Prey: The TV Show That Changed My Life
It was 20 years ago yesterday that the short-lived science-fiction TV series Prey debuted on ABC. The series starred then little known actress Debra Messing (of Will & Grace fame), who had starred in the comedy Ned and Stacey as well as the box office film A Walk in the Clouds prior to landing the lead role in this mid-season replacement that would actually change my life [more on that later].
Messing played Dr. Sloan Parker, a bio-anthropologist studying genetic variations in humans. Her mentor, Dr. Ann Coulter, was a geneticist who believed that the violent behavior of certain criminals may have had a genetic basis. When Coulter was killed, Sloan followed up on Dr. Coulter’s research, learning that a new species existed; a species that was genetically different from Homo Sapiens. In fact, the eventually monikered Homo Dominants had a 1.6% differential in their DNA from the rest of us humans.
In the pilot episode Sloan met an FBI agent named Tom Daniels (Adam Storke of Mystic Pizza and Stephen King’s The Stand fame) who turned out to be a “member” of new species. Daniels was actually sent in to kill Sloan because of what she learned in her research, but instead he not only decided to help her against his own kind but also fell in love with her.
Other members of the cast included Vincent Ventresca (who went on to star in the Sci-Fi Channel’s – before their name and logo changed to Syfy – series The Invisible Man) was Sloan’s best friend and co-worker Dr. Ed Tate; the late, great Larry Drake (of L.A. Law fame) as Dr. Walter Atwood, who was in charge of the lab where Sloan and Ed worked; and Frankie Faison (who went on to star in The Wire and Banshee) as Ray Peterson, the LAPD cop who worked with the team trying to take down the 1.6%.
Prey aired 8 of its filmed 13 episodes on Thursday nights at 8 PM from January 15 to March 19, 1998, earning roughly 8 million viewers each week before it was pulled from the primetime line-up. Given that the show was a mid-season replacement in a time in the world of television where mid-season replacements were simply throw away shows, its removal from the line-up was no big deal to the network.
That wasn’t the case, however, for the fans of the show. With the advent of the internet [in a time BEFORE social media], fans banded together on message boards and started putting together a movement to get the remaining five episodes aired. That movement was actually successful with the final episodes airing on Thursday nights at 9 PM from June 11 through July 9, 1998.
While the show was permanently cancelled after that point, the worldwide fans refused to give up. We actually campaigned [albeit unsuccessfully] for the next five YEARS – yep, YEARS! – in the hopes that we could convince any other network to take on the show; whether it was more episodes in the beginning of the campaign or a two-hour movie in the latter years that would hopefully bring the cliffhanger ending of the final episode to a conclusion.
Sure, our years-long campaign failed, but we did make a small dent in TV history. We campaigned heavily with the Sci-Fi Channel, sending them countless emails, letters and even making phone calls. After all that, the network gave fans a “sort of” resolution. In the final scene of Prey, Tom Daniels was captured by a secret branch of the government, being trapped inside a small cage. The latter part of our campaign asked for someone to get Tom out of that cage, and bombarded the Sci-Fi Channel (and every other network that could contact) with keys – actually keys to get him out of that cage.
What did the Sci-Fi Channel do to help us? They had then The Invisible Man star Vincent Ventresca rescue a man (portrayed by Adam Storke who played Tom Daniels in Prey) from behind a locked door in an episode of the series. A man that Ventresca’s character swore he recognized from “somewhere.” It wasn’t much of a resolution, but at the time Prey fans at least got a small sliver of satisfaction.
How did this short-lived, one-season series change my life? Well, it not only introduced me to the advent of the internet and message boards, but it was the genesis of my recognizing that I was a massive sci-fi fan and it helped in my moving from my small hometown in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. A move that I had been “wanting” to do since I was a teenager, but was too afraid to actually make it happen. Prey also helped in creating my online persona of Rueben, as I used that handle for everything I did online – and I still use that handle to this day.
I made friends all over the world because of Prey. My first roommate in California was a fellow Prey fan. It was because of other fellow Prey fans, who lived in California, that I got to see more of Los Angeles than ever before during the two years leading up to my big move across the country in the summer of 2000. It was because of Prey that so many aspects of my life changed – for the better. Prey may have only lasted for one season, but it certainly made a monumental difference for me.
For those who are curious or interested, the following video is actual scenes from the first episode of Prey, covering important scenes between Dr. Sloan Parker and FBI Agent Tom Daniels: