Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pilot erroR - Roddenberrys Fails...

TV Writer/Producer Gene Roddenberry is best known as the man who created Star Trek, which, although initially not thought of too highly, went on to become one of the most successful sci-fi franchises of all time.

Star Trek was not Roddenberrys only attempt at creating a Sci-Fi universe though, and during the 1970s he had many ideas for other TV shows, most of which were given the go ahead for a pilot to be filmed....Unfortunately, it is difficult to beleive that the creator of Star Treks subsequent TV projects all ended in failure, as all of them failed to recapture the recognition that Star Trek had garnered for itself, and thus, most of them ended up being put down as mere footnotes in TV history.
It wasn't until the 1990s that any of Roddenberrys ideas hit the small screen again, and then only airing after his death in 1991.

Genesis II (CBS 1973)
Its a bit like -  Buck Rogers in the 24th Century, Stargate SG-1

Premise -
In 1979, scientist Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord ) volunteers to be the first human to undergo an experimental suspended animation procedure, intended to be used for deep space flights at some point in the future.
He is successfully placed in stasis, however rather than being asleep for a mere 7 days, he instead awakens to find it is the year 2133, and the Earth as he knew it has ceased to exist following a global nuclear war.

Plot of Pilot -
Following his awakening, Dylan finds himself amongst a community of people who call themselves "Pax", who are the descendants of scientific personnel that managed to escape the war by hiding in underground bunkers. The people of Pax tell Dylan that they dedicate their lives to rediscovering the knowledge of the past and using it for peaceful exploratory purposes.
The people of Pax are strange to Hunt, as they live in a true meritocracy with full equality between males and females, to the point at which there are literally no distinctions between them (this is referred to in the show as "unisex"). This has led to a decreased birth rate amongst them, however some of the older members of the society note that the younger members have begun returning to "the old ways" (that is, to pursue heterosexual relationships and begin reproduction via sexual means).
Hunt is persuaded by Lyra-A, a woman who comes from an area which was formerly known as Phoenix, Arizona (The people of Pax are said to occasionally allow "outsiders" to enter their society, provided that they adhere to Pax's strict laws regarding non-violence), to leave Pax and travel with her via sub-shuttle, a series of underground high speed trains constructed in the 1970s to counter air terrorism, back to her homeland to repair their failing nuclear fission reactor, as none of her people know how to fix it, but do know that if it breaks down completely, it will cause a disaster. Lyra-A explains that her people, the Tyranians, pleaded with Pax to assist them, as Pax is the only place that has the right knowledge to fix it, but they refused, Lyra then lies to Hunt and tells him that the people of Pax are tyrants who want to conquer the world using their advanced science and knowledge of ancient weapons.
Dylan fixes the reactor, but is then horrified to learn that the rulers of Tyrania intend to use the power generated from it to reactivate and launch several ICBMs they have in their posession. Hunt manages to escape and sabotages the reactor so it explodes before the mutants can begin attacking their enemies, but the ruling council of Pax, whom he returns to once he has learned the error of his ways, explain that they knew that the Tyranians had access to the weapons, and they knew that should their reactor be fixed, they would immediately begin attacking people, thus setting in motion another war which would finally kill everyone on Earth. Knowing that Hunt was unaware of this, and had been tricked, they make him promise to never again use his knowledge of science or the past to harm another life form, to which he agrees. Hunt is then assigned to an exploration team and begins his new life rediscovering the reborn Earth.

Why did it fail?
This project failed quite simply because the TV people didn't like it, both because they found the storyline to be uninteresting, and because the series special effects budget would have been quite high.
The premise of this series is similar to Star Trek in many ways, as each week we would have seen Dylans exploration team visit a different region of Earth and interact with any people they found there. Roddenberry had already created several draft ideas for episodes when he submitted his original idea for consideration, but many of the plots were pretty much samey-wamey with the only variations being that each "new" people that the team met would be similar to but different from civilisations we are already familiar with.

Although I quite liked Genesis II, It didnt really have enough entertainment factor for it to be considered for a full series. The limitation placed on it by having Pax be a totally pacifist society would seriously hamper the chances of any action scenes, and, like Star Trek Voyager ended up being, most of the series' "drama" would come from long scientific and/or philosophical discussions between the main cast members, something which 1970s television wasn't really interested in.

Overall - 5/10

Planet Earth (ABC 1974)
Its a bit like -  Genesis II, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek

Premise -
In the year 2133, the people of Pax, one of the few cities to have survived world war 3, send out teams of explorers to make peaceful contact with other surviving communities so they can rebuild and reacquire scientific knowledge. One of these teams is led by Dylan Hunt, a man who was revived by Pax after being placed in stasis in the late 20th century, the series follows their adventures in the post apocalyptic Earth.

Plot of pilot -
Dylan Hunt (now played by John Saxon ) leads his team into the wilderness in search of a missing doctor, whom they need to perform a very delicate operation on a high ranking member of Paxs ruling council, who was injured during a conflict with the Kreegs, a race of warlike mutant humans descended from the military survivors of the war.
They find the trail leads to a small country which calls itself "The Confederacy of Ruth", a society which has adopted a matriarchal model and where men are treated as little more than beasts of burden.
Two members of Dylans team, The former savage Isiah (Ted Cassidy), and field medic Baylock go missing while attempting to make contact with the people of the Confederacy, so, Dylan and his remaining team member, the woman Harper-Smythe, infiltrate the settlement by masquerading as a woman with her male property looking to leave Pax and settle in Ruth.
The pair run in to Marg, one of the rulers of the Confederacy, who challenges Harper-Smythe to a fight and wins, thus taking possession of Hunt.
Hunt is placed into a slave pen, where all the males, referred to by the women as "Dinks", are kept prior too being sold to other mistresses. Hunt finds Isiah and Baylock, but they seem to be drugged in some fashion, being absolutely terrified whenever he tries to speak to them, it is only by way of using Baylocks latent telepathic ability that he finds that the food the men are given is drugged with something that induces terror in the men, this way Hunt manages to avoid eating any of the drugged food he is later served, and manages to fool the mistresses into thinking he has been "trained".
Marg decides to keep Hunt for use as breeding stock, as for several year snow, the Confederacy of Ruth has suffered from a decline in the number of pregnancies, as more and more of the men they have there become sterile for some unknown reason, Hunt notices that one of Margs slaves is the man they are looking for, and finds out from him that the reason the men are becoming sterile is because of the drug they are given to keep them docile, but, he has found an antidote for it but has as yet had no opportunity to be able to distribute it amongst the men.
Hunt tricks Marg into getting drunk and passing out while she is attempting to seduce him, having led her to believe that back in Pax, he has several wives and has fathered over a dozen children. Hunt then assists in putting the antidote into the food intended for the men, so that all the men are no longer in a permanent state of terror.
Meanwhile, Harper-Smythe has managed to ingratiate herself into Confederate society, and wins Hunt back after challenging Marg to a duel. Hunt explains what he has learned and they agree to organise a mass break out the next day, however it doesnt go according to plan as the Confederacy comes under attack by a group of marauding Kreegs, who decided to pick on the town because they knew that the men wouldn't fight back, and the women were too few in number to effect any resistance.
By the time they launch their attack though, all of the towns men have received the antidote, and much to the Kreegs surprise, they find themselves being attacked by the towns men, while most of the women stand back surprised as they never thought the men would fight for them, seeing them only as being savages fit only for work or breeding.
The Kreegs are successfully repelled, Hunt manages to get the doctor back to Pax, where he carries out the surgery, and the men of the Confederacy decide to stay and continue their lives, but this time free from being drugged or abused.

Why did it Fail?
Roddenberry, still smarting from being told that "Genesis II" was boring, reworked one of his draft scripts, titled "Poodle Parlour", into this show, adding on more action oriented scenes and even including the Klingon-like Kreegs to act as an enemy for Dylan and his team.
Unfortunately though this change did little to increase the shows charm. Dylan Hunt was changed from being an "action-scientist" to being "budget Captain Kirk", and the remainder of his team were of little significance, except maybe Isiah, who did get a little bit of backstory thrown in in the opening scenes to explain why he, a "savage" was welcome amongst the people of Pax.
At the time the show aired, the "Womens Liberation" movement was quite vocal in their campaign for gender equality in the western world, and many viewers sort of objected to womens depiction on screen as being little more than ignorant tyrants who treated men as indentured slaves. Hunts famous line "Is this womens lib?, or womens lib gone mad?", which was seen by many as being an insult to women and supporters of gender equality, while some pointed out that the Kreegs spoke and acted in a way that seemed to mimic a stereotypical "African savage", as the Kreegs would speak in a series of gutteral grunts and were completely obsessed with destruction.
Another factor in its downfall was again, a high budget required for special effects and makeup appliances, as actors playing the Kreegs would all require to have bony headpieces applied and their skin darkened.
All in all though, the show wasn't too bad, but would never have really worked as a TV series for the same reason that its earlier incarnation, Genesis II, wouldn't have worked, but it was better than Genesis II insofar as it is actually entertaining to watch in places, and not scene after scene of science bits and philosophical dilemmas and so on. 
Overall - 7/10

 Strange New World (Warner Brothers TV - 1975)

Premise -
In the late 20th century, a scientific organisation named "Pax" launches a space station into orbit, its purpose, to test a suspended animation process by placing 3 people into stasis for 18 days.
3 days into the mission, Pax observers spot a swarm of meteors heading directly for Earth, so they move the space station into a deeper orbit, lasting 180 years, and extend the stasis period to cover that time. The meteors impact the planet, causing the worst natural disaster to ever occur during human history, however, some people, including the families of the three people in space, are placed into stasis in Paxs underground bunker, to await the return of the three space travellers.

Plot of Pilot -
Astronaut Anthony Vico (John Saxon), together with navigator/communications officer Alison Crowley and medical Doctor William Scott are revived and informed as to what has happened while they have been in stasis. They are given the instructions to return to Earth and make their way to the Pax headquarters to revive the survivors, if any, that they find there.
The disaster has left Earth a changed planet, completely wiping out all civilisations and countries that occupied it previously, and leaving only a handful of survivors.
After landing, the three travellers begin their journey using an advanced 6 wheeled all terrain vehicle, and come across a society of people who model themselves somewhat on ancient Rome, who also claim to have discovered the secret of eternal youth. They are however, much more sinister as they have perfected cloning, thus allowing them to replace organs at will, not only that, but they also use their own clones as slave labour.
The next people they meet on their travels are people descended from zookeepers, who now worship and protect the animals their ancestors watched over from tribes of marauding humans who hunt animals for food and sport.

Why did it fail?
Of the three "Pax Trilogy" pilots, this was the only one which Gene Roddenberry had no direct involvement in creating. Warner Brothers, who now owned the "Pax" series concept, decided to give it one last go and completely reworked the format, keeping very little from the original premise.
What remained, and what eventually aired was a poorly conceived "adventure" type show in which the team of "heroes" searched for the "lost" Pax HQ, encountering a new adversary each week, pretty similar to any number of other shows that were on at the time.
The production itself was riddled with cheapo special effects, poor acting, terrible dialogue and flimsy formulaic plots which were neither interesting nor entertaining to watch.

Its a shame that a solid concept as this ended up as a simple run of the mill TV show full of cliches, bargain basement effects and boring plots. After this show aired, the Pax concept was discarded completely by Roddenberry as "unworkable", although many people have noted that the subsequent "Logans Run" TV series did indeed have many similarities to "Strange New World".
Overall - 3/10

The Questor Tapes (NBC 1974)

Premise -
Dr. Vaslovik had a dream to build the worlds first super realistic android, however, just as his dream was reaching fruition, he disappeared without trace.
His team complete the assembly of the android, however their inability to understand the robots programming causes them to erase most of the data left behind on a series of program tapes.
They try and activate the robot using a substitute program they wrote themselves, but are unsuccessful, so in a last ditch attempt to get it working, they input the remains of the original tape, which again appears to fail, causing them to abandon the project.
However, when the android is left alone, it suddenly activates, and, after making cosmetic changes to itself so that it can pass for human, it begins to wonder what its purpose is.

Plot of pilot -
Questor, as the android names itself, has fragmented memories of what it is supposed to do, left over from its original programming. It knows it must find Dr. Vaslovik, and that his location has something to do with a boat. The problem is that Questors nuclear power source, located in his stomach, will explode within a week if he is not reunited with his creator.
Questors investigations eventually lead him to mount Ararat, where he is reunited with Vaslovik, who reveals himself to be another android, one of many in a line left behind by "The Masters" to act as a guardian of mankind. Each android has a lifespan measured in centuries, and at the end of its lifetime, it must build a replacement and "pass on the torch" of responsibility, as it were. Questor takes on the mantle and begins his quest to help mankind move towards a peaceful existence.

Why did it fail?
Oddly, "The Questor Tapes" was actually greenlit for a full series before the pilot had even aired on TV, however, the series never happened, simply because NBC demanded numerous changes be made to the shows format, and then further causing insult by saying that the show was scheduled to air on friday nights at 10pm, a time slot which is considered to be a "death slot" for any TV program put in it (the 3rd series of Star Trek was placed in this time slot, and suffered horribly because of it).Roddenberry refused to make any of the changed demanded by the networks and after the timeslot was announced, he quit the production. Without him at the helm, the series fell through.
Although the premise itself was sound, the formula of having an "outsider" shepard mankind towards its destiny had already been tried out in the backdoor pilot episode of Star Trek named "Assignment: Earth" and had similarities to Doctor Who.

Overall - 6/10

Spectre (1977)

Premise -
William Sebastian is a Criminologist who during one of his cases ends up being cursed by the demon Asmodeus. The result of this curse is that he requires constant medical attention. Lucklily, Sebastians friend Dr. Hamilton is on hand to provide him with medical assistance whenever he needs it, thus leaving Sebastian free to continue solving cases related to the occult in the hopes that he will find a cure for the curse.

Plot of pilot -
While investigating a case on behalf of the Cyon family, Sebastian is attacked by a succubus, whom he defeats. This leads him to further investigate the family in their ancestral home in London.
Every step of the way, Sebastian and Hamilton are beseeched by supernatural entities who commit several murders in order to stop anyone investigating the family.
The pair eventually find a hidden temple dedicated to the demon Asmodeus and defeat him, thus removing Sebastians curse.

Why did it fail?
At the time the pilot was proposed, occult detective fiction was quite popular, however, due to this, numerous other pitches were made in a similar vein, many of which never made it into production.
By the time the filming of a pilot had been greenlit, it was already obvious that the pilot wouldnt be picked up for series, so instead the script was reworked into a standalone film, with the hopes that maybe it would become a series. Although the finished film was released at cinemas, it didnt do too well, being as that the main characters were basically Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in everything but name, and the story was bland and uninteresting, having pretty much been done to death before.
One item of note is that the UK theatrical release of the film featured a "black mass" scene at the end of the film, which included full frontal nudity, this section of the film was edited out for US release.

Overall - 5/10


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