Return of the Newcomers

The article below appeared on 23/10/94 and was written by Marvin Kitman, TV critic and one of the few long term supporters of Alien Nation in the media. It gives some views as to why the series was originally cancelled.

Two score and eight months ago, TV scientists and civil libertarians will remember, an IFO (Identified Flying Object) spaceship landed - where else? - in California, in the Mojave Desert, from the planet Tencton. The six mile long slave ship Gruza was loaded to the gunwales with 250,000 Tenctonese especially bred for hard labour in any environment. The slaves were physically stronger than human beings, with keener senses They had no ears, unlike Mr. Spock, but two hearts. The aliens had no way to leave Earth, so they stayed and joined the California work force, including the LA Police Department, just about the only newcomers not accused of causing California's current economic crisis.

Oct. 19, the day of the crash, Descent Day for the "newcomers," as the aliens are called ("slags" and "melon heads" to their enemies the Purists), is a national holiday for the Alien Nation-als, followers of a TV series called "Alien Nation." It ran on the Fox network from 1989 to 1990. They stay home from school, take the day off from work, like the anniversary of the landing of those earlier newcomers, the Pilgrims, in their spaceship the Mayflower.

The most popular sci-fi series in Fox network history, "Alien Nation" suddenly disappeared from monitor screens one dark Monday, the victim of some flesh- and video-eating virus. Numerous reasons were given by Fox management for the cancellation, including economics. But everybody knew the real reason was Barry Diller hated the show.

It wasn't the ratings, which were not bad by Fox standards. He couldn't stand that all the men were bald. Tenctonese, as you recall, are as blindingly hairless as Larry Tisch, but they have spots like Gorbachev.

On May 7, 1990, the immigration authorities' at Fox revoked the 250,000 newcomers' green cards and the melon heads were sent back to where they came from. It made the Purists' day and left Diller under a curse.

How else could you explain the trouble the notorious Killer Diller ran into in his subsequent career? Just when he had CBS in his pocket, it turned out he forgot to tell his financial partners that he was spending $6 billion of their money to buy CBS.

Equally inexplicable is Fox's continuing bad luck. After overspending to steal the NFL from CBS, Fox is still accursed with a Sunday night schedule that is as popular with football fans as "The Charlie Rose Show" or cable access.

Over the years there were reports that two "A.N." movies had been written and made by Kenneth Johnson and his creative team, and the show would be coming back in one form or another, any minute, keeping the Nation-als from getting restless.

But it's finally happening. After four years on the planet of hiatus, the newcomers, led by the wonderful George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint) and his family, are finally returning to the promised land, Fox, on Tuesday at 8 on WNYW/ 5.

The opening of the two-hour TV movie "Dark Horizon" is going to throw some newcomers to the series. Those who thought, "Hey, this sounds weird, it's my cup of sour milk,” could find it very slow going The first few minutes everybody is speaking Tenctonese. But there are subtitles.

This could be the reason the ratings were so low in its previous incarnation. You have to be able to read, or have an ear for language. Tenctonese is a most difficult language to understand on TV, next to British English as spoken in "Prime Suspect 3."

Many of the customs of the Tenctonese have to be relearned. For example, the dirty words are different. "You father hummer” is a curse word in Tenctonese- They call love-making "humming." The hummingbird is the fertility symbol.

"Did anyone ever tell you you have beautiful knuckles?" is a come-on. Their erogenous zones are more like erroneous zones- Males hum at females' lower backs.

A lot of references real newcomers won't get. Men are nurturing; they take care of babies at home. Indeed, men give birth.

Their diet is strange, with a lot of cartilage and fresh lungs. Fast-food restaurants serve pancreas to go. And to get drunk, sour milk gives them a real buzz.

The plot tonight seems a little familiar. It's the old germ warfare story, with some mad Purist scientist introducing a virus that is going to poison the air of LA. How are they going to know?

The people in LA have the same old stupid prejudices about the newcomers. Racism was the theme of the series, one long allegory TV's most significant contribution to brother-hood since "Star Trek."

All in all, the two-hour movie seems as if it was in the cryogenic fridge too long. But this is what happens to all shows on hiatus. You can't expect the TV audience, whose brains are shot from watching TV, to remember all the finely etched details in well-written shows like "Alien Nation."

Sure the cult fan remembers, the why-don't-you-get-a-life people who sit at home writing letters and faxes, all the Donna Quixotes who start the fanzines and fan clubs, blowing on the embers, keeping the light from going out. But there aren't enough of them. That's why the show went on hiatus in the first place.

Produced by Johnson, the movie is written by "Nation" veterans Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider (who went on to "Northern Exposure") and picks up all the loose ends from the series' cancellation. George is still with the police, working with his partner the human, Matt (Gary Graham). It's sometimes like a "NCPD Blue" (Newcomer Police Department). The family situation still sometimes seems like "Ozzie and Harriet Go Bald." And they still have the commercials and ad spots aimed at newcomers-Nu-Salve, a blemish remover for better grooming).

Will the movie get the high ratings, without which Fox will kick it back into orbit? That's the problem. How many newcomers are represented in the Nielsen sample of 4,000 families? Far fewer than their numbers in the population at large, I bet. The Nielsens, as minority groups have all pointed out, are unrepresentative. But I'm warning Fox. The Diller curse, the stigma for eradicating an entire intelligent humanoid species, won't be lifted until Fox does penance for what it did to "Alien Nation" by bringing it back. This could have been Fox' "Star Trek" franchise, if not for Barry's hot-headed act of vengeance. There is an old Tenctonese saying, "Grib kab to Nontan / NeleeAh" (Bring back "Alien Nation"). Need I say more?