Science fiction on television

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Science fiction has been a popular genre with television viewers in the United States almost since its inception, and the country has produced many of the best-known and most popular science fiction shows in the world. Most famous of all these – indeed, perhaps the most famous science-fiction program of all – is the iconic Star Trek and its spin-off shows, comprising the Star Trek franchise.

The first popular science-fiction program on American television was the children's adventure serial Captain Video and His Video Rangers, which ran from June 1949 to April 1955.[1] ABC's own attempt to cash in on the success of Captain Video was a small screen version of Buck Rogers in 1950. Other important live-action space adventure series of the early 1950s included Flash Gordon, Space Patrol, and Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers.

Science Fiction Theatre was an early anthology series, running from 1955 and 1957. It was followed by The Twilight Zone in 1959 and The Outer Limits in 1963. Lost in Space, a space opera which aired from 1965 to 1968, became popular with audiences. It was followed by the influential Star Trek, conceived by Gene Roddenberry and produced by Desilu Productions on the former RKO lot, which later was acquired by Paramount; it aired on NBC. When NBC tried to cancel it in early 1968, the show was so popular among fans that a campaign organized by Bjo Trimble successfully demanded its return, redefining the relationship between television networks and audiences. However, the eventual cancellation of Star Trek led to a decline in science fiction on American television.

During the late 1970s, Star Wars reignited interest in science fiction. This led to the production of shows including Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica (1978–1980).

In 1983, the miniseries V used both Cold War and World War II allegories about totalitarianism, propaganda, collaboration, and resistance. In 1987, enduring fan interest led to the development of the Star Trek sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, which became extremely successful, and led to the later sequels Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and finally Star Trek: Enterprise, which ended in 2005.

In 1993, seaQuest DSV explored environmental themes. In the same year, Babylon 5 began, set in a detailed universe, using a multi-threaded multi-level story arc. Although ratings were weak among general audiences, Babylon 5 had strong support within science fiction fandom. It raised the bar expected by audiences and led to a broad increase in the quality of science fiction on television in the late 1990s. The time travel drama Quantum Leap used contemporary settings to find a broader audience.

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