The return of the geek TV star

Fall TV 2010 has begun and already we have two casualties of the ratings war – the sneaky, conniving Lone Star and My Generation, the high-school reunion no one wanted to see. With the fast-paced, competitive industry we have today, what does a new show require to survive its debut?

For the likes of CBS shows Hawaii Five-0, The Defenders and $#*! My Dad Says, it looks like the answer is stars with an in-built geek TV fanbase.

Respectively, we’re talking about Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim, Battlestar Galactica‘s Grace Park, Heroes‘ Masi Oka for the crime drama remake, which also happens to be produced by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who are some of geekdom’s most revered, after their work on the Transformers movies, the latest Star Trek and Fringe. We’re talking about Jerry O’Connell, star of the long-running series Sliders (well, yes, it only ran for 5 years, but that’s a pretty long time for a sci-fi show). Last but definitely not least, we’re talking about William Shatner, star of the original Star Trek series.

But are these stars the only reason for the show’s current popularity?

Having watched all three shows, it does seem like there’s nothing going for them except the in-built fanbase. Hawaii Five-0 is perhaps the best of them, with some snappy writing and lots of implausible action giving this police drama remake the throwback feeling it deserves. Though it took 5 episodes before Masi Oka made his appearance, and there are limited references to geek culture, just having Oka, Kim and Park on this show makes it worth a watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kurtzman-Orci team are behind yet another television classic, as things are looking pretty good so far.

The Defenders is a guilty pleasure for me simply because, while I don’t think Jerry O’Connell is that great an actor, he is absolutely perfect in his role as a junior partner in a Las Vegas law firm. While his character Pete Kaczmarek is closer to his Crossing Jordan‘s Detective Woody Hoyt than Sliders‘ Quinn Mallory, O’Connell’s panache is an engaging trait that plays off well against co-star Jim Belushi’s more curmudgeonly senior partner Nick Morelli. Plus, the legal drama seems to make a point show Sin City in the day – and that’s a welcome change from shows like C.S.I. and Las Vegas. That being said, the first few episodes have come across as feeling like a poor man’s Boston Legal, but there is a streak of groundedness in The Defenders that the latter show lacked due to William Shatner’s shenanigans as Denny Crane.

Speaking of Shatner, his unfortunate comedy $#*! My Dad Says seemed headed for the cancellation bin by the second episode, which was painful to watch, with viewership dropping by almost 4 million from the pilot episode. However, for some reason, the show, now 5 episodes in, has settled at more than 10 million viewers each week. No doubt this is due to the lead in from The Big Bang Theory, but clearly something, or more likely someone, is keeping the show watchable despite its many faults. I’m willing to bet that it is the geek star power of Shatner himself that is single-handedly keeping the comedy afloat. He may have his fair share of detractors, but over the years, Shatner has proved that even his worst professional decisions can achieve cult longevity. May the cult of Shatner live long and prosper.

With CBS picking up all three shows for a full season, it clearly shows that whether the reviews of these shows are good or bad, they’ve been given the opportunity to draw in more fans who’ll support their favourite geek TV star.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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