- Prisoners of Gravity
show_name = Prisoners of Gravity
caption = Commander Rick aka
genre = documentary
runtime = 0:25
developer = Mark Askwith
producer = Mark Askwith
executive_producer = Mark Askwith
language = English
August 21, 1989
April 28, 1994
num_seasons = 5
num_episodes = 139
imdb_id = 0204775
"Prisoners of Gravity" was a
Canadian public broadcasting television news magazineprogram that explored speculative fiction— science fiction, fantasy, horror, comic books— and its relation to various thematic and social issues. Produced by TVOntario, the show was the brainchild of former comic retail manager Mark Askwith, writer Daniel Richler, and was hosted by Rick Green(of The Franticscomedy troupe fame). The series aired 139 episodes over 5 seasons from 1989.
As established through a comic-strip montage opening sequence drawn by
Ty Templeton, the premise held that a fan of speculative fiction becomes disturbed by news broadcasts describing the alarming state of the world and decides he must escape. Constructing a home-made booster rocketfor mounting atop his Camaro Z-28 car, he blasts into space only to collide with an orbiting communications satellite, where he remains stranded.
"Commander Rick" was undaunted by this fate. Instead, with the help of an organization called "Control" and the onboard "Nano Cybernetic computer" (Nan-Cy), he took advantage of his unusual situation to hijack the weekly broadcast of 'Second Nature' — a mock nature program (ostensibly hosted by one grey-moustached "Enrico Gruen", performed by Green in costume with affected stodgy demeanor) — to examine issues as seen through the eyes of creators of speculative fiction.
Offering a casual delivery punctuated with touches of humour, host Green began each episode by announcing, "Greetings prisoners of gravity, this is Commander Rick!" The week's topic was introduced with a few opening thoughts before launching into various interview clips by Rick's jamming an audio cassette into a jerry-rigged
videoplayback device, and ending each episode with a simulated signal loss (sometimes played to comedic effect in the resuming broadcast dialogue from 'Enrico').
The show's presentation was fully wrapped in its quirky premise, featuring on-screen graphics and background sounds to simulate a
space stationatmosphere, "using active, innovative cinematography to ease the visual boredom that often accompanies interviews with talking head(s)." [ Cunliffe, Alison (April 7,1990). "Prisoners of levity", a feature article appearing in the Toronto Star's "STAR"WEEK" television guide.]
In each episode Rick would interview a number of authors and artists, along with filmmakers, animators and the occasional futurist. Topics that were discussed ran the gamut:
censorship, superheroes, humour, religion, fairy tales, Mars, cyberpunk, war, overpopulation, sex... Episodes were 30 minutes in length (having no commercial breaks on public television) and typically showcased six to fourteen interviewed creators alongside bridging commentary from Rick. Roughly six-hundred interviews were conducted and aired by the time the show's run came to an end.
During its run, the list of authors interviewed became increasingly prestigious, including
Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Harlan Ellison, Anne Rice, Frederik Pohl, Clive Barker, David Brin, Charles de Lint, Robert J. Sawyer, Spider Robinsonand Terry Pratchett, to name a few. Among the many interviewed comic book creators were Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, Scott McCloud, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman(who was twice selected as the fan-favorite guest in a viewership mail-in vote). Other notable guests included " Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberryand actor Michael Dorn, film directors James Cameronand David Cronenberg, award-winning CGI animator Steve 'Spaz' Williams, and renowned paleontologist Richard Leakey.
The program was critically successful and won several awards, including [http://www.sfwriter.com/pog.htm Website of author Robert J. Sawyer] ] the following:
# A Broadcast Media Award from the
International Reading Association
# A Silver Medal from the New York Festivals of Television
# Two Gemini nominations.
# An Honorable Mention from the
Columbus International Film & Video Festival
The show was canceled in
1994for unspecified reasons (possibly relating to TVOntario's intended programming diversification [ [http://www.erasingclouds.com/0721askwith.html Mark Askwith interview.] ] ) despite its growing success. According to Rick, the signature chair from the space station sat in his garage until "raccoons pooed all over it..." and it was discarded. [ [http://www.rgbfilter.com/?p=161] ]
In the 1990s, reruns of select episodes from Season 2 onward were broadcast in America on
PBS, and in Canada on the sci-fi specialty channel Space (which producer Mark Askwith had gone on to develop and continues to helm) and on Discovery Channel Canada.
Due to contractual restrictions made with interviewees at the time of the show's production, there is presently no commercial release on video or DVD. Many episodes (bar the first series) are, however, available for viewing by appointment at The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy [http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/uni_spe_mer_index.jsp] public library located in downtown
Toronto, Canada. The Merril Collection's tapes are reputed to be Askwith's own, donated to the collection for preservation. Interview clips from the show are also included with the CD-ROM in newer editions of The Encyclopedia of Science Fictionby John Clute.
* [http://www.sfwriter.com/pog.htm "Prisoners of Gravity" page] on Robert J. Sawyer's web site
* [http://www.teddog.com/pog/ Signal Loss] , a "Prisoners of Gravity" fan site
* [http://www.geocities.com/canadian_sf/pages/media/prisoners.htm "Prisoners of Gravity" page] on a web site about Canadian SF
* [http://www.erasingclouds.com/0721askwith.html an interview Mark Askwith]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.