Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cheesy Terminators

Two unrelated parts of my world slammed together this week: Terminators and cheesy WWII flavor Text.

As you might know, I was a huge fan of the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show. It was cancelled recently.

I’m also designing Frontline, a WWII infantry combat card game.

Let’s start with Frontline. The game really gets you down in the mud with the guys. Each card is one soldier. This is pretty unique for wargames. Most of the time, a card or counter is a 100, or a 1000, or 10,000 guys. So, I figured it would be cool to personalized each card with a guy’s name and a sentence or two of flavor text to bring out his personality. I wanted to give the game a Band of Brothers feel where these aren’t just nameless guys with guns, these are your men that you live with and command in battle.

Everything was going great. I had created about 50 of the 70 soldier cards, and I had been posting samples on various websites for months. Then someone posted that he hated the cheesy flavor text quotes. Yes, they used the word cheesy. Then another person said the same thing, and another, and another… You get the idea.

I had a choice. I could stick to my guns and leave the flavor text in, because it was an important part of my overall vision, or I could rip it out to satisfy the game’s future players.

Normally, it would have been a tough decision, but I had been giving some thought to the Sarah Connor show. I was trying to figure out why it failed. Notice, I don’t say why was it cancelled. I know why it was cancelled. It was cancelled because it failed. So why did it fail and what did it fail at?

It failed to connect with a wide audience, which resulted in it having very poor ratings, which got it cancelled. Now, just to be clear, I loved the show. But, most of my friends are sci-fi and Terminator fans, and NONE of them watched the show. NONE?! Yep. None.

Well, no.

One guy watched a couple episodes, but didn’t like it.

Why did it fail?

I think it failed because it didn’t give the audience the story it wanted to see. Anything connected with Terminator must focus on well, Terminators.

The show had an awesome Terminator with Summer Glau’s character, Cameron. But she didn’t do much. When she was on screen doing something, it was great. One episode focused on her and a guy in a library. Great episode. One of my favorites. I wonder what the show’s creator’s were thinking? You’ve got Summer Glau. You’ve got sexy outfits for her to wear. You’ve got guns. Why not turn her loose and start killing stuff?

Another great character was Derek Reese. Derek was a well-written character and a great performance was turned in by Brian Austin Green. The guy had an intensity to get things done and not let laws or morality get in the way. He had a war to stop and if a few people died along the way, no problem.

As you can guess, I loved the scenes with Cameron and Derek.

Two more great characters: FBI Agent Ellis and T1000 in disguise Catherine Weaver. Agent Ellis’ character traced a wonderful arc from everyday non-believing guy to being on the inside and shaping the future. His religious angle on life was very cool. To see him imparting Old Testament morality to John Henry (a reborn Terminator) was awesome.

As you can guess, I loved the scenes with Ellis, Weaver, and John Henry.

There you have it. A great show with 5 great characters. Most shows don’t even have 1 great character, and this one had 5!
Hmm, but something’s missing… Why did it fail?

Oh yeah.

The 2 stars of the show John and Sarah Connor.

I think Thomas Dekker (John) and Lena Headey (Sarah) did great in their roles. But the characters didn’t do anything. They did a lot of research. They did some emoting. But they didn’t do much doing. They had a war to stop, access to guns, lots of money, a big black pick-up truck, a Terminator, a hardened warrior from the future, and what did they do with all those resources? Not much. In fact, less than much.

Sarah’s biggest concern seemed to be keeping an eye on Cameron and Derek to make sure they “didn’t do something.” Which is strange, because everyone on this side of the TV screen was watching them HOPING they’d do something.

John, on the other hand, was going through teen angst and trying to make his girlfriend happy. Not bad character goals if you’re the star of a teen drama series, but when you’re JOHN CONNOR FUTURE DUDE WHO SAVES HUMANITY FROM THE MACHINES, maybe other life goals should take priority?

So, the lesson I took away from all this is, give your audience what they want.

Oh, and the Frontline flavor text? Yeah, those are sooo gone.


  1. A pity, I did like the text and think it did give flavor to the characters. Why can't the naysayers just ignore it???

  2. I concur, the "cheesy" text reinforced the Band of Brothers feeling and was nowhere near as bad as a typical Schwarzenegger movie!

    Also, thanks for nailing what went wrong with the Sarah Connor Chronicles. At least there's still Fringe.