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seaQuest DSV

Entry updated 19 October 2020. Tagged: TV.

US tv series (1993-1996). Amblin Television/Universal. Series creator Rockne S O'Bannon. Executive producers include O'Bannon, David J Burke, Patrick Hasburgh, Steven Spielberg, Tommy Thompson. Supervising producers include Kerry Lenhart, John J Sakmar, Hans Tobeason, more. Directors include Irvin Kershner, Les Landau, Bill L Norton, Les Sheldon, Bryan Spicer. Writers include Lenhart, Sakmar, Michael Cassutt, Melinda Snodgrass, more. Stars include Roy Scheider (Captain Nathan Bridger), Jonathan Brandis (Lucas), Don Franklin (Commander Jonathan Ford), "Darwin" (voice: Frank Welker), Stephanie Beacham (Dr Kristin Westphalen, season 1), Royce D Applegate (Chief Crocker, season 1), Edward Kerr (Lt. Brody, season 2). Three seasons; retitled seaQuest 2032 for the final season. An 86-minute pilot (August 1993) was followed by 56 episodes, mostly 50-minute but including two two-parters aired as continuous two-hour television movies.

seaQuest DSV (so spelled out on screen), re-teaming the successful Jaws (1975) combination of Scheider and Spielberg, was the Spielberg organization's second attempt to develop a major prime-time sf television show for NBC, the first being Amazing Stories, which lasted only two seasons. Critical consensus is that the producers' ambitions again exceed their grasp.

The series, set around 25 years in the future, postulates an Earth loosely governed by the "United Earth Organization", wherein many nations and corporate entities have claimed areas of the ocean for colonization or resource development. The title refers to the submarine designed and commanded by Captain Nathan Bridger, a flagship vessel in the tradition of Star Trek's USS Enterprise. Also distinctive was the introduction of "Darwin", a dolphin crew member able to communicate with his crewmates via voder-like technology. Young actor Jonathan Brandis, as boy genius Lucas Wolenczak, rapidly became a fan favourite.

Initially conceived and promoted as fairly rigorous science fiction with an emphasis on exploration and discovery (Woods Hole oceanographer Dr Robert Ballard was a technical consultant during the first season, delivering educational messages over the closing credits), the series achieved only faltering ratings and was soon embroiled in a nearly constant cycle of retoolings and changes in creative leadership. The direction of the stories changed, increasingly emphasizing extra-terrestrial visitations and mystical phenomena, much to the publicly expressed disapproval of Scheider. Several cast members departed or were dismissed after the first season, when it was announced that second-season production would be moved to Florida from Hollywood.

Part of seaQuest DSV's rocky history may have arisen from its time slot, 8.00pm Sunday, opposite CBS's venerable Murder, She Wrote and ABC's Superman vehicle Lois & Clark. Never a solid ratings success, it showed a further marked decline in ratings towards the end of the second season. Loyal fans mounted a well-organized lobbying campaign for a third season, reminiscent of that launched nearly 30 years earlier to preserve the original Star Trek series. There was indeed a third season, renamed seaQuest 2032 and perceived as darker and more politically oriented than what had gone before; it was cancelled after thirteen episodes.

Tie-in material included a novelization of the pilot by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, novels by Matthew J Costello and David Bischoff, and a short-lived comic book from Nemesis Comics. [JCB/DRL]


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