EXCERPTS FROM Science Fiction Television Series: Episode Guides, Histories, and Casts
and Credits for 62 Prime Time Shows, 1959 - 1989
Phillips & Frank Garcia
The Immortal (1970-71)
Ben Richards, a test driver, discovers that a genetic fluke has given him blood that contains immunities against all diseases. His blood also enables him to fight off the ravages of age for several centuries.
Transfusions of Richards' blood can give others temporary youth, a fact that keeps him on the run from a frail old tycoon named Maitland, who wants to use Ben as his own private blood bank.
Maitland uses the resources of his National Research Institute to hunt Richards down. The immortal keeps one step ahead of Maitland's men and searches the country for his long-lost brother, Jason, who may have the same kind of blood.
Interviews in this chapter: SF novelist James E. Gunn, co-star Don Knight, Writers Jack Turley, Stephen Kandel, producer Robert Specht, associate producer Gregg Peters, director Leslie H. Martinson, director of photography Al Francis
"You know, that ABC is crazy!" giggled Judy Carne on Laugh-In. "They gave us a show called The Immortal. Thirteen weeks later, it died!"
According to writer Robert Specht, The Immortal could have been one of TV's biggest hits. The 1962 novel on which the series was based was a success. The 1969 TV movie called The Immortal was also a hit. But as a weekly series, The Immortal grew anemic and died. "It was a disaster," Specht laments.
The novel, written by James E. Gunn, was titled The Immortals. In it, a drifter sells his blood to a hospital to make some money to buy wine. The doctors learn that his blood carries immunities to all diseases and that a transfusion brings temporary health and restored youth. The Immortals examined how this rejuvenating blood, later synthesized, could change society. Gunn, now a professor of English at the University of Kansas and still a scienc fiction novelist (his books include The Joy Makers and The Listeners), was approached by writer Robert Specht in 1966. Specht thought the novel would make a terrific movie and was interested in securing the rights. Because of the novel's complexities, Gunn felt a movie adaption would be nearly impossible.
In scripting the ABC Movie of the Week version, Specht took only the germ of the novel. He changed the book's drifter to a test car driver named Ben Richards. "I was fascinated by the way James Gunn's novel got into the hunger of older people for immortality," says Specht. "What would a man's life be like if he were the lone sparrow and there were ten cats waiting to devour him? He's got this blood that no one else has. People would go to any lengths to take advantage of that." Specht's script had Richards innocently donating a pint of blood that is used to save a dying tycoon named Braddock (played by Barry Sullivan). When Braddock is rejuvenated by the transfer, it's discovered that Richards has "special blood." The bad news is that Braddock, now lapsing back into old age, wants Richards imprisoned in his mansion so that he can continue getting transfusions. Ben escapes and begins a quest to find his missing brother, Jason, and to ponder what to do with his blood.
Chris George also had his problems with some scripts. As the show's star, he had script approval and made his displeasure known to the producers. "Some of the scripts are rotten," he told TV Guide at the time. "In one show, they've got me playing an introspective character who practically sucks his thumb. In the next show, I'm a finger-snapping, gum chewing wise guy."
"Chris had difficulty with the character at the beginning," admits Stephen Kandel, "but he got into it as time went on. Toward the end of the series he was a lot happier."
Director Leslie Martinson notes, "I had done Run for Your Life with Ben Gazzara. He played a man who had a year or two to live. That premise had great margins in which to work. Gazzara had a motivation to live life to its fullest. But Chris George's character seemed much more unrealistic. He's an immortal. Instead of helping mankind with his blood, he spends his time being chased by cars. Had he devoted his life to experimentation, he would have become a powerful force in advancing modern science and medicine. Ben Richards never seemed to have a purpose."
Fun Fact: While filming on location, to keep their sanity, production crewmembers often doused each other with buckets of water.
The Invaders (1967-68)
Architect David Vincent witnesses the landing of a craft from another galaxy. He learns that alien beings from a dying planet have taken human form to take over the Earth. Vincent wages a one-man battle against the aliens and tries to alert the authorities to their presence before their invasion is complete. In the second year, Vincent is joined by industrialist Edgar Scoville, who helps David in his battle.
Interviews in this chapter: series creator Larry Cohen, star Roy Thinnes, guest star Susanne Pleshette, producer Alan Armer, associate producer Anthony Spinner, art director George Chan, production manager Howard Alston, actor Randy Crawford, director Robert Butler, writers Robert Collins, David Rintels
The Invaders was first conceived by creator Larry Cohen as a half-hour, twice-weekly serial. (Peyton Place had worked for ABC in this format.) Ultimately, however, the network went with the more conventional one-hour format.
Originally, the aliens were supposed to get their orders from an eyeball that opened and closed in the palms of their hands. The network rejected the idea as too scary. The aliens ended up with a variety of other idiosyncrasies. They didn't have blood or heartbeats; some aliens had pointed little fingers; they didn't display emotion because they had none; and since their "human" disguises required periodic regeneration, they occasionally glowed before losing their earthly forms. Three episodes, "Genesis," "The Enemy" and "The Prophet," gave viewers a hint of what the aliens looked like in their native forms. When killed, the aliens glowed and vanished, which proved frustrating for David Vincent since the only evidence left was an outline of ash. The aliens were also experts at covering their tracks. Whenever Vincent found an alien outpost housed in an abandoned warehouse or town, the evidence was gone by the time the authorities got there. The aliens also had an impressive technology: They all carried glowing discs that, if applied to a human being's neck, caused instant death. Some aliens also carried disintegration guns that could melt cars like butter.
Although the special effects in the series were often excellent, the producers limited the visual tricks to add to the show's realism. "This is a strange series," admitted producer Alan Armer to the New York Times in 1967. "We combine science fiction with reality. People liketo be scared out of their wits but they're nolonger frightened by three-headed monsters. So we've made the invaders look like the folks next door… We're after fear, not brutality and violence."
Says Armer, "It was an intriguing, workable concept that should have been better than it was. We began with an exciting pilot and it was marvelous. The pilot was originally 75 minutes long, and we had to cut it by 20 minutes. It had believability, color, genuine fear and enormous excitement. My William Morris agent called and declared it to be the _nest pilot he had ever seen."
Armer was forced to cut it down. "We eliminated footage slowly, trying to preserve the pilot's strengths. But cutting those 20 minutes forced us to mutilate our baby. We ended up with all of the peaks and none of the valleys. We lost a lot of richness and reality. [It had] excitement, but not the texture that makes the excitement believable. Although we produced a dozen solid shows for The Invaders, we never captured the suspense and believability of the first, overlong pilot film."
Fun Fact: The Invaders' popularity is so big in France that, when he was invited to visit, star Roy Thinnes was treated like "royalty" among fans there.
Logan's Run (1977)
In a utopian society all is not as it seems. Within the city's doomed walls are those who would refuse "renewal" and seek the mythical Sanctuary—those who would live beyond the age of 30. To stop these dissident "runners" is the job of the Sandmen. Logan 5 is a Sandman, and Jessica is the runner who convinces him that renewal is not rebirth, but really a death ritual, used to limit population growth. Together the fugitives, accompanied by the android REM, _ee accross a post-nuclear America, always one step ahead of the Sandmen, who are led by Francis, Logan's one time partner.
Interviews in this chapter: star Gregory Harrison, co-star Donald Moffatt, story editor/writer Dorothy C. Fontana
To adapt Logan's Run for television, producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts had to make changes to the premise. First, they recast the roles of Logan and Jessica (keeping the age limit of 30 years), which went to Gregory Harrison and Heather Menzies, with Randy Powell as the pursuing Francis. An original element, the Council of Elders, was added to explain who was running the society. (The council ordered Francis to retrieve Logan and his companion.) Next, the producers added an android named REM (the abbreviation for rapid eye movement, a phase of sleep), played by Donald Moffat, who accompanied them in an appropriated hovercraft in their search for Sanctuary. The resulting formula of the show was that Logan, Jessica and REM traveled across the post–nuclear holocaust Earth in search of a haven, encountering aliens, hunters, other Sandmen, ghosts, time travelers, and robots along the way. Francis, who traveled with a cohort of Sandmen, occasionally hampered their goals.
Gregory Harrison, star of Logan's Run, emphasizes that the notion of death at a young age "was a very popular concept at the time. Being over the age of 30 wasn't anything worth living; let's do those people in and start somebody over. There was a movie a few years before that called Wild in the Streets  with Christopher Jones where these 20-to 25-year-old, young revolutionaries take over the government of the United States. It was the first major entertainment piece that perpetuated the idea that younger than 30 was the only valid age to be. And thisis sort of the science fiction version of that concept.
"I remember sitting in the theatre at the Cinerama dome a year before the series, watching Logan's Run with Michael York, being absolutely fascinated. I've always been a huge science fiction fan, and watching the feature, I was thinking, ‘This is wonderful, I love this,' but never imagining that I was going to be playing that part and wearing that costume and using the same gun. A lot of the stuff we used came directly from the feature. It was quite a thrill when I got cast and screen tested."
Fun Fact: Star Gregory Harrison, during filming, stepped into a beehive and got stung so badly that the production was shut down for a day to give him medical treatment.
(The Amazing) Spiderman (1978-79)
College student Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, becomes endowed with strange powers. He can climb walls, and he has heightened senses of danger as well as super agility and strength. Parker's photographer job at the Daily Bugle newspaper allows him to fight crime as Spiderman.
Interviews in this chapter: star Nicholas Hammond, co-star Ellen Bry, Spiderman creator Stan Lee, executive producer Daniel Goodman, supervising producer Lionel E. Siegel, second unit and stunt coordinator Fred Waugh
Series star Nicholas Hammond remembers that when Spiderman was starting up, the feature _lm Superman with Christopher Reeve had just come out. Many people were worried about doing a superhero show. They were afraid that it would be a campy, laughable affair in the same vein as the 1960s Batman TV show.
"I liked the idea of taking a fantasy hero and making him believable as a person. I made it clear going into it that I was not interested in doing something that was just a camp joke," says Hammond. "I was given an opportunity here to do some good work and tell some good, interesting stories."
Hammond feels that the show lost an ally in failing to consult with Spiderman's creator, Stan Lee, during production.
"I thought Stan Lee was an enormously talented man. I was always tremendously impressed by Stan. I always wished we could have worked more closely with him. We could have tapped into a larger market if we'd used more of Stan's ideas." Instead, says Hammond, "My early feeling was that, maybe [network and producers] thought, ‘Stan's background is comic books and we want to get away from that here — a comic book feel. What we want to do here is make it more an adventure-drama series.' I feel that his input would have been very, very useful."
Stan Lee, too, regrets the lack of a working relationship. "After I read the scripts, I called a meeting at CBS," he says. "The director was there, the producer was there, and the network executives were there. I spent 20 minutes telling them what was wrong with the show, they listened politely and then they left and paid no attention to what I had told them!"
Producer Daniel Goodman says, "I was at all the meetings with Stan. Somehow the writers could not agree on many of his suggestions. His input was good, but unfortunately, there was evident frustration on his part and a sympathetic reaction on mine. You can't satisfy all parties all the time. Perhaps we could have had a longer run on CBS if we had heeded his suggestions, but one never knows.
"You see, my concept was to make Spiderman more acceptable to a general audience than just to kiddies, and perhaps there was a clash of ideologies. We had to compromise as CBS was sold on my original sales presentation of a prime-time, general audience show. Stan will always have my deepest respect and admiration."
Lee believes that the network's concept of Spiderman affected Nicholas Hammond's portrayal. "He's a good actor," Lee says sincerely. "He was directed badly. He came across as a very uninteresting character, and I don't think it was his fault. I think it was the way the director and the producer conceived of the show and the character. He came across as very square, very humorless, and, I thought, very dull. But it wasn't his fault."
Fun Fact: When filming in Hong Kong for an episode, stunt coordinator and "Spiderman" actor Fred Waugh refused to take a dive into the dirty waters of the Hong Kong harbor.