From 1989 to 1994, the public broadcaster TV Ontario ran Prisoners of Gravity, a brilliant science fiction TV show that used a goofy framing device (a host trapped in a satellite who interviewed science fiction writers stuck down on Earth) for deep, gnarly, fascinating dives into science fiction's greatest and most fascinating themes, from sex and overpopulation to cyberpunk and religion.
Host Rick Green and producers Gregg Thurlbeck and Mark Askwith all discussed the show -- which remains a legend -- with the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast. Tantalyzingly, they draw a comparison with today's podcasting boom, in which narrow, deep explorations are seemingly both commercially and popularly successful.
Rick Green on interview prep:
“If you’re a science fiction author and you live in Racine, Wisconsin, you might be allowed to get on the local cable show ‘Good Morning Racine,’ and your introduction would be, ‘Coming up, Susan Ellis, a lady who loves unicorns and has been to Mars, ha ha ha!’ And they hadn’t read the book—the researcher hadn’t even read the book, they’d read the book flap. And I guess it was the second season, when we were in New York at the one convention, and some of the authors we had interviewed were going around and telling the other writers—who were reluctant to be interviewed—they were saying basically, ‘No, no, these people do it right. These guys know what they’re talking about, they’ve read your book, you’ll be amazed.'”
Gregg Thurlbeck on John Varley:
“I’d been trying to get in touch with him and arrange an interview for a number of years. Spider Robinson is his good friend, and I’ve interviewed Spider a couple of times, and so he made arrangements that we would be able to do an interview. … I was going to drive down to Portland and do the interview at his home, and I drove all the way down to Portland, and he cancelled, so we never did get John Varley. And as I mentioned right off the top, he was one of the authors that really introduced me to what science fiction could do, where it could take you, how it could explore things that were very difficult to explore in mainstream writing. So that’s the one that got away, from my point of view.”
Rick Green on authors:
“Today I don’t know what it would be like, because so many authors are so primed on what to say, they’ve got their talking points and so on. But I always felt like our interviews—with comics people especially, but with authors as well, in science fiction and in fantasy and horror—they were really conversations, and they were groundbreaking. It wasn’t like they were giving you their sales pitch, their catchphrases and so on. They were really struggling to describe what they were trying to do, because they’d never been asked about it before. It wasn’t like they had pat answers to everything.”
Mark Askwith on the legacy of Prisoners of Gravity:
“I remember pitching the show to Daniel Richler and saying, ‘I’m not sure if this is a show for people from Toronto, where there are major conventions and where you can go to the Silver Snail, or you can go to Bakka, but if you’re living in Thunder Bay, if you’re living in a remote place in Ontario, you’ll be the one person watching in, maybe, Ancaster, but this will be the most important show to you. And 25 years later we have these people come up to us and say, ‘I’m now drawing for Marvel comics—or I just got my first story published—and the reason is because I saw Prisoners of Gravity.’ And that’s incredibly moving to me.”
Prisoners of Gravity: Hey, TV Sci-Fi Can Have Ideas After All [Geek's Guide to the Galaxy]