Although a genre typically refers to any creative work that can fit into a category, in television the term often references television shows with a science fiction focus. Features of the genre show include combined scientific and speculative elements and special effects. Specific audiences, characters, and themes may also influence this type of show.
A genre show is a form of niche programming designed to attract a specific audience. In the sci-fi genre, this audience often consists of younger individuals, particularly males. Makers of science fiction may also seek other avenues, such as a genre film or a comic book series.
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Like most genres in other mediums, a genre show is usually bound by an unofficial set of rules, although implementation of these rules can be applied in a liberal manner. Perhaps the most guiding principle of a work of science fiction is an element of speculation, or ‘What if?” As such, a genre show often deals with what might happen if a certain situation — often one with a somewhat scientific basis — were to occur. For example, many genre shows have addressed various scenarios for humans making contact with extraterrestrial beings or traveling through time.
While many such shows do have a scientific foundation and attempt to apply real scientific principles when possible, an element of supernatural fantasy still remains in numerous shows. Genre shows often make use of technology that has not been created, but may be created in the future. Spiritual beings like ghosts or fantastical creatures like animal-human hybrids may make appearances in a work of science fiction as well, since another major component of a genre show is world-building, or creating a reality different from one’s own. Some genre shows even cross a line into horror if they emphasize frightful or gory experiences.
In addition, certain character types and settings may be more prevalent in a genre show. Renegade scientists or law enforcement officials, for example, are often needed for a scenario that involves global threats. For shows that take place in outer space, courageous astronomic travelers are in larger supply, as are alien beings. The everyman who is thrust into a fantastic situation is another common prototype for the sci fi genre. Common backdrops for a science fiction show include space, parallel dimensions, or a futuristic version of Earth.
As for production techniques, due to its nature a genre show may be laden with special effects. Since the setting and character types may feature otherworldly elements or fantastic technology, the show’s crew may need advanced technology such as computer generated imaging to realize the broad scope of the story. Sophisticated makeup application or costume design may be needed as well.
The genre show occupies an unusual place in the television landscape. It often serves as a subtle symbol for real-world issues. Many early and mid-20th century science fiction stories, for example, worked as metaphors for fears about the rising interconnectedness of the world and threats of foreign invasion. At the same time, these shows are often snubbed by critics and mainstream audiences as low-brow, so they become cult hits and attract small but fiercely devoted audiences.