Few events are as inherently dramatic as an earthquake. Word of advice to aspiring TV writers: if you have a great first and third act, but the middle of your story seems weak, just toss in an earthquake and you’ll be fine. Many television writers have learned this lesson and created some memorable TV experiences in the process. Of course, while the drama of an earthquake is inescapable, that does not necessarily mean that such a natural disaster is inherently doable on your particular show.
The “Frontier Doctor” arrives in San Francisco for a medical convention. To be perfectly honestly, I wasn’t even aware they had medical conditions in 1906. While in Frisco (they hate that) Dr. Baxter is called upon for mundane response to a man with a leg injury. The situation is no longer mundane when the man dies and our “Frontier Doctor” finds himself framed for a murder. Fortunately, the Big One of ought-six comes along and everything is back to normal by the closing credits.
The Wild Wild West
While the San Francisco earthquake may be a mere disaster of convenience for “Frontier Doctor” things get much more interesting in “The Wild Wild West.” Tea Party members and liberal anarchists alike may be especially drawn to this TV earthquake. A man with the Hunger Games-esque name of Orkney Cadwallader decides to blackmail the federal government into turning over Wyoming in its entirety to him as a way to right the wrongs associated with class inequality. Cadwallader’s means of extortion involves the use of nitroglycerin to stimulate earthquakes at his will. Gilligan’s Island
In “Waiting for Watubi” we discover that pagan religions associated with primitive Polynesian culture have the power to make the earth quake. Or so the Skipper thinks. The discovery of a small statue of the Tiki god Kona while digging a hole for storing food sends old Jonas Grumby into a mental tailspin. Almost immediately upon handling Kona, the castaways are victims of a small, quick and not particularly damaging earthquake. In fact, several earthquakes are associated with the disturbance of the Tiki god’s statue and despite some fancy liberal egghead science talk from the Professor, Skipper and Gilligan cling to the belief that the earthquakes are directly related to Kona.
The Big Valley
If your favorite TV series is set in California and the show runs for any substantial length of time, you can bet good money on there eventually being an episode involving an earthquake. “The Big Valley” was a western set around Stockton and it asks a very important question. What could be worse than being the victim of an earthquake? The answer? Being a victim of an earthquake and a cave-in at the same time. And as if that double whammy wasn’t bad enough, now you must also tend to the pregnant Indian girl trapped below ground with you.
And now, a very special TV earthquake episode. In which an earthquake causes Stephanie, one of the daughters on this show–not sure which one, but does it matter–to become very clingy with dad. But have no fear, the only three guys living together in San Francisco without a single one of them being gay all work together to make sure Stephanie can withstand the daily possibility of being swallowed by the earth without the need of her dad holding her hand.
Pretty much every show set in San Francisco on the air around 1989 felt compelled to use the World Series quake as a plot device. The key was finding a way to set your earthquake episode apart from the others. The way “Midnight Caller” did it was to recreate the quake for its dramatized scenes.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
God, when will the holosuite become a reality? Not a virtual reality, but a real reality. Dr. Bashir enters one of Quark’s holosuites on Deep Space Nine to bring to virtual life his deeply embedded fantasy of being a spy in the James Bond mode. Most of the entire episode titled “Our Man Bashir” takes place within the holosuite spy fantasy of Bashir. The plot of the fantasy is straight out of James Bond movies of the 1960s, which is clearly the stylistic inspiration for the look of Bashir’s fantasy. It seems that a supervillain has devised a way to artificially trigger earthquakes. I don’t think his name is Cadwallader.