genre shows are so often overlooked in other regards (where was John Noble’s Emmy nomination?!?) and it would be a shame for the mainstream to take over in the one place where sci-fi/fantasy/etc. currently reigns supreme.

    As long as there is a happy medium where both can exist.

  • So sorry–one more thing I must geek out over just briefly:
    for those who quarrel about the place Lost should hold at such events–and I know you are out there (especially after the somewhat excluding nature of the finale)–before Daniel was “Jin” on that show, he happened to have turned in a magnificent-yet-understated (and underrated) performance on a little show called CRUSADE!!!

  • I am back–I wanted to fix in my mind what Nicole is actually wanting to address, rather than just blather with excitement because I heard this morning that (I will probably misspell this) Peter Serafinowitz will be in attendance because of my beloved Look Around You (rather than Shaun of the Dead, etc.)!
    I agree that a comedy should not have to be themed like 3rd Rock From the Sun to be feted (although the shows featuring characters appearing to have Aspergers Syndrome definitely fit in best at events like this, I feel). And I am finding a lot to love with USA Network–my favorite there would be Psych, but I feel most of that original programming is unbeatable (In Plain Sight’s lead male character is an underrated gem). I would not feel it out of place for shows like these to be represented at our once narrowly-defined events.
    And while I am happy to see the likes of Tim DeKay and Campbell Scott on that network, I thrill to see those from my favorite genre projects turn up: not only the amazing Bruce Campbell, but also Jeffrey Donovan of The Pretender (which I still miss constantly)!
    However: this is now beginning to remind me of my strong feelings regarding the BBC America issues we discussed on Nerdist so recently…should we honor House (which I do watch–Hugh Laurie, people!)–simply because Patrick Bachau of The Pretender (and let us not forget his little film with Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny–pre X-Files) guest-starred in the medical drama?!
    So, I apologize not only for being long-winded about one of my favorite topics, but also for not being able to stick to one clear opinion on all this!

  • Comicon did me wrong two years ago with it’s terribly organized and impossible to attend panels. Apparently getting in line 2 hours prior to a panel is required now. Also, got kicked out of a panel line for getting in line too early. Sadly, that was my only reason for going to con in the first place, the panels. Haven’t been since not getting into a single panel I wanted to get into in ’08.
    I may get a day pass to browse the floor if I have shopping cash, but doubt it. It just isn’t worth the stress anymore.