Who Ruled 1960s SF On Television? The Answer May Enrage You...

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

When you think about science fiction on TV, probably, like most people you think of Gene Roddenberry. This means that probably, like most people, you don’t watch a lot of repeats, because Roddenberry was a shameless self-promoter who lucked into a lucrative franchise by passing off other people’s ideas as his own, but when all is said and done, he really only had one show at a time when a zillion other shows in the genre were running. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that those other shows were mostly crap, but a large - and unsung - part of the success of Trek was that it was running in contrast to the crappy shows. Compared to Dr. Kildaire or Gunsmoke, Trek looked pretty damn lame, but compared to Lost In Space and Stingray, it looked glorious indeed.

Undoubtedly the high lord grand poobah of SF in the ‘60s was *Not* Gene Roddenberry, but rather Irwin Allen, an orphan and a strange penny-pinching little man who was uncomfortable with public displays of emotion and overt senses of humor, and who was known to have the most elaborate comb over in all of hollywoodland

If we want to compare apples to apples, Irwin was the unquestioned master of crappy American SF, even today. Take a look:

- Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-1968) 110 episodes

- Lost In Space (1965-1968) 83 episodes

- Time Tunnel (1966-1967) 30 episodes

- Land of the Giants (1967-1970) 51 episodes

- The Return of Captain Nemo (1978) 3 episodes

And that’s not even counting the numerous crappy SF movies he made!

By contrast, Roddenberry is responsible for a mere 80 episodes of trek, and he wasn’t even producer for the final season of those.

Now, I’m not saying Allen’s stuff was brilliant by any stretch. In general, his series started out fairly good, then he’d lose interest and move on to another show, turning his current project over to - apparently, based on the quality drop-off - a bunch of cokeheads, and a long slow spiral to despair would happen from then on. I’m still willing to put the first batch of episode from most of his series up against the final season of TOS, however.

I’ll be the first person to admit he chose quantity over quality, however, but he defecated soooooooooo much stuff on to TV (274 HOURS of genre entertainment in just five years!) that occasionally something worth looking at would be crapped out along with the…well…crap. I mean, law of averages, how could it not be?

But why be Amerocentric? If we’re looking for the absolutely most prolific SF TV producer of all time, the man at the top of the (Rather smelly) heap has got to be the UK’s Gerry Anderson, who produced

- Supercar (1961-1962) 39 episodes

- Fireball XL5 (1962-1963) 39 episodes

- Space Patrol (1963-1964) 39 episodes

- Stingray (1964-1965) 39 episodes

- Thunderbirds (1965-1966) 64 episodes

- Captain Scarlet and the Mysterions (1967-1968) 32 episodes

- Joe 90 (1968-1969) 30 episodes

- UFO (1970-1971) 26 episodes

-Space:1999 (1975-1978) 48 episodes

-Terrahawks (1983-1984) 39 episodes

-Dick Spanner, P.I. (1986-1987) 22 episodes

-Space Precinct (1994-1995) 24 episodes

-Lavender Castle (1999-2000) 26 episodes

-Firestorm (2002-2003) 26 episodes

-Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet (2005) 26 episodes

Seriously, FIFTEEN SF series, and that’s not even counting his failed pilots and feature films. Gene Roddenberry can suck it! Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that most of these were kind of terrible to a greater or lesser degree, however they were all terrible in interesting new ways, ways in which no one had been terrible before, whereas Star Trek, once it began to be terrible (1967-1968) pretty much continued to be terrible in the same boring old fashion up until the wee years of the 21st century.

So: who’s the master of 60s SF?

It’s actually a tossup: Gerry Anderson produced 308 episodes of 8 separate series in the 60s, but 282 of ‘em were only half-hour shows, so his total comes to 167 televised hours. Conversely, Irwin Allen produced 271 hours of genre entertainment in the same period, however he only had four shows, and these were considerably less ambitious than Andersons.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit we’re comparing numbers to quality here, but the bottom line can’t be ignored: the purpose of TV is to entertain in profitable fashion, and all the Anderson/Allen productions were very popular (Excepting Time Tunnel), and came in on budget. They weren’t brilliant but they did what they were intended to do, even if a lot of ‘em (Lost in Space particularly) are horribly embarrassing in retrospect. By contrast, Roddenberry took credit for 80 episodes (Though he actually only produced 56) of a show that continually came in over budget and after schedule, and which no one at the time watched. So, based on a strictly financial comparison, who’s doing a better job here? Yes, yes, yes, I realize ideas are more important than filler, but still…

It’s clear that creepy fat drunken adulterous lecherous wife-swapping casting-couch-using glory-stealing ‘ol Gene ain’t even in the running. I mean, hell, even Norman Felton did more than he did.

So, while it’s a case of the mundane betamaxing an admittedly superior product into an inferior position in the marketplace, it’s very clear that for better or for worse, the two leaders of the video genre in the 60s were Anderson and Allen. As with so many things in life, I think Tenacious D can best express this for us:

We did it Rage-Kage, we beat the bastards of City Hall!
But now what will we do?
We must rebuild. But who will lead us in the rebuilding process?
Man, it's got to be someone with the know-how
and the elbow grease to lead us to a new land.
No, not me and KG, we don't have the cognitive capacity to lead...
Alright, we'll do it!

We'll lead as Two Kings,
We'll lead as Two Kings.
Ahhhaaa (Two Kings, we'll lead as Two Kings)
Ah-ha ah-how,
We'll lead as Two Kings.