San Diego Comic-Con for the TV enthusiast

In response to an article on the ever-expanding Comic-Con, one fan wrote, “If anything needs to be changed about the San Diego Comic-Con, it’s the name.  The way it’s been and the way it is now, it should really be called the San Diego Pop-Culture-Con.”  It’s an accurate assessment, as Comic-Con International has expanded in both size and content from its modest origins.  The first convention, held in 1970 at the U.S. Grant Hotel, drew only 300 people.  Last year’s Comic-Con boasted a record 126,000 attendees.

This increase is not without resentment, with some comic book fans unhappy about what the convention has become, and the over-crowded San Diego Convention Center resulting in a wait of two or more hours to secure a place at some of the more popular panels.  Yet despite the lines and the crowds, genre fans are eager to flock to Southern California between July 23rd and 26th for glimpses at exclusive television or movie clips, a chance to see their acting, writing, or comic book idols, and to soak up the atmosphere of thousands of equally excited fans.

Although I don’t read a large number of comic book titles, I do enjoy and respect the comics world.  I regularly read Runaways and I’ve enjoyed titles like Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and the classic Watchmen.  Still, I have to admit that my main interest in Comic-Con is television.  A number of recent articles have discussed the increasing presence of television at Comic-Con.  Warner Brothers is bringing a studio-record 11 shows to the convention and while some premiering shows, like the alien invasion remake V, or the CW’s teen drama The Vampire Diaries, have a clear connection to genre, the link to science-fiction and/or fantasy in other shows is increasingly tenuous.

Comic-Con is now used as a test ground for new pilots, a marketing experiment to see how a television product will be received.  Networks air exclusive clips of returning shows and choose to debut pilots at the event to create buzz.  After-all, what better promotion could there be than a pop-culture phenomenon which has already sold out all 4-day and single-day membership passes for this year’s event?

Marking its 40th convention this year, San Diego Comic-Con is expanding its content.  Last year CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory made its Comic-Con debut.  With its inclusion of comic book references and discussions of science fiction and fantasy, the show fit nicely into the event.  However, this year the door has opened for panels on shows with considerably less genre appeal.  USA’s spy comedy-drama Burn Notice will be a presence this year along with Fox’s procedural Bones and, perhaps the oddest pick of all, new sitcom The Middle, staring Patrica Heaton as a middle class mother of three.  If this sounds like a stretch it’s because it is.

Certainly there’s enough genre-related content out there to wet the palettes of the TV enthusiasts at Comic-Con even without the inclusion of these odd picks, but I can think of a number of people who aren’t about to argue with a chance to see David Boreanaz on a panel and yes, even though one of these things is not like the others, I’m interested in hearing about the panel for Fox’s eagerly anticipated Glee.

This TV enthusiast hasn’t yet made it to Comic-Con, although it does have a high place on my as yet unwritten list of things to experience before I die, but I’ll be hoping for youtube footage or some illuminating tweets on the more interesting panels.  Bound to be popular this year are the Doctor Who panel, with departing creator and head writer Russell T. Davies and David Tennant, in his first appearance at Comic-Con, and the Dollhouse panel, with Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku presenting the unaired episode “Epitaph One” for the first time.

If you don’t fancy waiting in line or have some time between panels, Comic-Con also offers a floorspace for exhibitors, an autograph area, and the convention staple Artist’s Alley, where comics artists sign autographs and sell sketches.

If you’re a TV enthusiast lucky enough to attend, or just want to know what you’ll be missing, here’s a look at some of the Television events announced for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Comic-Con 2009:

Wednesday, July 22nd

Between 6:00 and 9:00 PM, Comic-Con offers a special preview night for attendees who have purchased 4-day passes.  Warner Bros.  will present the pilots of three new series for the 2009-10 Television season – Human Target, V, and The Vampire Diaries.

Human Target is a midseason replacement show based on a DC comics title. It stars Mark Valley (Fringe), as a private contractor who takes on cover identities in order to protect his clients,  Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies), and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen).

V, staring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) and Morena Baccarin (Serenity) is a remake of the 1983 miniseries about alien contact.

The Vampire Diaries, based on the book series by L.J. Smith, is a drama about two vampire brothers, one good and one evil, at war over a human girl.  Paul Wesley (Everwood) and Ian Somerhalder (Lost) play the brothers while Nina Dobrev (Degrassi: The Next Generation) plays the girl, named Elena.

Thursday, July 23rd

Fans of the short-lived ABC Family series The Middleman won’t want to miss it’s cast reunion and lost episode table read (11:15-12:15, Room 6A), featuring creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and the complete cast.  In the same room ,actor/author Richard Hatch joins special guests for a “review,  discussion, and Q&A” of Battlestar Galactica‘s past four seasons including its controversial ending (12:30-1:30, Room 6A).

If you prefer your television a little lighter, there’s USA network’s Psych panel featuring stars James Roday (Shawn) and Dule Hill (Gus) along with other cast and creative team members.  The panel will feature new outtakes, a season four preview, and a video diary segment (1:15-2:15, Ballroom 20).  If you’re also a fan of Burn Notice, remain in the room for a panel with stories from the writers’ room, an exclusive look at upcoming season three episodes, and tips on surviving Comic-Con from Michael Westen.

If you’d prefer to take a look at the technical side of things, head over to the Costume Designers: Designing for Television Production panel with costume designers from Dollhouse, Lost, True Blood, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2:00-3:00, Room 32AB), before bringing your questions to ask J. Michael Straczynski about professional writing in movies, television, comics and print (3:30-4:30, Room 7AB).

Perhaps the most interesting panel promises to be Entertainment Weekly’s Wonder Women: Female Power Icons in Pop Culture.  The description says, “EW will moderate a conversation with Sigourney Weaver (Avatar), Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost), Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars) and other stars about the actresses who have redefined the rules and the female characters that have shattered the glass ceiling for all women. Basically: a discussion with women who kick ass” (3:45-4:45, Ballroom 20).

If you’re interested in the industry, there’s The Pitching Hour, demonstrating the process of taking an idea from conception to production. This includes creating a pitch document, obtaining an agent, and getting a pitch meeting. There will also be a Q&A for the audience to ask any questions about obstacles they may encounter (5:00-6:00, Room 2). To learn more about the science behind the great sci-fi head to Mad Science: The Science Behind Science Fiction for an exploration of science as a product of who wields it. Included are writers from Eureka, Dollhouse, and Fringe to discuss science used for good and evil (6:00-7:00, Room 6DE).

Meanwhile, if you’d prefer more television, Comic-Con offers a panel on the action-adventure series Legend of the Seeker , which is based on Terry Goodkind’s fantasy series The Sword of Truth., in the form of a Q&A with a few executive producers and cast members (4:45-5:45, Room 6DE).  Or head over to Ballroom 20, where Showtime presents a Dexter panel with Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Julie Benz (Rita), Jennifer Carpenter (Deb) and series executive producers, featuring clips from the upcoming fourth season (5:00-6:00 ).

For a more academic panel there’s The Anthropology of Star Trek, with students discussing the anthropological themes in Star Trek (6:30-7:30, Room 30AB), or spend the evening singing along to the California Browncoats’ screening of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, followed by Commentary! The Musical (8:00-10:00, Room 6A).  Finally, finish your day with an animation fix, courtesy of the Green Lantern: First Flight world premiere.  The voice cast includes such television talents as Victor Garber (Eli Stone), and Christopher Meloni (Law and Order:SVU) (8:00-9:30, Ballroom 20).

Coming up: Comic-Con for the TV enthusiast schedules for Friday and Saturday.

Comic-Con International takes place at the San Diego Convention Center July 23rd-26th.

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