PASADENA, CALIF. - Computer programmers constantly update their creations, leading to increasingly complex versions of the first model. So it is with basic cable networks as they unveil more original programming.
Tonight the Sci-Fi Channel kicks off "Sci-Fi 2.0," a block of original made-for-cable series. "Poltergeist: The Legacy," previously seen on Showtime, begins its fourth season on a new network at 7 p.m., followed by the new show "Farscape" (8 p.m.), new episodes of "Sliders" (9 p.m.) and the Canadian import "First Wave" (10 p.m.).
"Farscape," from Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson Productions, features state-of-the-art special effects as an Earthling finds himself trapped in a part of space far from home.
"First Wave" has an even more prestigious pedigree: acclaimed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather," "Apocalypse Now") is one of the show's executive producers. In a recent meeting with TV critics, Coppola said he's always been a fan of science fiction, but his reason for doing a TV series was more of a business decision.
"Our company, American Zoetrope, which has been around for 30 years, never really did much television," Coppola said. "A few years ago I began to realize that perhaps as the feature film business became more closed and more formulaic, that maybe television with this advent of so many channels would be more competitive and allow crazier ideas."
"First Wave" speculates that an alien invasion has begun, that people who look human really are not and that the prophecies of Nostradamus foretell the first wave of alien invaders.
Cade Foster (Sebastian Spence) discovers the conspiracy of alien infiltration in tonight's premiere and goes on a "Fugitive"-like run from police, a mysterious government agent and the aliens.
"First Wave" creator/writer Chris Brancato described the show as a "hero's journey.
"But it's one that I think is unusual for television," Brancato said. "The aliens are here doing experiments on human beings, and so every episode is about some facet, experience or behavior."
As Cade helps someone in each episode, he learns, just as the aliens do, about what it means to be human.
Brancato said the Nostradamus angle was used as a jumping-off point for the series. The writers have put forth the notion that hundreds of years ago predictions were made that aliens would arrive just before the millennium.
"Cade Foster has found a journal of these prophecies and uses them as a Rosetta stone or as a guidepost to go from place to place deciphering these somewhat vague Nostradamus quatrains to expose alien experimentation and military missions that are going on right under our noses," Brancato said.
"First Wave" has already been given a green light for 66 episodes (three seasons), and the first season began airing last September on Canada's version of the Sci-Fi Channel.
For his part, Coppola isn't that involved with "First Wave," but he's using the experience with this series to jump-start future projects.
"About a year and a half ago I came up with all kinds of zany television ideas, and not one of them has really started," Coppola said. "But I think there is going to be more and more demand for unusual ideas."
One of the stories Coppola is currently writing involves a society in which men and women have decided to live separately.
"There's a women's stock market, there's a men's stock market," Coppola said. "There are cars women design and build, and there are cars men [design and build]. That's a project we actually are writing right now. 'New Harmony' it's called."
Perhaps that will be Coppola's second wave of TV programming.