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Post-apocalyptic TV is everywhere

By Henry Hanks, CNN
updated 5:43 PM EDT, Fri June 15, 2012
"Revolution," "Falling Skies" and "Walking Dead" are all bringing post-apocalyse action to the small screen.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Life after apocalypse portrayed on multiple current television series
  • "Falling Skies," "Walking Dead," upcoming "Revolution" have different takes on the topic
  • Critic: "Everyone imitates everything that's successful"

(CNN) -- In March, 9 million viewers tuned in to AMC to watch a farm -- which served as a safe haven to survivors of a zombie apocalypse -- burn to the ground on "The Walking Dead."

This Sunday, TNT (a Time Warner network, like CNN) commences its second season of "Falling Skies," which sees a group of survivors fight back against alien invaders while their home state of Massachusetts lies in ruins.

Switch over to NBC, and you're likely to see promos for "Revolution," a series about what happens 15 years after the loss of all advanced technology and electronics.

Post-apocalyptic scenarios are cropping up all over the small screen -- oddly enough, in the year 2012. But is the runaway success of "The Walking Dead" the main reason for it, or is there something else going on here?

"There's always a copycat trend in the industry," TV critic Ryan McGee said, pointing to last year's "Pan Am" and "Playboy Club," both of which drew comparisons to "Mad Men."

"There's no way executives aren't looking at the ratings for 'The Walking Dead' and aren't salivating."

At the same time, he says, "Revolution" has to forge its own creative path to survive.

"Everyone imitates everything that's successful," said fellow critic Alan Sepinwall, who doesn't see it so much as a trend but as a coincidence. "Or simply that ideas go in cycles."

Indeed, TV has been down this road before, with the short-lived cult favorite "Jericho" exploring a scenario of society rebuilding after a nuclear attack.

Jamais Cascio, an ethical futurist with a background in television, noted that various aspects of "The Walking Dead" are being replicated now: "The rule of TV production is to figure out what aspect of a surprisingly success show made it a winner. We're seeing other comic book-based stories in development, other supernatural stories and other post-apocalypse stories."

Actress Jessy Schram, whose character, Karen, was last seen having been "harnessed" by the aliens on "Falling Skies," actually took a look at "The Walking Dead" as a sort of homework assignment.

"It was interesting to watch and take notes, and compare the similarities and differences," she said, "to compare it to 'Falling Skies' to see what a world taken over by another species would be like."

Schram, also known for her recurring role as Cinderella on "Once Upon a Time," has another upcoming series, ABC's "Last Resort," with something of a twist on the same themes: The crew of a submarine disobeys orders to avoid nuclear war and ends up retreating to an island.

"They're having to start over and form their own living and way of protecting themselves," she explained.

"Even though it's very different (from 'Falling Skies'), it has that same theme of 'who do I trust?' "

She said she and other actors on "Falling Skies" asked themselves what they would do in a post-apocalyptic scenario like this.

"What tools would I have to work with? If I don't have transportation or a gun or a knife or even a steak dinner, what am I actually feeling? There's a lot of desperation in that situation, but there can also be a lot of joy as well."

'Falling Skies' cast and crew interviews

"Revolution's" creator, Eric Kripke ("Supernatural"), hopes to explore that joy or at least have more fun with it.

"The apocalypse kind of bums me out," he admitted in a meeting with J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions when the series was being developed.

Kripke wanted to do a show based around the elements of Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey," which were perhaps best exemplified in "Star Wars." The Abrams team was looking at a series that began with the cataclysmic scenario of that loss of electricity and technology.

Instead of dealing with the immediate consequences of that event, "Revolution" flashes forward 15 years later.

"That is an interesting world," Kripke said. "It transforms into a kingdom with good warriors and bad warriors. That's a world that's gone back to swords. It's about people living in a world that nature has reclaimed."

Kripke can see the current mood being reflected in series in a post-apocalyptic vein.

"There's something in the collective zeitgeist that people feel we're headed towards a cliff," he said.

"The population is massive, we're separated from our food supply, we're eventually going to run out of oil, and there's international tensions. People feel like we're really out of balance and due to be knocked down a peg by war or disease or something."

Kripke wanted to explore the story on the "other end" of that.

"We're not interested in nihilism or hopelessness. We'll all survive and be OK if we remember the things that bring us together: family, brotherhood and mercy."

Ultimately, though, as McGee points out, "What 'Revolution' needs is what every show needs: five characters people care about. Why the lights went out turns into a bit of boring trivia without that emotional investment."

The rules of great TV are the same, even when the world seems to be coming to an end.

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