Who Needs Mainstream Media?

Anybody who reads this blog knows I have a love/hate relationship with television and other forms of mass media. At times I’ll get disgusted and denounce everything on TV as unadulterated trash that’s destroying Western Civilization as we know it, and at others I’ll find a show that will attract my interest, spark my imagination, connect with my inner geek, and get me watching faithfully, at least for a while: shows such as Wild, Wild West, Star Trek, The Rockford Files, The X-Files, Lost, and Heroes, for example. One of the fascinating things about the personal computer and internet revolution, however, is the way it gives ordinary people the ability to produce and distribute information, opinion, and entertainment in a way that bypasses the conventional major media outlets.

For example, blogs give almost anybody the ability to become an op-ed columnist without going to work for a magazine or newspaper. I suspect one reason blogs are so popular right now is that many people feel their political views (whether right, left, center, or none of the above) aren’t being adequately represented in the mainstream media. Fan fiction or “fanfic” websites such as Trekiverse, The Sugar Quill, and Fanfiction.net give aspiring short story writers and novelists a way to create new adventures of their favorite fictional characters and distribute their work to a potential audience of millions without going through a major publishing house.

Now some fans are taking all of these emerging technologies one step further by making old radio and TV shows available in digital format, and, even better, producing their own online radio and television shows. Since I’m currently working on a story about The Shadow, one of the heroes of radio’s golden age, I’ve revived my interest in old-time radio and discovered hundreds of old radio shows available through iTunes and individual fan sites. I’ve also discovered sites such as Pendant Audio where a group of mostly twenty and thirtysomethings with a taste for audio drama are creating new audio adventures in the spirit of the radio shows of old. So far, they’ve created serial radio adventures featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, James Bond, and Indiana Jones. They’ve also created Dixie Stenberg and the Brassy Battalion, a tribute to/parody of classic adventure serials such as Captain Midnight, and Star Trek: Defiant, an original adventure in Gene Roddenberry’s universe.

Another talented and dedicated group of fans are those over at Star Trek: New Voyages (Hat Tip to Rod Bennett) who are actually creating new episodes of classic Star Trek and making them available for download in Windows Media Player format. The actors (who are also the producers, writers, and directors of these shows) have paid out of their own pockets for props and memorabilia from the original series and have done a remarkable job of recreating the look and feel of classic Trek. They’ve signed Gene Roddenberry Jr. as a producer for one episode, and several alumni from the original series have made guest appearances, either as new characters, or reprising their original roles.

The weak spot, unfortunately, in both these fan-created audio and video dramas, is the acting. The performances (Ahem. How can I put this delicately?) lack a certain polish and range from truly abysmal to pretty good, depending on the performer’s skill and previous acting experience. It’s hard to be too critical, however, of people who are obviously having the time of their lives creating these shows and not making a nickel in the process. This is a labor of love for all concerned. Besides, almost anything’s better than another episode of Survivor.

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