Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Shape of Things To Come?

Sci Fi Gene is looking forward to Sci-Fi London 2009 although there are still no hints as to what will be on the programme. As promised I am getting my act together and rounding up some Usual Suspects for the 48 hour film competition - more on that story later.

I was thinking about TV game shows described in or inspired by science fiction - not just 1984 and Big Brother but also the novel "The Running Man" which curiously was written in 1984. I read this after seeing the 1987 film and was surprised by the differences between the film and book concepts for the gameshow: in the film, Schwarzenegger's character is chased through a deserted and surreal game arena by Gladiator-style killers; in the book he is on the run in the outside world, having to lose his would-be assassins in slightly more subtle ways while any member of the public could collect a reward for leading the killers to him. The only rule of the game is he has to shoot and mail a film reel at regular intervals revealing his whereabouts. Not so many mobile phones with video capacity back in 1984 were there?

The book is one of the four original Richard Bachman books - the other three are Rage, The Long Walk and Roadwork. By using a pseudonym for these novels Stephen King was free to explore a range of very different ideas. The writing style is recognizably King down to the blog-sized chapters and attention to detail but there's a lot to them: all four build up an incredible amount of tension in their plots, and there are some quite deep and allegorical ideas in there too (particularly with the Long Walk).

Apart from the film, the book also inspired a brief real-life Channel 4 game show Wanted. The show followed the plot of the book fairly closely with three contestants on the run from town to town across the UK, with an ex-MI5 officer trying to track them down. There were two minor deviations from the book - firstly, no-one actually got killed, and secondly, in addition to sending in videos the runners had to complete tasks on the run without being photographed. Two series were made but there was a serious design flaw: the game relied on viewers across the country calling in sightings of the runners - I would have expected most viewers to root for the contestants. [corrected]

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