The State of Geek TV 

Nerdy entertainment flourishes in a changing landscape for series programming

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Arrow
  • Arrow

With autumn upon us, that means it's traditionally the start of the fall television season. Thanks to the power of nerds, more shows than ever have a geek bent, with more still to come. Over the next few months, we'll be getting new shows like The Shannara Chronicles from MTV and Jon Favreau, we'll have another Marvel Netflix series in Jessica Jones, and CBS is launching Supergirl. Not too long ago, that would have felt like over-saturation for geeks in the TV medium, yet we still have continuing shows such as Star Wars Rebels, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Arrow, Gotham, The Flash, Agent Carter and many more. There are even some that have nothing to do with existing properties, like Orphan Black and Mr. Robot.

There are spinoffs galore coming from many of these shows, too, like Legends of Tomorrow, Fear the Walking Dead, and maybe more shows spawning from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And we're also going back to the well of the written word, with shows like The Man in High Castle, based on a book by Philip K. Dick, and Westworld, based on the work of Michael Crichton.

It's a smorgasbord of nerdy entertainment. But, like most entertainment, only a small portion of it is fantastic—and a small portion of it is so bad, I have no idea whether it's still airing (we're looking at you, Once Upon a Time). The majority of it, though, is merely OK. And producing shows that are merely OK isn't a sustainable business model.

I wrote a while ago about how Marvel and Netflix teamed to make Daredevil one of the best shows on TV, period, geek themes not even entering into it. And yes, I understand Netflix isn't exactly TV, but the point stands. Star Wars Rebels is another show that is getting it right. Game of Thrones is another. Doctor Who, usually, is too.

click to enlarge Supergirl
  • Supergirl

The most important thing these shows are doing to raise the bar is making them feel meaningful. For too long, television shows felt disposable, because they were. You'd catch an episode once, then maybe a second time in reruns, and you'd never think of it again. In a day and age where shows are binge-watched one episode after another, available on demand in perpetuity, that means that these shows have to do a lot more than they used to. And I would say there's an even larger responsibility in shows geared toward geeks, because we are one of the most exacting and discerning audiences in history.

But shows that feel meaningful are the ones that capture my attention the longest, and will capture the attention of audiences for years to come. There are consequences for every character on Game of Thrones, and I feel that when that show is over, we'll all feel as though we've experienced something. Star Wars Rebels has replicated the feeling that the fate of an entire galaxy is at stake—and we already know where the events lead. With Doctor Who, the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance in every episode and is starting to arc over entire seasons. These shows don't feel disposable.

And shows need to adapt better to changing consumption habits. Doctor Who was great as a monster-of-the-week show when we consumed TV on a set schedule every week. But in an age where we might watch an entire season in a week, there needs to be more at stake in the overall picture. Doctor Who took a long time to find that balance. Maybe it's still finding that balance—but at least, it's trying.

A lot of the shows aimed at us geeks are finding the wrong balance. They're dangling precariously between disposable and meaningful. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D bounces back and forth between those poles constantly.

TV producers and directors are trying to figure out what works in this changing television climate, and I'm glad that they're setting their sights on properties I love. I just hope they don't ruin too many of them before they learn to navigate this seismic shift. Or survive the zombie apocalypse. Whichever comes first.

Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com

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