PROGRAMS

Science Fiction

It’s no wonder that Gene Rodenberry, creator of “Star Trek,” turned to science fiction when he wanted to delve into dicey subjects on television such as race relations and the value of war. It’s easier to unearth tough subjects when creatures from another planet or another time deliver the truisms. Humans have always gazed up at the stars or stared deep into the black, rolling ocean with equal parts fascination and fear. The unexplored frontiers at the edges of our existence beckon and repel in equal measure. In the early to mid-1960s, a number of innovative television writers, producers and actors began playing with these ideas on the small screen — sometimes preying on our universal fears, and sometimes dreaming up a very different future. Whatever their initial aim, these television innovators left behind a legacy of science fiction television that entertained us and challenged our preconceived notions.

“Lost in Space”

A kitschy, comic science fiction show based loosely on the classic novel, The Swiss Family Robinson, “Lost in Space” debuted in 1965 and was created by Irwin Allen, the most successful science fiction producer of the decade. While the show centered on the misadventures of the Robinson family in outer space, a scene-stealing, villainous anti-hero emerged in the form of Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris). Harris and the robot developed an unexpected comedic relationship in which the robot, voiced by Bob May, plays the “straight man,” allowing Harris to deliver some of his most memorable zingers.

“Star Trek”

Gene Roddenberry had the kernel of an idea for “Star Trek” as early as 1961, and he planned for each episode of the series to deliver a cathartic two-punch in the form of entertaining adventure and moral message. But Roddenberry met resistance from NBC. The network insisted that the “Star Trek” pilot presented fascinating ideas but lacked excitement. Roddenberry reworked the script and brought actor William Shatner to the key role of Captain James T. Kirk. NBC executives were satisfied with the changes, and the series “Star Trek,” hit small screens in 1966. Unlike anything that had come before it, “Star Trek” addressed issues of race, gender, war, nuclear proliferation and drug abuse in a context that was palatable to the public. And the on-screen chemistry between Captain Kirk and logical Mr. Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, was unmistakable. The series became a cult classic, spawning an impressive franchise of movies, animated series, merchandise and fan groups.

“The Twilight Zone”

Created by Rod Serling, “The Twilight Zone” appeared on the small screen from 1959 to 1964, and the anthology series relied on reams of taut writing from sci-fi literary greats such as Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson.

“The beauty of the science fiction genre is that so much of it had been untouched,” said Serling. “It had been reproduced in printed form over and over again, but it had never been done on camera, so we had almost a goldmine of unused material we could operate from.”

Unlike other science fiction television shows that planted their scripts firmly in the future, this series’ stories were usually set in more familiar surroundings. And instead of relying on a regular cast of characters, “The Twilight Zone” was an anthology with different actors for all 152 episodes. The result was a thought-provoking, unpredictable collection known for its excellent writing.

  • Christopher Krieg

    Lost IN Space was not a kiddie science fiction series. It was a tv series that the whole family could watch. It started out very series but then descended into camp with the addition of Jonathan Harris’s Dr Zachary Smith. ANyone who has watched the original pilot can see the vast difference. In fact, more than Star Trek, Lost IN Space trully pioneered the concept of a Wagon Train to the stars since it was FAMILIES who were in the wagon trains of the old West. The Space Family Robinson was the outer space equivelent of those pioneering Wagon Train families. Its too bad that the producers choose not to interview any of the actors from Lost IN Space instead of casting it in a negative light just to promote the likes of Gene Roddenbery’s liberal Star Trek. Like I said, Lost IN Space was not originally conceived as a kiddie show. Gene Roddenberry only said that because CBS preferred Lost IN Space to Star Trek because the excutives wisely knew that Irwin Allen’s show would be a commericial hit, unlike Star Trek was not.

    • Robbie Moraes

      Complely not true. CBS wanted to buy Star Trek and air it as a series, but they reluctingly turned it down. Star Trek promoted ideas and tolerance about how mankind could and should live. All Lost in Space did was give us badly written shows with cardboard characters and actors who never worked again after it was over. Today, Star Trek is thought of a highly as the Twilight Zone for it’s thought prokoving stories, while Lost in Space is thought of as not much better then today’s Reality TV shows. Are you a fool.

      • saganhill

        Christopher is correct. Watch the first couple episodes then FF to the end of the series. You will see a HUGE difference in quality.

  • Sharon Cooper

    I’m a bit startled that Doctor Who wasn’t mentioned. It certainly was a ground-breaking series at its premiere, not least because it was helmed by a woman (Verity Lambert) all the way back in 1963. It’s certainly inspired loads of people to go into television work, and it’s something that many people even in this country grew up on along with classic Star Trek.