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Sci-Fi Summer

The Chronicle and Night Visions: You can’t handle the truth.



I am not, repeat, not upgrading to digital cable. No matter how hard the customer service rep at AT&T Broadband sells it on the phone (“OK, OK, OK, how about this: We’ll throw in free Basic service, cable Internet and a puppy if you subscribe to digital cable. Do you like puppies? Would you prefer a stripper?”). It ain’t gonna happen.

With one glaring exception, AT&T’s Expanded Basic service works just fine for me—that exception, which has been covered in The Only TV Column That Matters™ before, is the Sci-Fi Channel, the only thing on the digital tier I want. Well, that and maybe the Independent Film Channel, but only because I’ll just die if I miss Masters of Russian Animation Vol. 13 or the 247th showing of Slackers.

Why in the hell should I pay nearly twice as much per month for digital to access the one channel I want and another 30 I couldn’t care less about? My challenge to AT&T is simple: Eradicate just one useless network from the Expanded Basic tier (like that second Disney Channel, for waaay obvious instance), stick Sci-Fi in there and I’ll be a happy customer.

Until that highly unlikely scenario occurs, I’ll just have to make do with the preview tapes the Sci-Fi Channel sends out every so often to us media-types—like the one for The Chronicle (debuts Saturday July 14, 7 p.m.). Unlike a certain University of Utah rag of the same name, The Chronicle of this new Sci-Fi original series is a New York City paper that reports the unvarnished truth. (I have no idea what that means; I’ve just always wanted to use it somewhere.) Alien abductions, Elvis sightings, demon babies—you know, the stuff of Weekly World News lore.

One of the best gags in the movie Men In Black was that everything in the mondo-bizarro Weekly World News was actually true, and The Chronicle (originally developed for NBC and called News From the Edge) takes the concept and runs with it. Columbia School of Journalism grad Tucker Burns (Chad Willett) had a bright news career ahead of him, until he screwed up big-time with a major factual error in one of his stories. Now, since his name is neither Rolly nor Wells, he’s been blacklisted by the legit print world and his last chance at gainful employment is with a suspect weekly publication … I can hear you sniggering, and I don’t appreciate it.

At first, naturally, Tucker believes all of The Chronicle’s “news” to be pure fiction aimed at grocery store checkout line browsers and whackos. But he accepts ace-reporter-who-happens-to-look-like-a-supermodel Grace Hall (smoldering hottie Rena Sofer, last seen on NBC’s Ed) without question—until she tells him of her multiple alien abductions, hence her tabloid gig. Now we’re talkin’ serious science fiction: Have you seen newspaper people? They do not look like Willett and Sofer. Mutant Chronicle archivist and researcher Sal the Pig Boy (heavily made-up Curtis Armstrong, “Booger” from Revenge of the Nerds) is a bit closer to reality.

Even though it claims to be an equal mix of sci-fi, drama and comedy, The Chronicle is mostly about the funny—more Ghostbusters than X-Files, with better characters and cases than UPN’s similarly themed Special Unit 2. It also shares the creature feature’s on-the-cheap look, and word is that Sci-Fi will cut The Chronicle’s made-for-NBC pilot budget down even further for future episodes. How that would be possible is beyond me, but if it means fewer alien creepies and more cost-effective long, lingering shots of Sofer, I’m all for it.

Another sci-fi summer TV entry from the preview pile is Fox’s long-long-long-delayed Night Visions (debuts Thursday July 12, 7 p.m.), a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits-style anthology series that’s been gathering dust since last fall, literally: I had to dig for 10 minutes just to find the tape. It was stuck between Titans and Grosse Pointe … man, do I miss those shows.

Since then, Night Visions (originally slated as a companion to the now-dead FreakyLinks, which I don’t miss at all) has gotten a slight makeover. No-neck punk poet Henry Rollins has been added as the show’s Rod Serling—this alone ought to be worth tuning in for. Hank and his black T-shirt will introduce separate spooky vignettes featuring different actors (including Aidan Quinn, Bridget Fonda, Jerry O’Connell, Natasha Lyonne, Luke Perry, Thora Birch and Jay Mohr) and directors (Gremlins’ Joe Dante, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper, The Sopranos’ Nick Gomez and Demon Knight’s Ernest Dickerson, among others).

Sounds cool, right? Fox apparently doesn’t think so: The geniuses have dumped Night Visions on Thursdays against stiff competition from ABC, NBC, CBS, The WB and even UPN. It’s toast—hope the Sci-Fi Channel has room for another pick-up.