||THE OUTER LIMITS
US science fiction series.
48 episodes of 60 minute duration. ABC 1963-65.
"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat, there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits."
A worthy rival to Rod Serling's classic 'Twilight Zone,' 'The Outer Limits' ran from September 1963 to January 1965, and along the way produced some of the most memorable and exciting science fiction ever to grace the small screen up to that time. The series was the brainchild of Leslie Stevens, a former employee of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Company, and his early influences were inspired by Welles' own sensation causing radio production of 'War of the Worlds.' By 1963, Stefano was an established writer working on a US TV series of his own creation; 'Stoney Burke,' a standard Western drama starring Jack Lord, Bruce Dern and Warren Oates, all of whom were destined for future stardom.
While writing and directing 'Stoney Burke' Stevens sold a science fiction series called 'Please Stand By' to ABC but was too busy to produce it himself. And so he turned to an old friend of his, Joseph Stefano, whose prestige had risen greatly within the industry since scripting the classic Hitchcock film 'Psycho.' Shortly after Stefano's arrival 'Please Stand By' was re-titled 'The Outer Limits' and Stefano laid down the format for the series insisting; "the viewer must know the delicious and consciously desired element of terror." There was no room for "sending-up" the science fiction genre in his brief, either. "There must be no apology, no smirk. Each drama, no matter how wordless or timeless must be spoken with the seriousness and sincerity and suspension of disbelief that a caring and intelligent parent employs in the spinning of a magic wonderful tale to a child at bedtime. Humour and wit are honourable; the tongue-in-the-cheek is almost often condescending and gratuitous. When the tongue is in the cheek it is almost impossible to speak in anything but a garbled, foolish fashion."
Stefano was genuine about scaring people and each episode had a large proportion of its budget assigned to the creation of that week's monster, or 'The Bear' as Stefano called it. "The Bear is that one splendid, staggering, shuddering effect that induces awe or wonder or tolerable terror" he explained. Creating 'The Bears' was the responsibility of a unique production company called Projects Unlimited, formed by Jim Danforth, Ralph Rodine and Tim Barr. Sculptor Wah Chang was employed to create some of the monsters heads, most notably 'The Zanti Misfits' a race of alien insects who were moved across the picture by use of stop motion photography. A number of the monsters reappeared in the first series of 'Star Trek.' The series' influences didn't stop there because Dominic Frontiere's dramatic score for it were later re-used in two other ABC series, 'The Invaders' and 'The Fugitive.'
Guest stars were also prevalent throughout the series and Stefano continued with his knack of discovering new talent. Robert Duvall, David McCallum, Martin Landau, Barry Morse, Carroll O'Connor, Adam West, Sally Kellerman, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Robert Culp had early TV outings while established stars such as Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Eddie Albert and Sam Wanamaker also appeared.
The critics were not so kind about the show and many found the monsters laughable. The viewers were of a different opinion and 'The Outer Limits' quickly climbed high in the all-important ratings. It was enough for ABC to order a second season. However, and to Stefano's dismay, the series was rescheduled to Saturday night opposite the hugely popular 'The Jackie Gleason Show' in order to accommodate Irwin Allen's first TV series 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' in the Monday night slot - one which Stefano believed was especially receptive to science fiction fans. Stefano resigned and ABC bought in Ben Brady who switched the emphasis of 'The Outer Limits' from horror to sci-fi. The series continued to do well under Brady's stewardship and went on to win two Hugo awards, but the severe beating it was receiving by 'Jackie Gleason' quickly numbered its days and 'The Outer Limits' was unceremoniously cancelled mid-season.
Stefano went to CBS and tried to sell them a series starring Martin Landau called 'Haunted' but the network thought better of it. Leslie Stevens continued writing for a number of US TV series such as 'It Takes a Thief,' 'The Virginian' and 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.' After an aborted attempt to bring back 'The Outer Limits' in the early eighties a new series finally turned up on our screen in 1995. It had a chequered history. Made by Trilogy Productions (the company behind 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'), it ran on the pay-tv channel Showtime before appearing in syndication the following year and until 2001 when the US Sci Fi Channel took over production. It lasted until 2002 by which time another 154 episodes were added to the original 48. Joseph Stefano contributed one more episode in 1997.
In Britain, the series was originally screened on ITV in 1964, when Granada Television broadcast 34 episodes. And although it did receive a limited run on a number of other ITV regions, it wasn't until 1981, when BBC2 transmitted the entire 48 episodes that the series attained a much belated but fully deserved comprehensive transmission.
Stylish, moody, intelligent and exciting, the original version of 'The Outer Limits' was a polished, professional and still delightfully imaginative example of the science fiction anthology at its very best.
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