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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

I liked the new James Bond movie, A Quantum of Solace, a lot. It's not science fiction, but it has gotten some bad reviews, so I wanted you to know that if non-stop action is what you look for in a Bond movie, this one's got it.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Writers, Part Two

In the mid-October SF Site column, I talked about the four men I think are the best writers working in modern genre television, J. Michael Straczinski, Ronald D. Moore, Joss Whedon, and Tim Kring.

It baffles me the fuss fans make over actors. There are thousands of very fine actors in the world. Most of them are out of work. A local theater group never has any trouble lining up a terrific cast for any production. A Summer Stock company can easily hire a big name star past his zenith. So, if one set of actors didn't happen to appear in your favorite tv show, another set would have done just as well, and you would be lining up for their autographs, instead of leaving them a fifty cent tip when they wait on your table in the coffee shop.

Star Trek Writers are another story. While essentially all television writers meet professional standards, very few thrill you. Those who do deserve your support. Dorothy Fontana, one of the very best writers for the original Star Trek, was a guest at a Worldcon where I was a gopher, and to get an audience for her talk, I had to go out into the lobby and shout "Recruiting for the Dorothy Fontana talk." I got about a dozen fans to follow me into the room where she was speaking. Meanwhile, down the hall, fans were lining up for a chance to get Grace Lee Whitney's autograph.

It's the writer who makes the difference, people. In their most recent film, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro couldn't sell tickets, because the writer sucked.

So, after my top four, who else is currently making a major contribution to genre television?

Doctor Who 2006 If you follow the Hugo awards, next on the list should be Steven Moffat. He has won the "Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form" Hugo Award for the last three years, for Doctor Who scripts. In all, he's written six Doctor Who scripts, my favorite being "The Doctor Dances." He also wrote the absolutely fabulous Comic Relief Doctor Who episode The Curse of Fatal Death, in which Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant (among others) play The Doctor, and the eight minute special Time Crash, where the Fifth Doctor meets the Tenth Doctor. Most of Steven Moffat's writing is for a TV show I've never seen, called Coupling. I don't think it's science fiction.

Smallville After Alfred Gough and Miles Miller, creators of Smallville and good writers both, left television for the movies (where they have probably made more money but have been less successful as writers, writing such films as Herbie Fully Loaded) the main writer for Smallville has been Steven S. DeKnight. He's also written for Buffy and Angel, and will be writing for the upcoming Joss Whedon series Dollhouse. He's OK, but Smallville has gone downhill since Gough and Miller left. Other regular Smallville writers, who've been with the series since Season Two, include two writing teams, Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer and Brain Pederson & Kelly Souders.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles I like the writing Josh Friedman has done for Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He has been able to show John Connor growing up, changing from a wild kid to a leader of men. Friedman wrote the script for Steven Spielberg's big screen version of War of the Worlds. In addition to scripting several episodes of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, he is the one who crafts the story arc that other writers fill in.

So. Names to watch for. If you really, really enjoy a television show -- we're talking absolutely first rate here -- note the name of the writer, and tell me. I'll mention it in a future column. Writers need all the credit they can get.

Copyright © 2008 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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