For those who didn’t watch Television of questionable quality in the mid-90s, the pitch for SeaQuest DSV (stylized as seaQuest DSV) was relatively simple. In fact, it was quite similar to Star Trek—just underwater. SeaQuest was the name of the BIG ‘submarine’ that the show took place on (the “DSV” stands for Deep Submergence Vehicle), and the people aboard the seaQuest were tasked with exploration and protection of the seas.
The start of the show sees Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider), a former Navy man who retired from service following the death of his son (who was also in the Navy) living alone on an island in solitude. Because his wife is also dead. He’s approached by the Navy again, who completed his seaQuest project while he was away; they want him to command the ship he designed despite his intentions to never serve again. After some cajoling, he takes the tour of the ship and eventually stays on to become the captain. He’s a man of science and discovery, not interested in war-mongering or military operations, even so, there is plenty of 90s-CGI action.
It originally aired on NBC between 1993 and 1996. In its final season, it was renamed seaQuest 2032. Set in “the near future”—originally the year 2018 in the first season—SeaQuest DSV originally mixed high drama with realistic scientific fiction.
It first starred film star Roy Scheider as Captain Nathan Bridger, designer and commander of the eponymous naval submarine seaQuest DSV 4600. Jonathan Brandis also starred as Lucas Wolenczak, a teenaged computer genius placed aboard seaQuest by his father and Stephanie Beacham as Kristin Westphalen, the chief medical officer and head of the seaQuest science department.
In the third season, Michael Ironside replaced Scheider as the lead of the series and starred as Captain Oliver Hudson. Also present was a dolphin character called Darwin who, due to technological advances, was able to communicate with the crew. Steven Spielberg expressed interest in the project and served as one of the show’s executive producers during the first two seasons.
The 1990s were a strange time for television. First Run Syndication programs were in decline (although a huge rebound was due in just a few years) and cable had started to make more and more inroads into the, previously, safe space that was network TV. Not to mention that the FOX network was still an (on paper) failure at this point. Networks took more chances on genre programming to pick up the slack left by the first wave of First Run Syndication finally falling apart and one of those chances was SeaQuest DSV.
SeaQuest DSV was a hugely expensive foray into sci-fi at a time when sci-fi programming on networks was rarely successful so this was indeed a risk even though looking back today it may not seem as such.
SeaQuest DSV was set in the future of 2018 (ha) and as the ecological trend was going in full force at this time the future of 2018 was bright and clean and sound so man began to explore not outer space, but instead the depths of our own plane – the oceans.
The original purpose of the SeaQuest DSV 4600 being a US naval military submarine, the largest and most advanced. Then after the ‘Livingston Trench Incident’ and the near nuclear war, the United Earth Oceans (UEO) was formed to attempt the peaceful use and settlement of the oceans and the SeaQuest DSV 4600 was placed under UEO command as a peacekeeper, explorer, and symbol.
Each season of SeaQuest is a vastly different, Season one was basically Star Trek under the water. Season two would be far more sci-fi oriented than before. Also, production was moved from LA to Orlando and some of the cast declined to move and was hence replaced. The ratings for season 2 were awful and the critical lambasting got even worse. Reluctantly a third season was created but major changes were again in order.
“The world is not a nice place, it’s not comfortable…corporate entities have grown to the point where they rival and sometimes are more powerful than actual national governments. UEO is not the big kid on the block anymore, seaQuest is no longer state of the art; it’s a boat and it’s a military vehicle and I’m going to take it places it has never been before”
– Michael Ironside, in an interview promoting season three.
Scheider was done with the series after the mess that season two had become and wanted out but due to this contract he was required to appear in three episodes of season three. Taking over for him however was Michael Ironside as Captain Oliver Hudson. The tone of season three was changed from the optimistic outlook in season one to war and invasion.
For season three ten years have elapsed and in that time a malcontent nation has begun to forcibly take the seas for themselves. SeaQuest (retitled SeaQuest 2032), under a new captain, would be a war vessel and the series grew to become dark, focusing less on science as it had in the first season and science fiction as it had in the second season and more on international politics.
The slogan around the set for the third season was “seaQuest DSVerisimilitude” (verisimilitude is the appearance of being true or real) which was printed on a number of film crew shirts. The show’s Emmy award-winning theme music from the first two seasons was replaced as well.
While initially popular, the series began to decline in ratings throughout its run and was abruptly canceled in the middle of its third season. There were a SeaQuest video game and a few tie-in novels but all in all, SeaQuest really made no lasting impact.