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THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 2
GROWING PAINS - THE 1960S, "TWILIGHT ZONE" AND "STAR TREK"

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CAMPING OUT - THE “IRWIN ALLEN SYNDROME”: 

 TV and film producer Irwin Allen
Irwin Allen on set
     During the 1960s two other immensely popular sci-fi / fantasy forces would threaten to strip the genre of any serious socio-political clout it had fought years to acquire.  The first was the super successful and just as super campy BATMAN television series (Jan. 1966 - March 1968) starring ADAM WEST and BURT WARD  The second was a single individual - producer IRWIN ALLEN.  A fan of genre books, comics and films since childhood, Allen in the 1960s emerged as “the most successful science-fiction producer of the decade“, with the creation of shows like VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS, then in the 70s was crowned “the Master of Disaster”,  producing feature epics such as the original THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).  The first season black & white episodes of both VOYAGE (1964 - ‘68) and LOST (1965 - ’68) were straight-ahead, mostly serious minded sci-fi adventure epics (slightly trimmed down to TV size) and many fans consider them the best of their series.  But when the tongue-in-cheek BATMAN became a ratings juggernaut at ABC (even introducing the “back to back episodes over two back to nights” format which would later become the norm with series such as AMERICAN IDOL) CBS asked Allen if he could “lighten” up LOST IN SPACE just a little bit.


Allen on set with the LOST IN SPACE cast             
Allen - LOST IN SPACE
     This initially became most evident in the character of Dr. Zachary Smith played by noted stage actor and former vaudevillian JOHNATHAN HARRIS.  Harris would play other dramatic roles (among them - accountant Bradford Webster in the TV version of THE THIRD MAN, and even voice “Manny” the Praying Mantis in Disney/Pixar’s A BUG’S LIFE - 1998), but Dr. Smith was his most famous creation.  Originally conceived by Allen as a science fiction version of THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (the show’s original title was even THE SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON), Smith was originally a character take-off from another sea-going classic, TREASURE ISLAND‘s Long John Silver.  The experienced Harris knew his character as written would grow narratively tiresome after a few episodes and that he’d eventually be written off the show and unemployed, so he began infusing Smith with drolly wicked and ironic humor, to which Allen, upon realizing the value of it, responded “Do more!”. 



Dr. Smith and Will
     In time the show’s emphasis began to center on the antics of the Robinson’s son Will (BILL MUMY) along with Dr. Smith and the ever present “Robot“, and the series' tone became the working definition of a “perpetual motion machine".  As the camp humor increased, so did the ratings; as the ratings increased so did the camp; the stories becoming increasingly more comic … even downright silly, until all involved (cast and crew) agreed the nadir episode was the series' second to the last installment “THE GREAT VEGETABLE REBELLION” (Feb. ’68).  In the infamous story, Dr. Smith descends to a planet of lush vegetation to gather flowers for the Robot’s birthday party (!?), then is swiftly arrested by the world's vegetable leader “Tybo”, because on this planet plants are sentient beings and Smith’s actions amount to cold blooded murder.  When the Robinson’s descend and begin hacking their way through the foliage to find Smith, they too become guilty of capital crimes.


  
Cyclops between takes on VOYAGE

    This “lighter” tone (a combined result of the era's pop art movement as well as a desire within the TV audience to think of things other than the world's turmoil) would eventually find it's way creeping into the former espionage sensibilities of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA as well, to the point where monster costumes created for one series would constantly be re-used for the other .


 
Cyclops on LOST IN SPACE     
Cyclops LOST IN SPACE

Gene Roddenberry



WHERE NO MAN HAD GONE BEFORE
:


     Things took a decidedly more intelligent turn when Gene Roddenberry, a former WW2 Army Air Corps combat flier and LA cop in search of a screenwriting career, finally got his long desired STAR TREK on the air in 1966, the same year as the debut of BATMAN.  Laboring as a freelancer on shows such as HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL and HIGHWAY PATROL, Roddenberry’s first pet project to make it to TV was his series THE LIEUTENANT (1963 - ’64) for NBC.  A precursor to Lifetime Network’s ARMY WIVES, and set at the US Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton,  it followed the military lives and interpersonal relations of Gary Lockwood, Robert Vaughn, John Milford and their families during the Cold War decade of the 1960s.  Roddenberry’s joy at getting his first show produced was short lived however as he soon found himself in a similar network/sponsor quagmire as did Rod Serling when Roddenberry also attempted broaching controversial topics of the day.  The episode “TO SET IT RIGHT” guest starring Nichelle Nichols (STAR TREK’s future Lt. Uhura) dealt bluntly with racial prejudice within the military.  So bluntly in fact NBC refused to air it.  And while the show’s ratings were good, America’s increasing involvement in Vietnam made the network wary.  They began to feel a military-based show would be anathema, so despite positive reviews NBC pulled it after one season.  Roddenberry, like Serling before him decided the best way to “say his say” would be to cloak his social protestations and entreaties under the guise of “harmless genre fun”, and so was born his “WAGON TRAIN to the stars” concept … otherwise known as STAR TREK (1966 - ‘69). 


Roddenberry on set



     Originally CBS seemed to be the first network interested in Roddenberry’s proposal, but they kept insisting upon changes, which he (accustomed to the concept of “re-write hell”) gladly submitted.  In time however he realized he was being used, and that the network was merely fishing for sci fi concepts for it’s own series LOST IN SPACE.  His old THE LIEUTENANT network, NBC, would eventually give him the green light to shoot a pilot episode, so borrowing significantly from C.S. Forrester’s HORATIO HORNBLOWER novels as well as from popular and obscure science fiction literature, Roddenberry crafted “THE CAGE” - this version of TREK at the time not featuring James Kirk, but rather BEN-HUR’s JEFFREY HUNTER as USS Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike. 


Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike in "The Cage  
Vina, Pike, and Number One

     In this first episode LEONARD NIMOY’s Mr. Spock character (originally offered to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE’s MARTIN LANDAU) was also considerably more emotional than he’d eventually become.  NBC liked the “THE CAGE”’s cerebral, thought-provoking slant, but wanted to know if Roddenberry could hold onto that while adding a little more action, so they made the unusual request of asking for a second pilot.  By this time Jeffrey Hunter was unavailable, so Roddenberry offered the Captain’s role to JACK LORD.  When a contract couldn’t be agreed upon, Lord instead went on to be Detective Steve McGarrett in HAWAII: FIVE-0.  Roddenberry then offered the Captain role to little known Canadian actor William Shatner, who put his personal stamp on the character immediately.  History (and numerous spoofs) have made note of Shatner’s patented staccato speech patterns and Type-A, even “alpha male”-ish take on the character.  But more importantly was his desire for, not only his Kirk but the entire crew, to react to the dangers faced in a less operatic, Shakespearian, Horatio Hornblower-like fashion, and more with the immediacy of a contemporary combat unit under heavy fire - not having all the answers, but rather thinking on their feet to come up with one in the midst of a violent engagement.  This “edgier” (even more military mentality) take on the material was a major part of the “action infusion” the network wanted.  And years later it would be a major narrative and character pillar in two of the most acclaimed TREK feature films, both directed by Nicholas Meyer - STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  


Khan-SPACE SEED 
     STAR TREK premiered with “THE MAN TRAP” on Sept. 8th, 1966, and it’s first season featured some of it’s most memorable episodes.  In “THE NAKED TIME” (Sept. ’66) the crew is infected with a virus bringing to the surface long buried positive and negative subconscious feelings.  “SPACE SEED” (Feb. ’67) introduced RICARDO MONTALBAN as the genetically enhanced would be dictator Khan. “CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER” (April ’67), scripted by the legendary Harlan Ellison, guest starred JOAN COLLINS in a tragic love story at the center of a “paradox of time” debate. 
And the two-part



 Kirk and Edith contemplate the stars and the future


“THE MENAGERIE” (Nov. ’66) cleverly integrated footage and characters from the unused pilot episode “THE CAGE”.  But it was with episodes like “BALANCE OF TERROR” (Dec. ’66) and “A TASTE OF ARMAGEDDON” (Feb. ’67) - both thinly veiled analogies of the Cold War arms race and the Vietnam conflict, that Roddenberry’s intent became evident.  Nichelle Nichols was one of the first to make comment.  In the Feb. 2011 episode of PBS’s PIONEERS OF TELEVISION, she recalled her chat with Roddenberry.  


     “I finally went to Gene’s office one day, finally after maybe the fifth episode.  And I said ’Gene Roddenberry, I know what you’re doing’.  And he said (mimicking him covering his mouth) ’What, Nichelle?’.  I said, ’You’re writing morality plays’.  And Gene looked at me and said, ’Shhhh! (laughing) They haven’t figured it out yet’”.  


     Other noteworthy episodes over the series run would include “PATTERNS OF FORCE” (Feb. ’68) for it’s examination of the seduction of fascism (drawing literal analogies to the Nazi movement of WW2), and “THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE”'s (Oct. ’67)’sci fi-slanted dissertation on MAD’s (Mutually Assured Destruction) so-called deterrent to nuclear first strike.  The 1960s however wasn’t just the era of the cold war.  It was also the time of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.  And two of STAR TREK’s most famous (and controversial) episodes were the final season‘s “PLATO’S STEPCHILDREN” (Nov. ’68) and “LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD” (Jan. ’69).


Racial hatred takes to the stars in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (Jan.'69)
  Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
     In “BATTLEFIELD”, Bele and Lokai, the last two surviving warriors of a conflict which has destroyed their entire world, bring their battle aboard the Enterprise.  Both have half-black and half-white faces, … which ultimately is explained as the primary reason for the initial war.  When Kirk mentions that both “races” are half-black and half-white, Bele points out a fact he thinks should have been obvious from the beginning.  "Isn't it obvious?" He says, "Lokai is white on the right side. All his people are white on the right side."  And the foolishness of racism was never depicted in any medium before or since quite as simply or eloquently.  Even Spock raises an eyebrow  - his version of stunned amazement.


Racial harmony gets it's groove thing on                
 in "Plato's Stepchildren" (Nov.'68)                    

Uhura and Kirk
   
      This was nothing however compared to “PLATO’S STEPCHILDREN”, which, in a series already known for breeching sensitive topics, was without a doubt it’s greatest controversy-inducing lightning rod ever.  “STEPCHILDREN” would feature the first bonafied inter-racial kiss on American television between Kirk and Uhura.  In the episode, Kirk and crew beam down to a planet occupied by advanced beings possessed of mind controlling telekinetic abilities, but who (after visiting Earth’s ancient Greece centuries ago) chose to adopt the teachings and lifestyles of the philosopher Plato.  In one scene the beings, toying with the crew’s emotions and bodies as playthings, force Kirk and Uhura into an embrace and a kiss.  And while much has been said concerning the episode’s “safety net” - that Kirk and Uhura were forced to kiss (kind of like the impact of the inter-racial kiss in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER being blunted by only seeing it indirectly as a reflection in a cabbie’s rearview mirror), not enough has been said about the fact that the kiss is something Uhura wanted to happen for some time.  While in one another’s arms she says to Kirk:


     “I'm thinking. I'm thinking of all the times on the Enterprise when I was scared to death ... and I would see you so busy at your commands.  And I would hear your voice from all the parts of the ship... and my fears would fade.  And now they are making me tremble.  But I'm not afraid.  I am not afraid“.

pg. 1,2,3

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