15 forgotten sci-fi and fantasy series of the 1970s
Time-traveling trains and robot cops!
Image: Time Express / Warner Bros.
You might think that modern television is riddled with superheroes and spaceships, but the 1970s were just as rich with science fiction and fastasy. Series set in outer space exploded in the latter part of the decade, following in the rocket trail of Star Wars. The year 1977 alone served up a load of space shows.
But even in the decade between Star Trek and George Lucas' Skywalker saga, there were dozens of sci-fi programs. The U.K. was particularly into the genre, with shows such as Space: 1999, UFO, Survivors, Doomwatch and Timeslip. The Brits had too many to include here, honestly.
There were dozens more. Not all of them were six-million-dollar ideas, unfortunately. A good number of them lasted mere weeks. Let's set the time-travel dial back four decades and explore the forgotten corners of the television universe.
We begin with this low-budget Canadian obscurity, which was seemingly produced with the money left over from Doctor Who. Nevertheless, the show has hard sci-fi credibility, as it was created by Harlan Ellison. The production also attempted to utilize a new special-effects set-up dubbed the Magicam. The limited run of 16 episodes aired in syndication around the United States.
Image: 20th Television
The Ghost Busters
No, not those Ghostbusters. Long before Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were chasing Slimer, Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch of F Troop starred in this supernatural slapstick, which also featured a gorilla wearing a propellor beanie. It would spawn a cartoon a decade later, which would lead to those other cinematic Ghostbusters having to title their cartoon The Real Ghostbusters. But who was first, guys?
The Invisible Man
David McCallum, best known as Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., starred in this update of the H.G. Wells classic. Of course, this was the second attempt to turn the novel into a TV series, following the 1958 original which can be streamed here on MeTV.com. This time, the main character is a scientist for the Klae Corporation working on "molecular disintegration." After a traditional pilot, the series struck a lighter, comic tone. Nevertheless, it only lasted 12 episodes.
Image: Universal TV / Wikipedia
A crew of scientists and their chimpanzee (there has to be an ape, of course) wander the post-apocalyptic Earth of the 25th century. Inside a super R.V. The crew also zipped around in an awesome ATV and jet pack, too. If you have the time, watch this great little documentary about the CBS series that features some of the cast and creators.
Hey, it was another attempt to remake The Invisible Man, a mere year later. This time, former Alias Smith and Jones star Bem Murphy played the title character, who was a hip, denim-clad secret agent, a sort of Six Million Dollar Man meets David Banner. He works for INTERSECT — not to be confused with the Intertect agency of Mannix. Only five of 11 episodes aired in the U.S., but the show found some success in France as Le Nouvel Homme Invisible.
Image: NBC Universal Television
Here's the pitch: a serious mix of Gilligan's Island and Lost in Space. A family charters a boat in the Bermuda Triangle, only to trapped in a dimension beyond space and time, where past, present and future hold no meaning. There they meet a man named Varian, from the year 2230. The cast was great, including Roddy McDowall of Planet of the Apes, Devil in a Blue Dress writer-director Carl Franklin, and '70s child star Ike Eisenmann, a regular of ABC Afterschool Specials. Alas, only 10 episodes aired.
Image: Sony Pictures Television
Two grizzled, crusty, veteran beat cops (Ernest Borgnine and John Amos) are assigned a fresh new recruit. Just one catch — he's a "biosynthetic android." Or, as Borgnine describes him, "A robot… the perfect cop… the cop of the future… a future cop." The decade before RoboCop, cyborgs and androids were already policing the mean streets. After a very brief run on ABC, the series shot another pilot for NBC, which ran as a TV movie under the new title Cops and Robin.
The spin-off from the 1976 sci-fi film roped in D. C. Fontana and other veteran Star Trek writers, yet frequent schedule changes lost any potential audience. The show's failure forced the Mego toy company to cancel its plans for Logan's Run action figures.
Image: MGM Television
A decade earlier, Buck Henry (along with Mel Brooks) spoofed the spy genre with Get Smart. With Quark, he looked to do the same to Star Trek and Star Wars. (Well, it should be noted that the pilot originally aired in early May, a few weeks before Star Wars hit theaters.) Mel Brooks would have far more success doing something similar in Spaceballs. The madcap adventures of a space garbageman, this sitcom featured sexy twins, a plant man, a disembodied head and a transgender engineer.
Image: Columbia Pictures Television
The Man from Atlantis
It's hunky Patrick Duffy! As (not technically) Aquaman. Actually, the undersea hero was closer to Namor, the Marvel legend. Marvel published seven issues of a Man from Atlantis comic, which almost matched the 13 episodes aired. Duffy did have a nice butterfly kick, though.
Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Filmation, known for its cartoon adaptations of popular sitcoms, further dipped its toes into live-action with this impressively produced series, released in the wake of Star Wars mania. Ric Carrott, formerly the forgotten older brother of Happy Days, led the squad, and Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space gave the show some sci-fi gravitas. Though kids were most likely tuning in for teen idols Pamelyn Ferdin and Maggie Cooper, pictured here.
Television legend Jack Webb, who mastered the artform of crime and rescue with Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency!, went down the rabbit hole of U.F.O. investigation with this show, ripped from the files of the U.S. Air Force. The episodes reassured paranoid viewers, "The U.S. Air Force stopped investigating UFOs in 1969. After 22 years, they found no evidence of extra-terrestrial landings and no threat to national security." It would be his last series.
Image: CBS Television Distribution
Jason of Star Command
Another sci-fi Filmation production, spun-off from Space Academy, this otherwordly adventure featured James Doohan of Star Trek, speaking with his normal North American accent, as well as Sid Haig and a host of awesome stop-motion-animated aliens.
Image: Filmation / scifihistory.net
"Once upon a time, a junkman had a dream…" So began the opening to Salvage 1. It was not quite as catchy as "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," but the Andy Griffith series could probably thank Star Wars for its existence. The pilot would allow the former Mayberry sheriff to explore new action-adventure territory while maintaining the rustic charm of his TV persona. "I wanna build a spaceship, go to the moon, salvage all the junk that's up there, bring it back, and sell it," his character Harry Broderick proclaims in a succinct summary of the plot.
Charlie's Angels creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts failed to strike gold again with this nostalgic flop. Think of it as Fantasy Island with time travel. Vincent Price starred as the conductor of a time-traveling train that would take passengers to the past in order to relive important points in their lives. Only four episodes aired before it was canceled. The synthesizer-heavy theme song was cool, though, clearly inspired by Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express."
Image: Warner Bros.
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Image: The Everett Collection