Monday, 26 October 2015

Hollywood Babble On & On #1255: Can Amazing Stories Be Amazing Again?

Cult TV showrunner Bryan Fuller has been given the green light by NBC to bring back the 1980s anthology series Amazing Stories.

If you're one of those millennials with no knowledge of your pop culture heritage Amazing Stories was an anthology TV series inspired by Amazing Stories Magazine, the first science-fiction and fantasy magazine founded by Hugo Gernsback. The show was brought to television by Stephen Spielberg at a time when he could literally do no wrong on the big screen and NBC was hoping to bring some of that to the small screen.

Like most Spielberg related TV projects it had a huge beginning with lots of big names appearing in front of and behind the camera, but like so many other Spielberg TV projects it fizzled out in the second season, and was cancelled. 

This is because Spielberg has two things against him when it comes to producing a TV show. He is too busy making movies to be much more than a name in the credits after the pilot's been shot, and Spielberg has a notorious aversion to conflict, which means that unless he has a strong partner and showrunner, the network will walk over the show and grind it into the dirt. That's why the only Spielberg-branded show to have any real success after its first season was ER, because he had Michael Crichton's name on it, and they had showrunners with balls and clout.

Now, hot on the heels of cancelling Fuller's critically claim and hyper-stylish horror series Hannibal, they want him to bring it back.

Now Fuller can do Amazing Stories in one of three ways:

STORY OF THE WEEK: This is the traditional approach made famous by The Twilight Zone. The problem with this traditional approach is that tradition can very quickly become a rut. The tendency is to not exactly do what The Twilight Zone did, but a vague memory of what they thought The Twilight Zone did. They slip into a comfortable trap of stories of things that seem normal at first, then they go weird, and pow, there's a twist in the end.

That can get really boring, really quick. There is a way to avoid this, and this is to go literary. 

There is literally a couple of centuries of short fiction in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. That means that they don't have to be reliant on TV writers and their vague memories of another TV show for stories. Of course that would take effort to find the stories, and money to buy the ones not in public domain, which means that plan probably won't be done.

STORY OF THE SEASON: This format is pretty popular through shows like True Detective and American Horror Story. Basically, you do each season like a novel for television where a story goes for X number of episodes of a season, it ends when the season ends, and new story runs for the next season.

This is popular, but it too has its pitfalls. If you have an incredible first season story, the odds are really good that if the second season story isn't light years better, it will be declared a total failure.

Plus, networks are tempted to take a successful story that originally had a set ending, and then say: "Hey, let's have a second season of just that" and then they flog it until it's dead and stinky.

MASTERPIECE THEATRE IT: This is a hybrid of the other two formats. Basically you set the show up as a sort-of brand that covers a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror productions that range from stand-alone one-episode stories, to multi-episode arcs.

This can give the writers the leeway they need to experiment with long form and short form stories, but the hazard is that the audience might find the format jarring, and tune out, or that only certain stories and their sequels catch on, and come to dominate the show's run, thus killing the whole "anthology" idea.

Anyway, that's what I think, let me know what you think in the comments...


  1. "That's why the only Spielberg-branded show to have any real success after its first season was ER, because he had Michael Crichton's name on it, and they had showrunners with balls and clout."

    Well, the only Spielberg-branded show that's not a children's cartoon.

  2. I always viewed those cartoons as more of a Warner Bros. product than a Spielberg project, despite his name being on them.

  3. Rainforest Giant29/10/15 12:29 pm

    I didn't see Amazing Stories as truth in advertising. It was more like 'predictable stories'. You could see the endings from a mile away. Get a solid show runner first then see how it does. The problem is that too many want to go from TV to movies. You need a guy who's willing to keep things going together for years. Give it two seasons. Another problem with Spielberg is that he is too willing to bow to PC. If you are going to do that you'll suck it up big time.

  4. pretty good analysis - I'm licensing this property to NBC and am hoping for at least 3 seasons

  5. pretty good analysis - I'm licensing this property to NBC and am hoping for at least 3 seasons

  6. Hey Furious Dingus ;)

    This is more of a request then a question:
    So, I like reading all your complaints about Hollywood and the foolish and endless dredging up of old franchises. Truly unimaginative.

    However, could you talk about any new movies or shows (perhaps independently produced, but they don't have to be) that you find to BE imaginative, fresh, new and well made stories?

    As a corollary question:
    Did you find Interstellar and Inception (and Christopher Nolan in general) to be breaths of fresh air?

  7. A new Star Trek series?

    I'm an old school trek fan. Watched the Original back in the 60's as a kid and the Next Gen in the 90's as a starry eyed young adult.

    This new stuff frightens and confuses me.