Irwin Allen produced some of the most colorful and entertaining television programs of all time. Personally, I'm much more fond of his brand of science-fiction as opposed to the more (supposedly) serious fare like Star Trek (the original series) or the 1990's crop of sci-fi junk food.
A proud and stubborn proponent of style over substance, Allen had at least one sci-fi series on the air every year from 1964-1970. In 1966 alone, he filled three hours of network programming a week with his offbeat brand of whimsy.
IT WAS THE SIXTIES
It's interesting to note that the more sci-fi shows Irwin Allen produced, the less imaginative they got. Still, they were enjoyable to watch because of the flawless casting and colorful sets, props and nutty devices. The special effects were especially good for the time period.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a genuinely dark, moody spy drama blended with fantastic undersea scenes. Before long, werewolves, toy robots and leprechauns roamed the halls of the Seaview.
Lost in Space started out as a straight drama revolving around an American family stranded on a hostile planet. In 1966, CBS execs insisted the show become more comedic and 'camp' to compete with the higher-rated Batman on ABC. Enter the interplanetary Vikings, space department stores and bizarro carrot people.
Time Tunnel was perhaps the best of the lot, at least the first episode was. But it too quickly degenerated into alien invasions topped off with laughable historical gaffes.
While ABC was content renewing Voyage for a fifth season, Allen knew the formula was well-worn. In late-1967, he put together a 7-minute film to show ABC execs what he had in mind for a replacement - Lost in Space lightly re-concepted as Land of the Giants.
Land of the Giants was a one-hook premise - seven people trapped in a land of much bigger people surrounded by huge ferns. It was Gilligan's Island meets Lost in Space without the fun.
ABC was naturally interested; after all, CBS had initially given the green light to a fourth season of Lost in Space in 1968. The show was only yanked from the fall schedule at the last minute. "The ratings were still quite good," Irwin Allen told a reporter. "There was no really good reason for the show to be cancelled."
To further enhance the new show's obvious derivative nature, the Land of the Giants promo film utilized stock FX shots of the Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space, including exciting color footage of the spaceship crash landing that was never before broadcast. The presentation was slick and ABC liked what they saw. Land of the Giants, possibly one of the worst sci-fi series ever, ran for two years in the Sunday night at seven timeslot.
With Land of the Giants a solid player on ABC, Allen was hopeful that he could replace the now-canceled Lost in Space with his 'new' idea for 1969-70 - The Man from the 25th Century.
A seventeen-minute pilot film was made to show what the program would be like, but this pitch looked more like a rejected episode idea for Lost in Space than a fully realized weekly series concept.
The Man from the 25th Century was to have starred James Darren (Time Tunnel) as an earthling stolen as an infant and raised by aliens for an evil purpose. John Crawford, who played aliens and weirdoes on all of Irwin Allen's previous series, was cast as Darren's interplanetary boss with the big head.
In the lightweight premise, aliens supercharge their human captive and return him to earth to prepare for their coming invasion. The series description adds, "It is the eerily horrifying tale of Ando, our nearest planetary neighbor, who's source of power is being used far more quickly than it can be created and whose need to attack Earth and replenish such power is of the highest priority." What's 'eerily horrifying' is Allen's apparent lack of astrological knowledge after a decade of producing science-fiction programs.
The pilot film begins with James Darren facing an alien tribunal. They test his readiness for earth infiltration by asking him tough questions and having him fight, mano y mano, with an opponent. Allen held the quaint notion that American kids wanted to see lots of running, jumping and fighting in their sci-fi programs. Unfortunately, these elements generally fell in the place of plot, dialogue and believability.
The aliens instruct their super-powered drone that he must go forth and stop Earth's Project Delphi. "If any seek to hinder you, they must be destroyed!" People are never about to be killed in Irwin Allen productions, they must always be 'destroyed' for some reason.
Darren arrives on Earth via the Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space; the pilot utilized footage of the space craft from that series' first episode along with new scenes using existing set pieces.
Safely on Earth (one of the few times the Jupiter 2 didn't crash land, let's face it), Darren drives out of the spaceship in his waiting banana yellow Corvair convertible to cruise the countryside. If Allen had stopped here, he might have had a decent show - a sci-fi version of Route 66. But alas, there was more.
Inexplicably, the aliens spent decades training Darren, but neglected to tell him much about his mission. He is totally taken off-guard when he is instructed to drive into a mountain and discover his role on Earth's most top-secret installation. Project Delphi (shades of Time Tunnel) is a so-called 'Radial Umbrella' force field that is meant to protect our world from alien invaders - not unlike the current U.S. "Star Wars" missile shield scheme.
The Delphi folks give Darren the grand tour, and, after another round of hand-to-hand combat, Darren approaches the outer door of the Jupiter 2, representing the Umbrella's command center. The whole production has a hopelessly fifties look and feel to it, with rows of leftover Korean War-era military computers along the wall and surplus military uniforms on the extras.
A slightly modified Jupiter 2 interior was the setting for a round of flying fists and computers that fitfully exploded when someone brushed up against them. Can you imagine the daily fireworks spectacle if Irwin Allen had gone to work for Bill Gates designing home computers? Come to think of it, maybe he did...
Darren is captured and the aliens, seeing this, immediately drop their plans, sending a space craft to kill him and everyone in the complex instead. Accepting his fate, Darren finally sees how heartless his alien captors really are when they unnecessarily destroy a gas station on the outskirts of town. "Now who are the cruel and ruthless children!?!" the leader of Project Delphi cries.
The commander yelled, "Activate! Activate!" with all his might, but the Time Tunnel - er - Radial Umbrella failed to do the job. That should be no surprise, Irwin Allen's machinery never worked properly and very often exploded every damn time they were switched on! Probably built by Haliburton, with spare parts from Tyco...
Remotivated, Darren switches sides and easily defeats his alien masters. Suddenly, everyone disappears and Darren is alone, facing an emotionless duplicate of himself - that he must fight hand-to-hand, of course - accompanied by a cacophony of exploding computer modules. After the two guys bounce around the room to yet another fireworks display, everyone suddenly reappears and Darren ominously warns of battles to come.
When the Delphi commander asks what just happened, Darren can only reply, "It's beyond your ability to comprehend." That seemed to be the Irwin Allen attitude all too often when it came to plot resolutions. Things just happened, that's all - and then they stopped happening.
The show's bible suggested that, "Each week, the non-humans from Ando arrive in flying saucers and create havoc on Earth. Each week the earthlings, aided by the man from the 25th century and his weaponry, succeed in dissuading the enemy."
By blending familiar Allen themes (literally and figuratively, the musical score was by Allen's longtime composer John Williams), The Man from the 25th Century promised to be an unsatisfying mishmash of Irwin Allen clichés with no coherent concept to hang the whole thing on.
CBS ultimately did not pick up this series, for obvious reasons; not the least being that, besides ripping off his own shows, this premise also closely resembled The Invaders (ABC, 1967-68).
Producer Irwin Allen (1916 – 1991) was nicknamed "The Master of Disaster."
Irwin Allen was responsible for these TV series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964–1968), Lost in Space (1965–1968), The Time Tunnel (1966–1967), Land of the Giants (1967–1970) and The Swiss Family Robinson (1975–1976).
Matte paintings were combined with actors to create the illusion of space ships and a Delphi complex for Man From the 25th Century.
FX footage from Time Tunnel
was used in this pilot as well.
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