Tag Archives: NBC

“A fascinating subject, the Bermuda Triangle is like the ‘open sesame’.  It was there as a doorway into an infinite number of stories that had to do with the imagination more than anything.”
–Executive Producer Bruce Lansbury

There have been many ships and planes “lost” in what is known as “the Bermuda Triangle,” a mysterious area of the Caribbean just south of the US, with unexplained phenomena and unusual happenings.  At least, that’s the way it was back in the ’70’s, when imaginations ran wild with ideas of various people being transported to who knows where, or even who knows when.  While it was always a wonder about where they ended up, one show in the ’70’s decided to use those concepts to tell stories about all sorts of possible destinations.  On this show, it was all about The Fantastic Journey.

The (ultimate) cast of The Fantastic Journey

The Fantastic Journey aired 10 episodes on NBC beginning in 1976.  The initial pilot concerned a small group of scientists exploring the questions of the Bermuda Triangle, and becoming part of the unknown themselves when their sailing vessel is swallowed up by a mysterious green cloud (and you KNOW it’s mysterious because it’s GREEN, such easy television shorthand that it got used in a similar show a decade later).  The passengers awaken on an island, shipwrecked, unable to contact the mainland, and wondering how to survive.

Included are Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), a doctor just graduated out of school, who was acting as the medical advisor for the group.  He is joined by young Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann), the son of the scientist in charge of the expedition, and a history buff whose inquisitive nature sometimes causes problems.

These two meet up with Varian (Jared Martin), who first appears to them as an Arawak Indian, but he’s actually in disguise.  While the island they’re on apparently is somewhere in the 16th century, complete with renegade pirates, Varian is actually from the year 2260, and is just as stranded as Dr. Walters and Scott.  A pacifist by nature and belief, he uses a “Sonic Energizer” to focus his thoughts and do everything from heal injuries to open locked doors and create explosions.  (Think of Doctor Who‘s “sonic screwdriver”, except it looks like a fancy tuning fork.)

While there were others who survived the wreck, they didn’t survive the pilot, as some characters (including Scott’s father) were “lucky” enough to be sent home, as the initial episode was “adjusted” to eliminate them, leaving only Varian, Dr. Walters and Scott.

“The original idea was to go both directions in time.  In the pilot we had gone back in time.  NBC didn’t like that.  They said the past was boring and that we should only go forward in time.  But we couldn’t go out and shoot another pilot.  They decided to find some way to shoot some new footage about the future and insert it.  Also, the pilot was two hours long and they wanted to show it in an hour-and-a-half time slot as an extra-long episode to kick off the series.  So all these things were going on.”
–Jared Martin

Varian becomes the de facto leader of the small band, and he tells them the island they’re on houses many different times and places, all at once, and their way home lies somewhere in a place called “Evoland” many “time zones” away.  Their first journey after the pilot leads them away from the 16th century into a place called Atlantium, where they gain another traveler (or, really, two).

Liana and Varian

Liana (Katie Saylor) is a woman with an unusual heritage, said to be the daughter of an extraterrestrial mother who joined with her human father.  Deceptively strong due to her mixed parentage, she also possesses increased mental abilities, including telepathic skills.  She utilizes these with her pet, Sil-el, who appears to us as a cat (but quite possibly could be something more).  Liana doesn’t trust the new government of Atlantium (nor should she, honestly), so she decides to join Varian and company on her own search for home.

Varian, Dr.Willoway, and guest Joan Collins in the episode "Turnabout"

The next stop of the group, in the third episode, picks up another member for their journey.  Dr. Jonathan Willoway (Roddy McDowall) is a scientist from the 1960’s, but years ahead in pure scientific knowledge.  Trapped in a world of androids, he sees the group as a way to avoid his confinement and, although he has few skills to get along with other humans, he becomes a reluctant addition to the party.

At least initially, Willoway inhabits the “villain” role in stories, due to his selfishness and inability to relate to the others.  While at first this plays more like the comedic Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, McDowall’s talents (and some extensive script work) create a much more likable character in later episodes.  While there are still opposing views in place (Varian’s pacifist nature, Scott’s inquisitiveness, Liana’s non-human values), the group goes on together for the good of all.

“When I first brought it to the network, they kept trying to hammer it into a science fiction mold.  It was originally called The Incredible Island where all things could happen and did, you know, and it was a place where you could tell all kinds of stories, just as Serling did in Twilight Zone.  And basically we ended up doing that.  We didn’t do sci-fi at all. I leaned towards science fantasy, which permits you to a broader range of story and it pushes the imagination a little more than pure science fiction.  Science fiction tends to become the victim of rules and regulations and what has been done before and a categorization process.  That happens in science fiction.  Science fantasy allows you to express yourself in any way you want to as long as it opens the mind.”
–Bruce Lansbury

The world of Atlantium

It also makes telling stories much easier when you don’t have pesky rules around to get in the way.  Lansbury’s original idea was much more based in historical settings, although futuristic ones were possible.  As a history buff, Scott was going to be one of the sources for information, as was Dr. Walters for his medical knowledge.  But in a purely science fiction/fantasy premise, characters with advanced ideas were needed, especially when their explanations could be adjusted for story purposes; hence, the addition of Liana and Dr. Willoway to the group.

All those changes would suppose the series was about the characters themselves.  Perhaps that would have been more true if The Fantastic Journey had lasted longer than a mere 10 episodes.  But initially, the series was about the amazing places the group would discover as they made their way towards Evoland and, possibly, a way home.  It was not about significant character growth.

“The difference between doing something like this and doing a contemporary show is that everybody knows the whole typical format, the whole set; they know the stereotypes — they know everything — whereas, when you’re talking about something futurist, that’s fantasy.  You have to create that atmosphere for them.  You’ve got to make them believe that place.  More than anything else, they’ve got to get a feel of the place that you’re talking about.”
–Carl Franklin

There’s a good reason the show’s title is The Fantastic Journey.  It’s really about all the places they went, and the cultures they encountered.  While I admit freely that I may have been a bit disparaging of this series at one time (especially when I discussed a similar series, Otherworld), more recently I’ve discovered something that’s true about many shows:  different shows balance character and context in vastly different ways.  Two shows (like The Fantastic Journey and Otherworld in this example) might be very similar in premise, but they can be light years apart in execution.  And while I may like one over the other, for reasons of personal preference, they can both be successful at what they wanted to do.  I came to see The Fantastic Journey in a new, better light, simply because I realized it wasn’t about the characters, and my desires for their growth.  It really was about the journey… and showing the journey is exactly what the show set out to do.

A "women's liberation" story in scantily clad costumes. Of course. Welcome to the '70's.

The world encountered might be one filled with only children, or an examination of violence among a society of pacifists, or the old SF saw about a world run by only women and the idea of “male liberation.”  Each world was used to portray, through both the world itself and the reaction of our “outsider” characters, different points of view in a dramatic context.  And although the 1970’s view of “right” often prevailed, there’s enough shown from the more futuristic characters to see that there might be better ways to approach things than what existed in the past.

Because of this emphasis on message over character, individual advancement and growth of the regulars became pushed to the background, to the detriment of some very good actors.  But hopefully the actors knew that going in, simply because the stated premise of the show wasn’t about them, but what they encountered.  If it was just about the characters, Lansbury and company might have just kept the original cast from the pilot and gone on from there, but they didn’t.  They assembled points of view instead.

“Coming out of the pilot, we dropped two characters and acquired two more.  We acquired a girl from Atlantium and we acquired Dr. Willoway.  They were to balance a cast with Ike Eisenmann’s character and the black doctor, and it worked out in Varian who was a musician who healed with music.  And he was a very popular character incidentally.  But basically it was looking for a balance that would give us stories that went in every direction.  We always had a villain, so that you saw the darker side of human nature, and the better side of human nature hopefully always prevailed.  We overcame that dark side and looked to a future which was brighter.”
–Bruce Lansbury

There’s a balance on most shows between “character” and “situation,” and each show on television weighs that balance differently.  Some shows lean heavily toward the “character” side of the equation, and that’s where I believed Otherworld thrived, even when their premise and the “civilization of the week” ideas of The Fantastic Journey held much in common.  But I’ve since realized both shows succeed on their own merits, simply because The Fantastic Journey, even in its title, set out to be about the trip and not the people involved.  I criticized the show for having characters as ciphers, merely to set out different points of view for each society they met… and yet, since that was the actual goal, the creators and actors really did do their jobs admirably.  In my limited view, I just thought, initially, that it should be a different job.

But I was wrong.  Even the labors involved in the recasting (which took three episodes of the series to accomplish) showed that the producers were more interested in exploring the ideas inherent in the portrayed societies than in our characters’ growth.  Their character reactions were interesting, certainly, but served a wider canvas than just the effects upon their person.   The commentary on each society was designed to show the characters from our own time a new and sometimes better place.  That commentary also meant to show the “future” characters that those from our time might actually have gotten something right, something they may have lost in their attempts at enlightenment.  We current-day humans may not have all the answers, but we’ve got a few good ideas, and we’re willing to both teach and learn from the future.

And I’m willing to learn, too.  It’s all part of The Fantastic Journey.

In a search for answers to the Bermuda Triangle, Dr. Walters and Scott found an entire world full of ideas, choices, and discoveries to experience, and others joined them in their travels searching for their own solutions.  And while The Fantastic Journey was about those larger notions, the most important one was ultimately finding their way back, utilizing the differences and strengths of each other to help in their own travels.  And together, through all these wonderful experiences, they might actually find their way home, and learn something along the way.

CARL FRANKLIN (Dr. Fred Walters) was a guest star on many shows in the ’80’s, most notably as a recurring character chasing The A-Team.  He’s focused primarily on directing since the early ’90’s, most recently with an episode of Falling Skies this past season.  As a director and screenwriter, he (and the film) won multiple awards for Devil in a Blue Dress, a film noir set in the late ’40’s featuring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle.

IKE EISENMANN (Scott Jordan) is well-known to genre fans as Cadet Peter Preston in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and made his mark starring in the original Disney films Escape from Witch Mountain and the sequel Return to Witch Mountain.  In later years, he worked in post-production roles on many animated and live-action projects, both becoming a sound engineer and lending his voice to occasional characters.

JARED MARTIN (Varian) first came to prominence in The Fantastic Journey, but he’d appeared in many series previously, including The Rookies, Night Gallery, and Columbo.  He’s best known to the public at large for his recurring role as “Dusty” Farlow on Dallas, and was one of the leading fan suspects for the famous “Who shot J.R.?” plot (even though the producers hadn’t considered him at the time!)  He starred in the television version of War of the Worlds, and later created the Big Picture Alliance, helping introduce inner city youth in Philadelphia to filmmaking and production, a task he was heavily involved with for the next 15 years.

KATIE SAYLOR (Liana) had appeared on Police Story and Cannon prior to her role on The Fantastic Journey.  She unfortunately became severely ill during production of the series, forcing her to bow out of the final two episodes, and her recovery apparently took approximately a year.  She retired from the acting business as a result of her health issues, and reportedly passed away due to cancer in 1991.

RODDY McDOWALL (Dr. Jonathan Willoway) was featured on this site for his lead role on the televised version of Planet of the Apes, portraying a similar character to the ones he’d played in the original feature film series.  Popular and well-mannered, he’s remembered as one of Hollywood’s last real gentleman stars, and his collection of early film and television memorabilia now is kept by the Motion Picture Academy (the people who give out the Oscars).  Willoway was actually written specifically to interest McDowall in the part, as the producers wanted him to join their series… and after reading the script, he did!

The Fantastic Journey is unavailable as a commercial DVD, so the bootleg route is the only reasonable way to see them all.  The opening is available on YouTube, as are a few episodes (in chunks, of course).  The show itself is well-remembered by many, even though it lasted a relatively short time, and there’s a great fan site here with information on the series stars, episodes, and a few articles published during the original run.

Ready for the next journey

“For the near future, at any rate, I think the future of science fiction will be in the movies, not on TV., which is sad.  The people who most need to be educated are the ones who don’t go to films, who sit at home, turn on the TV set, and absorb anything that comes their way.”
–Jared Martin, on the demise of The Fantastic Journey

Oddly enough, the above quote comes from Martin in early April of 1977, not quite two months before the original Star Wars opened in movie theaters and Hollywood (and science fiction) were changed forever.  Perhaps if The Fantastic Journey had held on a bit longer, it might have been part of the fans’ journey as well, towards a new and different world for both the series and for science fiction and fantasy in general.  An unexpected enlightenment waited just a bit farther down the road.

And maybe that is the ultimate purpose of any journey, whether it’s one of a televised nature or a personal one.  Those that feel the goal is the nebulous idea of “enlightenment” sometimes forget that it’s not really a goal per se.  Enlightenment is never really fully achieved, but it’s the path taken to get there that brings us home, full of fresh ideas and wonder.  And that’s what all the characters in The Fantastic Journey were really after, once you look at it that way.  All any of them wanted was their own version of enlightenment, their own way home.

Vital Stats

10 episodes — none unaired (although a rumored 11th script, Romulus, is apparently out there)
NBC Network
First aired episode:  February 3, 1977 (90-minute pilot)
Final aired episode:  June 17, 1977 (airing two months after the regular run of the series ended in April)
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, the series normal timeslot was Thursdays at 8/7, up against hits The Waltons and Welcome Back, Kotter.  The journey to ratings success was troublesome to begin with.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“Most writers don’t know how to write for us.  They either think we’re The Waltons or Father Knows Best.”
–Ronny Cox

Especially during the holidays, life can get a little crazy.  Things to do, people to see, errands to run, and coordinating schedules and trying to be everywhere at once just emphasizes our hurried lifestyles these days.  The more commercialized aspects of gift-giving (and gift shopping) remind us of the harried nature of life.  Of course, for many these days, it’s just adding crazy on top of crazy, in a life already going at a breakneck speed.  Sometimes, a person just has to put a stop to it all, and find a place to slow down and discover a simpler way.

Hollywood is no different, except that the pace there is almost always on fast-forward, and holidays add even more stress and complication to life in the fast lane.  And yet, there’s always a desire for many to find a way to return to a simpler existence, to slow down the rat race and find a different path.  Of course, sometimes people are just forced to deal with the craziness, no matter how simple they want their lives to be.  Two different shows dealt with these ideas, each in their own manner.  But they both came to the same conclusion.

The first was the 1974 CBS series Apple’s Way.  From The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Apple’s Way told the story of George Apple (Ronny Cox), the father of a family of six, who moved his brood from the hectic pace of Los Angeles back to Appleton, Iowa, the small town he grew up in.  Founded by his ancestors (hence the Appleton moniker), it promised a much more relaxed way of life for the architect and his family… if only they could get used to it.

George’s wife Barbara reluctantly went along with this move, although she wasn’t initially sold on the whole idea of uprooting her family and moving to what they considered “the middle of nowhere”.  But she loved George, and knew the surroundings would likely be good for the kids (whether they believed it or not).  So the family packed up and went to live in a converted old grist mill, complete with waterwheel and “old mill pond”  (because, of course, that’s Hollywood’s idea of “small town”, even in the ’70’s).

While George and Barbara got used to the more rustic surroundings, the kids had their own problems.  Accustomed to a life where friends are just around the corner and things to do are more plentiful, the adjustment to rural Iowa from big-city Los Angeles was more than a bit of culture shock.  But slowly, older teen Paul (Vincent Van Patten), sister Cathy (Patti Cohoon), and youngsters Steven (Eric Olson) and Patricia (Frannie Michel for the first thirteen episodes, Kristie McNichol thereafter) learned to love their new existence.  Dealing with their enthusiastic father, however, was still a problem.

“Earl calls him ‘a slightly berserk good Samaritan.’  He can’t help getting into other people’s problems, even when he’s not wanted.”
–Ronny Cox

George was a “true believer”, and had faith in numerous people and causes.  This obstinate refusal to back down over any situation rubbed some the wrong way, and made the family’s assimilation into the community a sometimes prickly proposition.  Whether he was standing up for a losing basketball coach or defending an ancient tree’s existence, his activism in various causes occasionally embarrassed his family, but his devotion usually was worthwhile.

Created by Earl Hamner, the man behind the successful CBS series The Waltons, Apple’s Way was hoped by CBS to be a more modern-day adaptation of the same family-style drama, although the first season of thirteen episodes played a bit more like a fish-out-of-water comedy.  Major retooling was done before its second season, with the actress playing the youngest girl replaced by Kristie McNichol (as she spelled it then).  Of course, McNichol later went on to play in a different modern-day drama, Family, for many years.

The grist mill set was built on the old Columbia back lot, and was later retooled into the house seen in numerous episodes of Fantasy Island.  Ultimately, the facade was torn down, and ironically it was replaced by the Walton homestead, moved to its new location when its previous site was sold off by the studio.  But the simplicity remained, even if just as a memory.

The problem portrayed in Apple’s Way is about trying to fit your old life into your new one.  While change is the one constant in life, change as radical as living a new life in such extremely different surroundings causes much greater problems along the way, and sometimes teaches some very different lessons.  And while there are obviously times when you’re the student, there are other times when you’re the teacher.

“That’s an important reason Aaron’s Way is such an intriguing series concept.  It deals with a family, which has been living in the old world, suddenly being thrust into a modern-day environment.  Obviously, there’s a lot of conflict there.”
–Merlin Olsen

Sarah and Aaron Miller

Just as George Apple had those moments of culture conflict in Apple’s Way, there was another man who faced many of the same challenges, only in reverse.  In the 1988 NBC series Aaron’s Way, patriarch Aaron Miller (Merlin Olsen) led his Pennsylvania Amish family westward to California, and a winery where his son Noah had once lived.  Although Noah had given up his family’s Amish ways, Aaron had kept in contact with him, until the young man’s death in a surfing accident.  At the funeral, Aaron learns that his son had been living with a woman, and that she was pregnant with their offspring… his grandchild.  In order to support what he feels are his son’s obligations, he moves his Amish family to the winery, where there are gentle clashes in society and style.

Aaron’s wife Sarah (Belinda Montgomery) and their kids are just as confused as the family in Apple’s Way was, but in reverse.  Their simple life and unassuming ways clash, sometimes a bit more sharply, with those of the denizens of California and their supposedly “superior” lifestyle.  But soon-to-be-mother Susannah (Kathleen York) is grateful for their presence, no matter what her more cynical parent Connie (Jessica Walter) may feel about Aaron’s family.  And both families have to deal with Susannah’s brother Mickey (Christopher Gartin), who develops a crush on one of the Miller daughters.

Like Apple’s Way, this was a series that tried to turn a successful “period” piece into a more modern-day one.  Merlin Olsen had been a winning addition to Little House on the Prairie, which led to his starring in Father Murphy for two seasons.   In 1988, NBC needed a companion piece to Michael Landon’s new series, Highway to Heaven, and thus believed Olsen would again be a worthy place to start.  Both shows had a more relaxed presence than many of their television counterparts at the time, and Olsen was a good fit for that style of show.

“For all the technical errors, I think the emotional honesty is there.”
–Creator/Executive Producer William Blinn

Unfortunately, not only did the Millers not fit in (nor were they really expected to, as far as the show was concerned), they also didn’t find any love from either viewers or critics.  Comparatively few watched the show, and those former Amish who saw it disliked its portrayal of the religious community, and rightly so.  This was, unfortunately, Hollywood’s version of Amish, which is occasionally composed more with misunderstanding than sympathy and, as such, didn’t ring true despite the best efforts of some involved.  And so, the lengthy journey the Miller family had undertaken to California ended much sooner than had been anticipated.

Ironically, the cancellation likely simplified Merlin Olsen’s real life, as at the time he was also on NBC’s top team of NFL broadcasters.  The former all-Pro lineman-turned-television analyst was traveling to football games each weekend in the fall, while rushing back to film Aaron’s Way during the week.  Juggling scripts and football programs, not to mention airplane flights and promotional appearances for both NBC entities, made for an extremely hectic life, plus kept Olsen away from his own family (with three growing children).  His family was the primary reason he agreed to perform in Aaron’s Way in the first place, as he felt there were no quality shows on that reached a wide range of ages.

“I like the fact that, at a time when there is very little television that we can sit down and watch together as families, this is the kind of show that really asks people to question what is happening in this world and asks people to look at values.  What is right?  It’s the kind of show that can be very productive in terms of doing something positive instead of instilling an urge to violence in our kids and our adults, as well.”
–Merlin Olsen

In both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a germ of an idea that apparently Hollywood liked, even though it didn’t really express it well.  There is virtue in a less hectic life, and a pace where time and conscience allows for values which aren’t always found in the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.  And while it is likely that those involved in green-lighting both series may have admired the sentiment, the presentation wasn’t really consistent with understanding the principles involved.  A simpler life, in a simpler place, doesn’t mean any lack of understanding or knowledge of the ways of the world.  It just means a choice made to savor the moments, to not get caught up in the day-to-day, and to celebrate all those things some people seem to take for granted.  While the simple life isn’t always simple, it is often much better.

(With so many biographies in two large-cast shows, I’ll just list the more well-known personalities here.)

Apple’s Way:

RONNY COX (George Apple) has a long career in television and movies, first making a huge splash in the film Deliverance, and appearing in the original Robocop.  In addition to being mentioned previously on this site for his role on Cop Rock, he’s starred in Sweet Justice and The Agency, as well as featured and recurring roles in Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1, St. Elsewhere, and The Starter Wife.  His first love is singing, and he’s carved out a pretty good career as a folk/country singer, appearing all over the country, and selling numerous CDs of his songs.

FRANCES LEE McCAIN (Barbara Apple) was featured in many movie roles, including as Marty McFly’s (future) grandmother in Back to the Future, and roles in Patch Adams, Stand by Me, Gremlins, and the original version of Footloose.  A stage actress by preference, she’s also appeared on Broadway, making her debut in Woody Allen’s first stage play, Play It Again, Sam.

VINCENT VAN PATTEN (Paul Apple) is, of course, from an acting family.  His father, Dick, is famous for starring in Eight is Enough, and his brothers James and Nels have also appeared in various television shows and movies.  In addition to his acting, Vincent was also a world-ranked tennis professional (as high as 41st in the world at one point), and he’s also written The Picasso Flop, a mystery set in the world of high-stakes poker.

KRISTIE McNICHOL (Patricia Apple, 2nd season) was extremely young when she joined Apple’s Way, but she went on a year later to star in Family (where she earned two Emmys for Best Supporting Actress) and the comedy Empty Nest.  (She also changed the spelling of her name to Kristy, just in case anyone thinks I’ve got it wrong up above… that’s the way it reads in the credits of Apple’s Way).  Tired of the Hollywood scene (shades of George Apple!), she left the acting profession, although she still teaches drama occasionally.

Aaron’s Way:

MERLIN OLSEN (Aaron Miller) was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thanks to his stellar 15-year career with the (then) Los Angeles Rams.  He became one of the top NFL broadcasters soon thereafter and, thanks to his relationship with NBC, he also signed on as Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.  His “gentle giant” demeanor led to a lead role in Father Murphy a few years later, and then the part of Aaron Miller on Aaron’s Way.  He was a spokesman for FTD Florists, and also hosted numerous telethons for the Children’s Miracle Network.  He passed in 2010 at the age of 69.

BELINDA MONTGOMERY (Sarah Miller) has also made these pages for her role years earlier on Man From Atlantis.  In addition to recurring roles on Miami Vice and guest shots on many other television series, she’s best known as the patient mom of Doogie Howser, M.D.  An avid painter, she currently spends much of her time working with her art, some of which has been shown at various studios throughout North America (and available at her website).

KATHLEEN YORK (Susannah Lo Verde) is a woman of many talents, as she starred in Vengeance Unlimited and had recurring roles in The West Wing and Desperate Housewives.  As a writer, she’s sold scripts to many Hollywood studios, including Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox.  As a singer/songwriter, she’s known as Bird York (her nickname), and her music has been featured on multiple CDs and in movies like Crash and TV shows like House and CSI:  NY.

JESSICA WALTER (Connie Lo Verde) has had a long and memorable career on television, known to many as the matriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development.  While her first television role was back in The Naked City in 1962 as a child actress, she later starred in Amy Prentiss (as a rotating part of The NBC Mystery Movie), Bare Essence, and was the voice of Fran in Dinosaurs.  Currently, she appears on TVLand’s new series Retired at 35.

CHRISTOPHER GARTIN (Mickey Lo Verde) was a regular on the sitcom Buddies before becoming a part of another memorable one-season show, M.A.N.T.I.S.  He appeared in Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Desperate Housewives, and The Mentalist.  He’s also appeared in multiple episodes of True Blood, and the Lifetime series Side Order of Life.

Not a lot exists online for either of these shows.  Neither has come out commercially on DVD, although bootlegs can be found.  Apple’s Way did get the full tie-in treatment (as was popular in the ’70’s), including a novelization and even a lunchbox with the characters pictured on the side.  Although Apple’s Way was a small part of its history, interested parties can find much more information about many Screen Gems and Columbia television series filmed on their backlot at The Unofficial Columbia Ranch Site, full of pictures and stories about the many locations built there.  Due to its shorter run, there’s almost nothing out there for Aaron’s Way in detail.  And maybe that’s proper, as the world of the Amish in general isn’t one for publicity in the first place.  The ways of the world, both complex and simple, will continue….

There are so many different people in this world, and just as many different ideas on how life should be lived.  What is right for some isn’t right for others.  While a great number of us find satisfaction in the lives we lead, George Apple and Aaron Miller both sought a new way to seek their own happiness, far different from the lives they used to have.  Culture shock was a given, but they both had an ideal which they tried to achieve, despite the obstacles found in their way.

The ways of the world are sometimes our own obstacles, but they can be overcome.  The worst thing anyone can do is just accept what is, instead of striving for what can be.  Those who chart their own path create their own happiness, and don’t wait for others to provide it.  A simpler life can be a better one, for those who have the courage and the patience to seek it out, and the consistency to live it despite the pressures of modern society.  Like both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a way for each of us, if we can “simply” find it.

Vital Stats

Apple’s Way

28 episodes aired — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  February 10, 1974
Final aired episode:  January 12,1975
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No.  It aired in the “family” slot of Sunday nights at 7:30/6:30 Central, back in the days when networks started the night early and gave the last half hour of prime time back to local stations.

Aaron’s Way

A two-hour premiere and 12 hour-long episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  March 9, 1988
Final aired episode:  May 25, 1988
Aired Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Again, no.  It ran into Growing Pains when it was a Top 10 show on Wednesdays @ 8/7 Central.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“We came to this planet a group of strangers. And now we head out, still strangers, but united toward a single purpose, braving this new land. Four days ago, aliens landed on a distant planet, and we are them. Now, we struggle across an unknown planet, an uncharted world, looking all the while for that moment when we must fulfill our promise, and wondering what will stand in our way.”
–Devon Adair

We’ve all heard the old adage “History repeats itself,” but have we really ever thought about it?  My grandmother used to say that she believed humans were destined to live history over and over again until we got it right, but so far we hadn’t.  Perhaps she was on to something…

The 1994 series Earth 2 started with a world that definitely hadn’t gotten it right quite yet.  In the year 2192, much of mankind was living in giant space habitats, orbiting humanity’s birthplace.  Previous generations had pretty much used up their homeworld in terms of natural resources and livable space.  Although great stations had been built to house most of the people, the youngest generation, born in the sterile controlled environment, was soon discovered to be suffering from “The Syndrome”.  Physically weak and unable to even breathe without extensive technical support, these children typically didn’t live past the age of nine.

The mother of one of these children is Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino).  She is a wealthy builder of the very stations which may have contributed to this new malady, and dreams of a better life for her son, eight-year-old Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman).  Distraught by guilt over her possible role in the advent of “The Syndrome”, she decides that the disease was caused by “an absence of what nature can provide — an absence of Earth”.  Against the wishes of the planetary government, she organizes The Eden Project, colonization of a world 22 light years away.  In all, 250 Syndrome families and crew enter “cold sleep” (suspended animation) for the journey to planet G889, braving the unknown to build the colony they hope will become “New Pacifica”, and creating what they hope will be their brand new world.

Unfortunately, the mission goes awry, and the colonists are forced to leave the space station early (due to sabotage by the tyrannical Earth government).  Then they must hazard a crash landing on G889, with many of the people in the advance party arriving on the opposite side of the planet.  Devon, and those others stranded nearby, decide to make the journey back to the intended site of New Pacifica, in the hopes of finding their lost comrades.  Having few of their original supplies, their harrowing trip through unknown territory begins.

Danziger and daughter True

Others on the trek include John Danziger (Clancy Brown) and his daughter True (J. Madison Wright).  John is a former worker (read: slave) on one of the space stations, and becomes a protector of the group, while True ultimately develops a bond with Ulysses (“Uly”, for short).  Yale (Sullivan Walker) is a cybernetically-altered former prisoner, now a tutor to Uly whose memories have been erased.  He’s beginning a different life on the new planet (although not with the approval of all the colonists).  Unwillingly along for the ride are Morgan and Bess Martin (John Gegenhuber and Rebecca Gayheart, respectively).  Morgan is a lower-level functionary for the government who had no knowledge of the sabotage, but is now the only apparent representative on-site.  His relationship with his wife Bess is rocky, to say the least, but with a fresh start (but no preparation) she’s ready for a new adventure with the colonists (much to Morgan’s chagrin).

Antonio Sabato Jr. as Alonzo

Dr. Julia Heller (Jessica Steen) is a genetically engineered human, youthful in medical experience and yet the only doctor around for the stranded colonists.  She starts to develop a relationship with  Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), the “cold sleep” pilot who helped the colony ship get to G889.  Alonzo’s “dreams” become important windows into the native populace of the planet, uncovering some of the mysteries the colonists have to face in their adventures.

“This time, WE are the aliens….”
–Promotional tagline for the series

A Terrian, one of the natives

The indigenous population and their relationships with the newcomers are complicated at best.  Contact is made with the Grendlers, traders who scavenge for anything of value.  We learn of the mysterious Terrians, who communicate their essential connection with the environment through Alonzo’s dreams.  Kobas seem like friendly leather teddy bears, but react violently to protect themselves.  Although they may seem strange to the humans,  it is no wonder the natives feel threatened.  It is we who are the invaders

And humans are definitely a threat… especially when it’s discovered that the Earth government (known as the “Council”) has been using G889 as a penal colony, much like Australia was used in the old world.  To cover up their hidden prison, the Council was willing to sabotage the colony ship… and perhaps one of the colonists is an agent for the Council, so the threats aren’t just from the unknown planet.  Our people have brought the enemy with them….

“On this planet, we are a new generation of pioneers, moving westward as fast as we can, trying to outrun our own dangers – I’d like to think danger is less likely to hit a moving target.  And while I push us forward, I can’t help thinking of the one danger we can’t outrun – the danger within.”
–Devon Adair


The reference to Australia and the old world isn’t the only parallel to our history.  In some ways, Earth 2 is reminiscent of the colonization of North America.  History saw various peoples from Western Europe sail across the Atlantic to settle in this new land of what became North America.  Many of those colonists were just as desperate to find a new life as Yale (with his criminal past) and John Danziger (who sought freedom far away from a life of indentured service).  What those long-ago pilgrims found here after their journey from Europe was a land already inhabited by an indigenous race, the Native Americans.  They found new customs, unfamiliar ways of living, and a raw and untamed world, just as the New Pacifica colonists did on G889.  And, as both old and new groups discovered, their past lives were something they couldn’t completely get away from, no matter how different their “new world” was.

Braving a New World

You could easily make the case that both the colonization of America and the later westward movement of the early settlers both have parallels in the travels of Devon Adair and the future New Pacifica residents.  While many wanted a new, fresh start, old ways warred with both new ideas and newly encountered cultures.  When one of the colonists is found to have been an informant for the Council, the rest of the group has to decide what to do.  Killing them is abhorrent to most, but stranding them along the route is hardly merciful… and yet, the resources are scarce and there is no infrastructure for dealing with major transgressions against their new society.  Leaving one type of social order, good or bad, means having to set up another… which could also be good or bad, depending on the specifics.  Earth 2 dealt with these issues, plus ones of racism, fear of the unknown, and even mystical belief.

“In the last 200 years, we’ve formed some pretty good theories about the origins of emotions. Now, halfway across the universe, we stumble around on this new planet finding that we know so little about what makes us human – what makes our hearts shiver with grief, our chests pound with fear, and why is it that a species so different from us can possess these same feelings we hold so essential to humankind.”
–John Danziger

While literary science fiction has long handled major social issues, science fiction on television has lagged behind.  Unlike Star Trek:  Voyager (which premiered at approximately the same time), Devon Adair was the leader of this errant colony because, quite frankly, she had the necessary skills to be a leader.  Her gender was never an issue, whereas much was made in the press about the first female starship captain to lead a Star Trek series.  While many female leads on television up to that time had existed, their characters always had an element of sexual attraction as part of their makeup.  Debrah Farentino certainly was not unattractive by any means, but her character of Devon was there because she was the leader, no more, no less.

So, Earth 2 was a great series, and its premiere garnered great ratings.  But airing on Sunday nights, often delayed for odd times due to NFL Football, meant even dedicated viewers had trouble accurately finding the show.  The continuing plotlines meant audiences had to follow along, because situations and characters would change over the course of a couple of episodes.  And the mysteries of the indigenous races on planet G889 were, at times, almost as inscrutable to the audience as they were initially to the colonists.  NBC didn’t help matters by airing episodes out of order.  Although Earth 2 was nominated for 3 Emmys (winning one), ratings went down, until the final episode aired late the next spring to only 9% of the Sunday television audience.  Despite hope for a second season (and ending the show on a cliffhanger), television viewers never learned if the colonists ever made it to New Pacifica to start their new lives.

DEBRAH FARENTINO (Devon Adair) has been featured in more one-season series that you can count on one hand.  She had regular roles in Hooperman, Equal Justice, EZ Streets, Total Security, and Wildfire, before becoming a recurring player in longer running shows like Eureka and Wildfire.  She’s also an accomplished stunt driver, trained in performing precision auto maneuvers.

JOEY ZIMMERMAN (Uly Adair) has grown up in the acting business, having been nominated for Young Actor awards five different times.  He starred in the Halloweentown series of Disney movies, and has become an avid swordsman, challenging Earth 2 co-star Clancy Brown to a match at a convention.

CLANCY BROWN (John Danziger) is best known to genre fans as The Kurgan, villain in the original Highlander movie.  He was also seen in the HBO series Carnivale, and in a pivotal role as a brutal prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption.  He’s much more often heard in numerous animated shows, the voice of Mr. Krabs in SpongeBob SquarePants, Lex Luthor in various Superman-related series, and Raiden in Mortal Kombat.

J. MADISON WRIGHT (True Danziger) had a brief but stellar acting career, having been specifically cast by producer/director Steven Spielberg in Earth 2.  While she had other guest roles, she gave up acting a few years later and moved back to Kentucky with her parents.  At the age of 15, she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, which required a heart transplant.  Although healthy for a few more years, she passed away of a heart attack at the age of 22.

SULLIVAN WALKER (Yale) portrayed Dr. Huxtable’s colleague as a recurring character on The Cosby Show prior to his adventures on Earth 2.  His career has turned to theatre, where he was featured on Broadway in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running.  He’s currently active in efforts to assist fellow Caribbean actors in their professions in America.

JOHN GEGENHUBER (Morgan Martin) guested on Star Trek: Voyager, Seven Days, Murphy Brown, and Mad About You.  He’s currently working with the Open Fist Theatre Company in Los Angeles, coordinating their educational outreach program, in addition to acting and directing in various productions there.

REBECCA GAYHEART (Bess Martin) jumped from Earth 2 into a recurring role on the original Beverly Hills 90210.  She was later a regular on Wasteland, Dead Like Me, and Vanished.  Gayheart should have been featured in the Firefly article on this site, as she was originally cast in the role of Inara.  But creative differences led to her being replaced after only one day of filming, and her scenes were reshot with new actress Morena Baccarin.

JESSICA STEEN (Dr. Julia Heller) actually has been featured here previously, for her role as Pilot on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.  She was also a regular in the short-lived series Homefront, and was featured in the movie Armageddon.  She’s currently appearing in the successful Canadian series Heartland.

ANTONIO SABATO, JR. (Alonzo Solace) is a soap opera heartthrob, originally appearing in General Hospital for three seasons before making the jump to prime time.  A regular on Melrose Place, he later returned to his soap roots in both The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital:  Night Shift.  He was also the winner of the short-lived competition series Celebrity Circus, likely due to his grandfather and mother both having performed under a Big Top.

Earth 2: Building a better world for our children

Earth 2 was released on DVD in 2005.  Sadly, there are no extras, but at least the series can be enjoyed in its entirety, complete with the never-resolved cliffhanger ending.  (Of course, it would have helped tremendously if NBC had aired the episodes in order, instead of the cliffhanger ending airing before two other episodes that had no mention of it!!)  Interestingly, a few college thesis papers have been written using the show as a significant reference point, talking about Earth 2 and “The Gaia Hypothesis” (illustrated by the relationship between the Terrians and the environment); and also the nature of fans to want closure, and their desire to write their own “fan fiction” conclusions to unfinished sagas (specifically, Earth 2).  A great FAQ on the series can be found here.

“I’m the queen of critically acclaimed failed television series.  After all these years in television, I never have known a series to go more than one year.  I’ve got friends who have been on shows for five years and I go, ‘What’s that like?”
–Debrah Farentino

There are no guarantees, in television or in life.  Earth 2 ended after 22 hours of episodes, with uncertainty about what would happen to the brave souls who set out towards an uncharted world and a fresh start.  Much like their ancestors who set out for the New World, or made the trek across unknown territory in the hope of better lives, their story had no ending already planned.  While the characters could hope for the best, it was the journey which made them stronger, exposed their weaknesses, and melded each of them into the mothers, sons, fathers, and daughters of the future.

While parts of humanity may never change, it is in the challenge of discovery and the desire for a better life that we find the better parts of ourselves.  Earth 2 helped us, by showing the historical process that made our lives great and our world greater, sometimes despite our own foibles.  It reminded us once again that, no matter how dangerous the journey, exploration is not just into the unknown world around us… but into the world we create for ourselves and those we love.

Vital Stats

21 episodes aired (one 2-hour pilot and 20 hour-long episodes) — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  November 6, 1994
Final aired episode:  June 4, 1995
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Sunday nights for Earth 2, which as noted caused problems with sports delays.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

In nature, an imperfection in an oyster is slowly encased by a calcium compound, and the layers built around it form what we know as a pearl.  Sometimes, the underwater process creates something of great value, and sometimes the result is not so perfect, but still amazing.  Something similar came from the depths of the ocean back in 1977, a show that had great promise despite the flaws in its premise.  And despite the lack of perfection, there’s still something worth watching in adventures under the sea.

“This show has style.  It’s not great science fiction.  I can see the wires holding up this thing that’s supposed to be floating, but it’s cool.  Our show wasn’t about production values.  We had great expectations.  We always dreamed far ahead of our technical abilities.  We were so serious about doing a good job, despite the lack of equipment.”
–Patrick Duffy, star of Man From Atlantis 

Patrick Duffy and Belinda J. Montgomery

Man From Atlantis aired on NBC, first in early 1977 as a set of four TV-movies, then as a short-lived regular series starting that fall.  The man is question is known as Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy), whose body is washed ashore one day by the tides, unconscious.  He is revived, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Elisabeth Merrill (Belinda J. Montgomery), a scientist who works for the Foundation for Oceanic Research.  This quasi-governmental organization is headed by C. W. Crawford, Jr. (Alan Fudge), and tasked with research of the world’s seas.

Mark is suffering from amnesia thanks to his injuries, but he’s soon discovered to apparently have been born and raised underwater as he possesses gills, subtly-webbed hands and feet, and amazing swimming speed below the surface.  He also has rather unique eyes, able to see in the darkness of the depths of the ocean, and a body which can withstand the pressures of the deep.  With these gifts,  he becomes a valuable part of the Foundation.  In exchange for his talents, he also wishes to find out about his origins, and perhaps the civilization he originally came from (thought by some to be the original Atlantis), and the resources of the Foundation are the best way to pursue his inquiries.

One of those resources is the Cetecean, a state-of-the-art submarine designed to travel all over the world’s oceans, literally delving deep into the unknown areas of the globe.  Since roughly three-quarters of the surface of the earth is water, that’s a lot of area to search, especially multiplied by the incredible depths involved.  So, where does the team begin?

“The sea is my home.”
–Mark Harris

In the first four TV-movies, Mark’s origins are explored and, although no real answers are found, there are at least some tantalizing hints.  During a search for an undersea prototype sub, Mark discovers an underwater complex headed by Dr. Schubert (Victor Buono), a rather villainous type who also becomes obsessed with Mark’s existence, and who wants to learn about Mark’s abilities at any cost.

Two of the TV-movies concern the possession of humans by other species, one from outer space (which crash-landed in the ocean) and another by killer spores from beneath the sea.  The virtue of these stories was that much of the action took place on land, meaning less time for then-expensive underwater shooting.  While in our current times, faking underwater filming is much more effective thanks to computer graphics and modern technology, the basics of shooting a tremendous number of scenes in a water tank doubling for the vastness of the ocean’s depths back in the late ’70’s were a major headache for producers.

The fourth TV-movie, subtitled The Disappearances, aired in June of 1977, and was one of the highest rated programs of that week.  Its performance, and the consistency of ratings for the previous entries, led to NBC ordering up weekly adventures of the Man From Atlantis.  If there had been difficulties before with filming and production deadlines, trying to create these strange new underwater worlds on a series budget and seven-day shooting schedule was going to be almost as impossible as breathing underwater without gills.  But the producers hoped that perhaps, with a few tweaks, it could be done.

“The one drawback is, if you’re underwater, everything has to be underwater, and how do you do that?  I would go underwater and then appear mysteriously in another dimension.  We would do the sets that didn’t have to be wet.”
–Patrick Duffy

While there was less exploration of the vast underwater areas of the earth, stories now focused more on Mark and the jeopardy posed when he wasn’t regularly around water.  Continued survival required his being subjected to the necessary effects of water, or his gill tissue would dry up and ultimately suffocate him.  So, we have episodes where he’s locked up in jail by a misunderstanding sheriff, with Mark unable to make it back to a body of water to survive.  Mark’s solution?  To make such a disturbance within the cell that the sheriff is forced to “punish” him with a blast from the nearby firehose, used to “cool off” rowdy prisoners (but allowing Mark his much-needed water supply for at least a short time, until help can arrive).

“When we got it as a one-hour TV series, we knew what it was going to be — it was a wet Batman.”
–Patrick Duffy

Man From Atlantis had evolved from an adventure series set in Earth’s last remaining frontier to a glorified camp comic, mainly as a result of budget and time concerns more than any actual preference to tell stories with less actual human (Atlantean?) drama.  Despite the desires of all concerned to make something more serious, practical realities demanded stories that could be filmed and aired with a quicker turn-around.  The series had gotten a late order for episodes anyway, so scripts were rushed, and “filmable” became another term for “good enough”.  The results were less than stellar, with depth of character (both personal and dramatic) exchanged for action and black-and-white villainy.

Victor Buono as Dr. Schubert

The Dr. Schubert character made a few appearances again in the series, although his motivations were much more due to his obsession with Mark and less to do with the perfection of an underwater society (as seen in the pilot).  A potential amorous relationship hinted at in the TV-movies between Mark and Elisabeth was pretty much forgotten, other than concern for each others’ welfare when necessary jeopardy was involved.

Many associated with the series were relatively new to the television business, and didn’t truly understand the complexities that would be involved in such an ambitious undertaking.  It was especially grueling for Duffy as the lead, having to “act” underwater in many scenes.  Although his later successful TV series have made him a well-recognized star, he still has an incredible fondness for the role….

“…this was my first television show. I was a mid-20’s actor.  I was a carpenter by trade, and then I turned around and I’m the head of my own network primetime show.  It was a game changer for me, a real life shift.  And it was an adventure.  It was science fiction, it was Buck Rogers, it was me being on a sound stage – first of all, was very exotic, but to be on a sound stage where they’re trying to do all of this strange science fiction underwater stuff was so exhilarating, that you could put a gun to my head now and I wouldn’t do half the things that I volunteered to do in 1976.”
–Patrick Duffy

All the enthusiasm in the world can’t make up for lack of real drama, budget, and the difficulties of filming a television show underwater.  Ultimately, the series devolved into something that, according to Washington Post critic Tom Shales, might have been better suited for kids on a Saturday morning instead of adults on a Tuesday night.  Advertisers must have thought so too, as there were prototypes for action figures created, as well as art kits, novels, and of course, real comic books.  (Ironically, the books and comics allowed for more characterization than the series itself!)  While these items may have endeared Man From Atlantis to legions of younger viewers, those adults who really counted in the Nielsen ratings found something else to do other than watch a program they believed was just for kids.  Therefore, the subsequent lack of ratings spelled doom for Mark Harris and his friends.  The Man From Atlantis may as well have discovered Davy Jones’ Locker, the final resting place of all those who’ve died at sea….

PATRICK DUFFY (Mark Harris) went from Man From Atlantis straight into the role that made him famous, Bobby Ewing on Dallas.  A decade or so later, he headlined Step by Step, for which he also directed 49 episodes.  Although born a Catholic (on St. Patrick’s Day, hence his name), he converted to Buddhism around the same time he became an actor.  He will be featured next summer on TNT’s revamp of Dallas, with primarily a younger cast but also showcasing him, Larry Hagman, and others from the original show

BELINDA J. MONTGOMERY (Dr. Elisabeth Merrill) was on many shows as a guest actress in the ’70’s and ’80’s, including The Streets of San Francisco, Marcus Welby M.D., and Miami Vice (recurring as Sonny Crockett’s ex-wife Caroline).  She’s best known as Doogie’s mom Katharine on the long-running Doogie Howser M.D.  She’s mostly retired from acting now, preferring to indulge herself in her first love, painting,

ALAN FUDGE (C. W. Crawford, Jr.) is also a television veteran, with numerous roles to his credit.  He was a regular on three other show besides Man From Atlantis, those being Eischied, Paper Dolls and Bodies of Evidence.  Recurring parts include such series as 7th Heaven and L.A. Law.  Still a working actor, he’s recently been featured on The Closer and The Office.

VICTOR BUONO (Mr. Schubert) was well-known for playing villainous roles, often with a somewhat comedic bent.  His portrayal of arch-nemesis King Tut in multiple episodes of Batman as well as Count Manzeppi in The Wild, Wild West cemented this reputation among a generation of TV viewers.  He was also a poet, and his verse was commonly featured during his appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, often making self-referential comments about his large frame.  He passed of a heart attack in 1982.

A show with only 13 episodes really doesn’t have enough material for rerun syndication in America, and even adding in the TV-movies makes only 21 hours available.  Surprisingly, Man From Atlantis holds the distinction of being the very first American television series ever sold to stations in mainland China.  The British syndication of the show actually beat the venerable Tom Baker and Doctor Who in the 1978 ratings race.  Despite its place in the memory of many who grew up during that time period, it has not been commercially available on DVD until very recently, although you won’t find it in stores.

Warner Brothers has started a “Made-on-Demand” DVD system, allowing for select older, less publicly popular series to gain new life (and money to be made off their back catalog).  Two DVD sets are now available, one containing the 4 original TV-movies, and the other containing the 13 episodes of the series.  This allows fans to acquire and relive the adventures of their television memories with good quality rather than resorting to iffy bootleg copies, also allowing the studio and those responsible for their creations the chance to earn a small bit of cash back from their earlier endeavors.  “Made-on-Demand” also means there’s no longer necessity for shelf space, storage, and wildly incorrect estimates of demand for titles, all positives for viewers and manufacturers alike.

Man From Atlantis returns?

Although Dell Publishing printed novelizations of the original 4 TV-movies (which I’m proud to say I’ve owned all these years), opportunity also might occur because of the newly increased interest provided by the DVD release.  Patrick Duffy’s love for the show (and its original possibilities) have led him to write the first of three proposed books about the Man From Atlantis, telling the story (and providing more significant answers) in the fictional realm.  While he’s currently seeking a publisher, in this day of e-publishing and the Print-on-Demand version of the new DVD system, I have little doubt that these new adventures will soon see the light of day.

“We found out that doing true science fiction is really difficult on a weekly basis, especially in the 1970s, when it didn’t involve just creating a computer program.”

–Patrick Duffy

While some may deride the story quality of Man From Atlantis, the idea is still a wonderful exploration of what it means to be human and the worlds beneath the surface.  Producers Herb Solow and Robert Justman, veterans of the original Star Trek series, saw the undersea world as their version of Trek‘s outer space, a place where an infinite number of stories could be told, and infinite number of possibilities existed.  But even Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had to wait until the animated adventures of Star Trek to tell a story about an underwater planet, as production realities simply didn’t allow that type of episode presentation on a television budget, let alone a series full of them.

No matter what the aspirations, sometimes a television series simply can’t be what it should be.  Like Mark Harris on land, Man From Atlantis was simply out of its depth.  But despite its imperfections, it is still a pearl… just not a perfect one.

Vital Stats

Four two-hour TV-movies plus 13 hour-long episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode: March 4, 1977 (TV-movies); September 22, 1977 (series)
Final aired episode:  June 20, 1977 (TV-movies); June 6, 1978 (series, although the actual cancellation happened back at the end of 1977, and remaining episodes were run off during the next summer)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  The series time slot was Tuesdays at 8/7 Central, great for the kids, but not so great for the success of Man From Atlantis as a whole.  In this time slot, it sank.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“My name is Victoria Winters.  My journey is just beginning.  A journey that I’m hoping will somehow begin to reveal the mysteries of my past.  It is a journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place… to a house high atop a stormy cliff at the edge of the sea… to a house called Collinwood.”
–Victoria Winters, introducing viewers to Dark Shadows (1991)

Enter the Dark Shadows

Some say that Hollywood hasn’t had an original idea in ages.  Remakes, re-boots, and “re-imaginings” are everywhere, mostly because those with the money have become the ones making the creative decisions.  Ideas with any “name recognition” are considered (by bean-counters, at least) vastly superior to more original scenarios, only because those bean-counters (and therefore the audience they think they’re serving) can get a very quick handle upon what is being presented.  The audience is familiar with it, after all.

But sometimes, the idea of a remake isn’t a bad thing.  Especially when the guy with the original idea is involved from the beginning.  And, if done properly, the remake can get rid of some of the problems the prior incarnation may have had, like a limited budget, slower pace, and the occasionally wobbly set or two.

Dark Shadows was a gothic soap opera on ABC, running on weekday afternoons from 1966 to 1971. Creator Dan Curtis (who also brought Kolchak:  The Night Stalker to television) believed that, with a bit of tweaking, the Dark Shadows scenario was ready-made for a more modern prime-time audience.  NBC agreed, and an initial order for 13 hours was made… and although the storyline was familiar, it certainly wasn’t the original 13 episodes of the original show.

Dark Shadows concerns the Collins family, whose ancestors were founders of the town of Collinsport, Maine back in the early days of America.  Their family history runs extremely deep (along with their family secrets), and the new governess, Victoria Winters (Joanna Going), starts to uncover truths that most would prefer to remain hidden.  She is introduced to the family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Jean Simmons), and to the rest of the rather strange clan living at ancient Collinwood Manor.  These include Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Barbara Blackburn); and Elizabeth’s brother Richard (Roy Thinnes) and his young son David (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whom Victoria has been brought in to tutor and care for.

Barnabas Collins

Another Collins soon arrives on the scene.  Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross) claims to be a long-lost relative, descended from his ancestor namesake who led the family back in colonial days.  This is confirmed by the painting of the original Barnabas, who looks strikingly similar.  In true gothic horror tradition, however, there’s only one Barnabas.  He is a vampire, eternally undead, who was chained up and sealed in the Collins mausoleum to protect the town all those years ago.  Now accidentally set free by the Collins family groundskeeper, Willie Loomis (Jim Fyfe), Barnabas has revived and is ready to take his rightful place again… and perhaps the heart of Victoria Winters as well.

“Hope you like this freak palace, Miss Winters.”
–Willie Loomis, upon bringing Victoria to Collinwood

There’s a large and involved web of relationships between the Collins family and the locals. Daphne Collins (Rebecca Staab), niece to Elizabeth, is unfortunately attacked by the newly revived Barnabas, and is ultimately killed by the authorities after becoming a vampire herself.  Her boyfriend Joe Haskell (Michael T. Weiss) pursues vengeance against Barnabas.  The attack on Daphne is also investigated by Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele), who figures out Barnabas’ secret, and ultimately convinces Barnabas that only she can create a cure for his curse.

The vengeful Angelique

The curse is, obviously, part of those old family secrets, when Barnabas was seduced by Angelique Bouchard (Lysette Anthony), the maidservant of the woman he was set to marry back in 1790.  Enraged when Barnabas rejects her, Angelique uses the powers of dark magic to curse Barnabas with vampirism.  She punishes him further by dooming all he loves to an early death, an anguish which he must continually experience throughout his unending existence.

“She is a force so evil, so powerful in nature that even now she reaches across the centuries to destroy me.”
–Barnabas, to Willie, describing Angelique

There are other residents of Collinwood, both helpful and suspicious of the Collins family and their secrets.  The series concerned the ever-changing nature and allegiance of the characters relationships, like on many soap operas, with a few good scares thrown in.  But, as stated earlier, this wasn’t the original Dark Shadows soap opera.

First, audiences had changed significantly from the late ’60’s.  The style and pace of television presentation was much faster in 1991, especially when compared to the almost glacial speed of the original daily half-hour afternoon serial.  Therefore, if there was to be an updated version, rewrites were mandatory.

Original creator Dan Curtis and his production team went to work.  The new version would take the arrival of Victoria as its beginning, just as the ABC soap opera did.  But the original series ran for a season before the arrival of Barnabas Collins, who shows up about 15 minutes into the first episode of the revival.  After that, each episode of the 1991 series encompasses about a month (or two) of the main storylines from 25 years earlier.  Six episodes of the new series used up the main daytime soap opera plot for almost a year.

“I, Victoria Winters, begin this journal in the hope that no matter what happens to me there will at least be a written record of these extraordinary events. Somehow, I have been thrust backward in time.”
–setting the stage for 1790

Barnabas and Victoria

In 1967, Dark Shadows bent the rules even more, as the gothic soap introduced a time-travel storyline.  The 1991 revival followed suit, when Victoria (who by now had become a love interest of Barnabas, even though she knew nothing of his curse) was convinced to participate in a séance.  When the lights go out, she is somehow transported back to the year 1790, caught up in the interactions of the original inhabitants of Collinsport, and the origin of their secrets.  These new characters (except for Barnabas, of course, who was still the same long-lived individual) were played by actors from the modern-day storyline, in new, dual roles.  We see the doomed love of Barnabas, the original seduction with Angelique, and others of the early Collins clan, as Victoria tries to save Barnabas from his fate… at the risk of trapping her in the past forever, or even dying in his lover’s place.

This time-bending storyline took the better part of another year on the original series, yet in the 1991 revival it took only another six episodes to play out.  Unlike the beginning of the revival, however, small but significant changes were made to the soap opera storyline (again, “re-writes”), and it was hoped that these changes would slowly move the new adaptation of the show away from slavish devotion to the original.  Besides, at six or so episodes equaling a year of previous plot, new storylines were going to be necessary all too soon.

Of course, that was only true if the show were to continue.  While the late winter run had debuted to tremendous ratings, the beginnings of the Gulf War shortly derailed any momentum built up by the show.  NBC constantly pre-empted and delayed the series for news reports and specials, and even audiences who actively wanted to watch the show were frustrated by uncertainty over finding it.  Ratings suffered, and ultimately Dark Shadows was canceled again, as it had been decades earlier.

What witchcraft is this? To cancel our show?

BEN CROSS (Barnabas Collins) was one of the starring actors in the Oscar-winning Best Picture Chariots of Fire, kicking off a terrific career.  He’s been seen as everything from a medieval prince (First Knight) to Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) to biblical hero Solomon (Solomon) to Spock’s father Sarek in the most recent Star Trek movie.  He’s also an accomplished musician and composer, with multiple musicals to his credit.

JOANNA GOING (Victoria Winters) also made the jump from soap operas to Dark Shadows, having appeared previously in both Search for Tomorrow and Another World.  She starred in the series Going to Extremes, as well as playing recurring roles on Spin City and Close to Home.  Most recently, she played Sean Penn’s wife in the award-winning independent film The Tree of Life.

JEAN SIMMONS (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) came to prominence in the ’40’s and ’50’s, both in her native Britain and in America.  Best known here for her starring turn in Guys and Dolls and television miniseries roles in North and South and The Thorn Birds, she was nominated for two Oscars (twenty-one years apart!)  She passed away of lung cancer in January of 2010.

BARBARA BLACKBURN (Carolyn Stoddard) also had a soap opera background, featured on Ryan’s Hope prior to Dark Shadows.  A few small TV spots followed, including Law and Order and Close to Home, before she left the business in 1995.

ROY THINNES (Richard Collins) was a genre favorite, chased by aliens in the seminal ’60’s series The Invaders (also was re-booted into a miniseries years later, in which Thinnes made a cameo).  He was also featured on television in The Psychiatrist, From Here to Eternity, and Falcon Crest.  A guest spot on The X-Files became a return visit when his character was so well liked, he recreated the part in other episodes.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (David Collins) played a brat child on Dark Shadows, but played a wiser-than-his-years (alien) teen-ager in Third Rock From the Sun.  He’s become a feature film actor and leading man, in (500) Days of Summer, Inception, and next year’s Batman feature The Dark Knight Rises.

JIM FYFE (Willie Loomis) was part of Tanner ’88, a spoof of election campaigns, and sixteen years later reprised that role in Tanner on Tanner.  In between, he was seen in Team Knight Rider, Once and Again, and in both The X-Files and its spin-off, The Lone Gunmen.  He also hosted two HBO specials for kids, helping them make environmentally conscious choices.

REBECCA STAAB (Daphne Collins) started in the soaps Guiding Light and Loving, before making the jump to prime-time.  She’s guested on numerous series, including Cheers, The Wonder Years, and The Mentalist.  A former Miss Nebraska and finalist for Miss USA, she is an avid outdoor sportswoman, comparing her garage to miniature “sports chalet”.

MICHAEL T. WEISS (Joe Haskell) started on Days of Our Lives, logging over 500 episodes on the series.  He’s well-known for his lead role in the TV series The Pretender, and most recently has been a part of the current CBS series Blue Bloods.

BARBARA STEELE (Dr. Julia Hoffman) had a long career in British film, dating back to being an extra in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.  A part in Fellini’s masterpiece followed.   Many horror and thriller features later (including The Pit and the Pendulum with Vincent Price), she found she was becoming typecast and retired from acting for a decade.  Barbara became a producer, winning an Emmy award for the mini-series War and Remembrance.  She then joined Dark Shadows, delighting fans of her horror work.

LYSETTE ANTHONY (Angelique Bouchard)  has spent most of her career in her native Britain (Dark Shadows was her only American series).  A regular in Cluedo (the British term for the boardgame “Clue” in America), she played Miss Scarlet.  Other appearances included Night & Day, The Bill, Hollyoaks, Casuality, and Coronation Street.  She’s reprised her role as Angelique in the Big Finish audio dramas for Dark Shadows.

The revival series has received a DVD release, although it is sadly devoid of extras.  Those suffering from more immediate blood lust can find the episodes on  The original soap opera has also been released (at least, the majority of episodes, as some simply no longer exist).  There are various fan sites out there dedicated to both incarnations, and featuring detailed storyline information allowing for the comparison of the two series.  Another “re-imagining” of Dark Shadows was done as a pilot for The WB in 2004, but never made it to television (although screenings have been held at various Dark Shadows fan events since).  Big Finish audio in Britain has started a set of audio adventures furthering the storylines once again and featuring the talents of many of the actors from both series.

Remakes and updates abound for all sorts of shows.  The revival of Hawaii Five-O is starting its second season this fall on CBS, ABC has a new version of Charlie’s Angels, and a pilot script has been ordered for another try at the comedy BewitchedDark Shadows is, by no means, alone in this respect, but it is unique for retaining much of its original storyline instead of just a concept and characters.  But that’s likely because the story of Collinwood and Barnabas Collins was part of a continuing narrative (due to its soap origins), and the presentation already contained many of the elements that make a story interesting.  It’s really no wonder people keep coming back to it.

Therefore, it’s no surprise there is work going on for an updated movie version of Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton, and featuring Johnny Depp as Barnabas.  The new film is scheduled for a big May opening in 2012, and a full advertising and merchandising push.  Other stars involved include Helena Bohnam Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jackie Earle Haley.  Although it re-arranges the story so there is no longer a time-travel element (the action is seen in chronological order), both the 1790 storyline and the more modern plot are parts of the movie, and anticipation is growing….

…as well it should.  Dark Shadows is a great concept, one which almost defines gothic horror for multiple generations.  It is only fitting and appropriate for Barnabas Collins to return from his coffin once more to live among the residents of Collinwood Manor, to fill us with chills and forbidden romance, to give the world a good, comfortable fright.  Because that’s what a vampire is supposed to do, right?

Death is for the mortal… eternal life remains in the Dark Shadows.

Vital Stats

12 aired episodes (2-hour pilot and 11 hour episodes) — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  January 13, 1991
Final aired episode:  March 22, 1991
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Later in the evening (although still on Fridays), befitting it’s more scary and sexualized nature.  But then, NBC didn’t tell many people when they were going to pre-empt it for war coverage anyway, so some weeks it aired at 9pm; some at 10;  and sometimes just delayed and delayed again.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“γνῶθι σεαυτόν” (“Know Thyself”)
–inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, in Ancient Greece

“There are three Things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.”
–Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1750

This website celebrates the memory of old and occasionally forgotten shows.  The virtue of many of these old favorites is, they have moments that are memorable enough to remind us of terrific characters, situations, and events.  Of course, we all have our own lives, and we all have those people, places, and things that will create similar moments… they just aren’t on TV every week for us to regularly enjoy.  Hopefully, those terrific and memorable things are happening to us right now, or in the next week, or in the next month.  But in 2008, along came a show that celebrated those moments each of us has lived along the way, and even gave out cold, hard cash… if only you knew yourself well enough, and could remember your own life!

Dennis Miller, Amnesia

Amnesia (spelled with a dollar sign, as in Amne$ia, for promotional purposes) aired Friday nights on NBC.  Hosted by comedian Dennis Miller, each week featured one contestant and the people in their life.  Amnesia wasn’t a brain-burning trivia fest like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, or a pure lucky guess game like Deal or No Deal.  It was a game of honest questions, where no one was more qualified to get the right answers than the contestant… because all of the questions were about them.

“It’s This Is Your Life meets Jeopardy… where every topic heading is YOU.”
–Dennis Miller

Before each show, contestants were interviewed by the producers about their lives, their pasts, and their friends.  An entire game show was created around these memories, skewed just enough to make it difficult for the contestant and yet interesting for the viewer.  For example, one gentleman talked about his high school football exploits… so the producers found an old program from his playing days and asked him a simple enough question:  What was your jersey number the year you led the team to the championship?  The details of certain games, even certain plays, were likely ingrained over and over in his mind and reinforced with the telling of old tales… but what number was he?  Others may have known, but memories may or may not have included looking down at his chest.

By the way, the contestant got that one right… but many in the same situation may not have, and that was the fun of Amnesia.  You never knew what people would remember and what they wouldn’t.  Audiences could easily play along, reminded of youthful memories or various items of their own lives, some remembered and some not.

Get it right, or else!

Sometimes NOT remembering could lead to potential trouble.  For one hapless contestant, Miller trots out some beautiful women, all wearing something familiar… and then asks which of these similarly attired ladies is modeling the wedding dress his wife wore for their nuptials a few years earlier.  Of course, the gown was provided by the dear wife, who’s off to the side cheering on her hubby.  (She’s going to be very disappointed if he gets this one wrong!)

Host Dennis Miller was an unusual pick for this gig, as the only previous game show hosting he’d done was a show called Grand Slam, a pure trivia fest where he was literally the series host, and not the one asking the questions.  On Grand Slam he was called on for a bit more snark and punditry, styles he was known for as a comedian.  On Amnesia, he was a more genteel performer, cheering or agonizing along with the contestants.  His occasional bombast was toned down, primarily because of his emotional connection with many of those playing.

“I’m touched that this is life-changing money for people.  You have to tread cautiously because there’s over $300,000 dollars on each show to be made.  When I watch these shows at home I’m kind of like everybody else, I’m watching… “Go!” or “Stay!”.  When you’re the guy that’s right there, and you look in a person’s eye and see that they’re about to make a chunk of change, or lose it, that could change their life, (…) you become very empathetic.”
–Host Dennis Miller

You in Sixty Seconds

Every week, Miller would introduce each contestant, and a brief interview on camera would follow.  The first round of the game, “You in Sixty Seconds”, asked a series of questions about basic personal life, such as “Which Beatles song was the theme for your prom?” or “”Where were you when you asked your wife to marry you?”.  This established a “memory bank”, a small fund of money that each contestant hoped to increase throughout the game, but might have to risk at the end.

In the next three rounds, Miller would send the player “off to their room”, a soundproof booth in view of the audience where they couldn’t hear what was taking place onstage.  Then he’d introduce someone from that person’s life, often a spouse or other family member, for another brief interview that set up a series of questions.  The contestant was then returned to the stage, ready to win money, but only if they knew the answers to some rather unique queries….

One of these things is not like the others....

One contestant raved about his mom’s Shepherd’s Pie… so, after we met his mother, he was blindfolded, and out came three chefs… and his mother, each with a plate of Shepherd’s Pie for him to try.  Could you identify your favorite dish alongside other similar ones?  Of course, the questions weren’t always about childhood memories or days gone by.  Sometimes they were about cars going by….

A local police chief in a small town received what should be a rather simple question:  What was the posted speed limit on the road that went by the front of his own house?  Guess what?  The police chief missed it, saying 35 mph instead of 25 mph.  I wonder how fast people were going by his place after that….

There's a little grey mouse in here somewhere....

Some stunts were more physical.  A man’s stuffed toy, precious to him as a child, was placed inside a toybox with numerous other similarly stuffed animals, and he had only thirty seconds to sort through and find his old friend.  Another time, a man had decided (with friends) to hire an airplane to drag a banner across the sky… but does he remember the exact phrasing used on the banner in question? A large board was brought out, and parts of phrases, all similar, were placed in front of the man, and he had to recreate the banner.

Three questions, possibly $300,000

“It’s more like a celebration of your life with friends, where you have a chance to make a couple hundred thousand dollars.”
–Dennis Miller, host of Amnesia

In each round, the money values escalated, with $75,000 earned at this point if no questions had been missed.  But the big money was yet to come, as was bigger risk.  The final round had three questions, each relating to one of the friends or relatives introduced previously.  The first question was worth $25K, then $50K, and finally $100K, and players could choose which person’s question they wanted first… but they’d also lose that amount of money if they answered incorrectly.

A contestant could continue as long as their “memory bank” still had cash left… but they could lose it all, and go home with nothing but memories.  They could also walk away at any time after the first question, if they so chose, so their previous success (or failure) at the game played a significant part in their confidence moving forward.  Big money was available… and all you had to do was know yourself.

How well could you do with memories like this?  Or knowledge about the world around you that you take for granted every day?  And how well would you do with a possible $300,000 on the line?  This was the challenge of Amnesia, and yet it was a game as different every time as each individual person was.

The contestants and their loved ones really made the show, and there truly was an element of This is Your Life to Amnesia.  While some of the supporters were obvious choices, the joy of being able to see that long-lost college buddy, or catching up with your sophomore homeroom teacher for the first time in forever, added a feel-good element to the show.  Not to mention the prizes at stake, of course.

“I’ve seen two sets of jaw droppings on this show.  One is when they win a bunch of money, and the other one is when they see somebody they haven’t seen in two decades.  So, yes, there’s a mixture of both jaw droppings.  I think a lot of them think their spouse will be there, and a lot of them think a brother or sister, or a mother or father will be there.  Sometimes that third one, the wild card, will be like ‘Really?  REALLY?”‘
–Dennis Miller

Unfortunately, while long-forgotten friends and relatives showed up for the contestants, audiences didn’t.  Anyone tuning in for Miller found a toned-down, more sedate version of the comedian, and while the show was interesting, it was far from provocative.  Miller and company weren’t out to embarrass anyone, they just wanted to celebrate the lives of ordinary people and share them with everyone.  That, they definitely did, and although the show was called Amnesia, it would be difficult for those who saw it to forget how much fun Miller and company had doing it.

DENNIS MILLER has made many memories of his own during an eclectic career.  He was a contestant on Star Search, losing the comedy category to Sinbad, but his comedic efforts landed him a regular gig as host of the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live!  A brief syndicated talk show followed (The Dennis Miller Show), which led to Dennis Miller Live on HBO, running for nine years and winning five Emmy awards.  He then spent two seasons as a color commentator for Monday Night Football, and hosted a series on CNBC.  He currently appears weekly on the “Miller Time” segment of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, and hosts a nationally syndicated radio show that airs on more than 250 stations.  Known for extremely esoteric references in his comedy, The Simpsons once described an obscure laugh line as qualifying for “The Dennis Miller Ratio”, meaning   “The joke only one person in a million would find funny.”

Although it’s no longer accessible from the main network site, the NBC show site for Amnesia is still available (thankfully, or this article would only have maybe two or three pictures, all of Miller).  Game shows don’t traditionally have a lot of publicity photos available anyway, except perhaps generic shots of the host and the set.  While many have a version of the game available online, Amnesia really can’t, due to the personalized nature of the questions.

“Well, I think it will put (the viewers) in touch with the fact that we all have a scrapbook of our lives, and there are pages that we have completely not memorized.  There are other things that are burnt inexorably into our frontal lobes, you couldn’t forget it if you want.  But surprisingly enough, there are things that are pretty near and dear to you that, if pinned on the five W’s of it like a newspaper column, the What, When, Where, Who, and Why, people all forget.”
–Dennis Miller

Even though it’s only about three years ago, many people don’t remember Amnesia.  In fact, the only reason Amnesia made it to the airwaves in the first place was because the show was an inexpensive “unscripted” series, ordered as a back-up plan due to the 2007 Writer’s Guild Strike.  Most networks were stockpiling “alternative” series (read: not needing scripts), and a great many of these aired within the next year or so, before television got back to using traditional production methods.  Once the strike was over, NBC could easily forget about their emergency plans (and the shows that went with them, like Amnesia). NBC could “turn the page” in their scrapbook of shows, never having to remember (or even think about) Amnesia again…

…which is a shame, as Amnesia is actually a show worth remembering here, about extraordinary moments in ordinary people’s lives.  Not dramatic moments, but the individual memories that stay lodged in the mind and heart forever.

Vital Stats

8 aired episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  February 22, 2008
Final aired episode:  April 11, 2008
Aired Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Mostly.  The premiere was actually 9/8 Central, but the seven other episodes did air in the Friday 8/7 Central timeslot.  No wonder people forgot to watch.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

There’s an old saw used in many places about items passing “The Duck Test”.  It basically says that if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… well, then it’s a duck, and I don’t care what name you put on it, it’s still a duck.  You can try to pass something off as new and different, but a duck is still a duck.

In 1984, NBC tried their best to pass off The Duck Factory as something new and different.  It was a workplace comedy set in the rather unknown location of an independent (read:  broke) animation outfit called Buddy Winkler Studios.  The denizens of the studio (known colloquially as The Duck Factory) were the creators of that famous cartoon icon, Dippy Duck, and they had a bit of a crisis:  the boss, Buddy Winkler, had just died.  Not that he was well-liked or anything; in fact, the workers all hated him, and the only one who was even slightly heartbroken was the recent Mrs. Winkler (Teresa Ganzel)  She’d married Buddy just three weeks earlier when they met in Vegas (during her performance in a “topless” ice show).  She knew nothing about Buddy, and less about animation, and although she was, in many ways a “dumb-blonde,” just because she lacked knowledge didn’t mean she lacked heart.

That heart is on display when a new animator comes to town, Skip Tarkenton (Jim Carrey, in his first television role).  Skip is the typical wide-eyed innocent, who’s come to LA with a semi-encouraging letter in hand from the late Buddy, and the hope of landing a job.  His unfortunate timing means he arrives, suitcase in hand, just as the funeral procession is leaving the studio.  With no place to go, he ends up tagging along, and the aforementioned innocence allows him to give a eulogy that impresses the widow Winkler into giving him a job… especially when the other help sees the quality of his work.

“I grew up with the message that Mr. Winkler, through Dippy Duck, of course, sent to the youth of America.  That, no matter how many times Dippy was flattened by Irving the Terrible, or kicked in the teeth by Rotten Renaldo, that somehow his good old-fashioned American gumption would always prevail.  So even as I stand here on this sad occasion, that philosophy fills me with hope, knowing that you will pick yourselves up after being kicked in the teeth by his death… dust yourselves off… and face whatever the future brings.”
–Skip, speaking of Buddy at his funeral

Clockwise, from top: Carrey, Dippy, Tarses, Payne, Ganzel, Gilford, Messick, Gilyard, and Lane. The crazies of The Duck Factory

So, Skip lands in the middle of The Duck Factory, and the barely controlled chaos therein.  His fellow workers include veteran animator and director Brooks Charmichael (Jack Gilford); comedy writer and occasional jerk Marty Finneman (Jay Tarses); storyboard artist Roland Culp (Clarence Gilyard, Jr.); level-headed film editor Andrea Lewin (Nancy Lane); absent-minded voice-over artist Wally Wooster (Don Messick); and officious and scheming financial officer Aggie Aylesworth (Julie Payne).  Skip discovers very quickly that this amazing menagerie of people need to be more than slightly crazy in order to create the silliness of Dippy Duck’s cartoons, and that their animated creations can sometimes be much more normal than their creators.

The environment at The Duck Factory was supposedly similar to the famed “Termite Terrace” of Warner Brothers cartoon heyday, the incubator that led to the glory days of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road-Runner, and so many more of the classic Looney Tunes comedy shorts.  But while film fans and animation buffs speak reverently about those times and the people involved (like Chuck Jones and Friz Freling), the general public at large knows little about them.  So, while the setting was indeed unique, it was also much more unfamiliar than, say, the bar of Cheers (which preceded the show on Thursday nights).  Crazy doesn’t really seem crazy when you don’t know what normal is supposed to be like….

Skip and Marty

The cast was actually, for the most part, rather well-chosen.  Tarses, as writer Marty, was a well-respected comedy writer in real life, having been the mind behind The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, in addition to being a co-creator of The Duck Factory.  Tarses has been nominated for 11 Emmy Awards, winning one.  He brought a truth and insecurity to a character that could easily have been a cliché.  Teresa Ganzel, as Mrs. Winkler, must also be highlighted; as another possible stereotypical character, she was seen to be much more than a simple-minded gold-digger.  And Nancy Lane’s Andrea was really the glue that held many of these crazies together, particularly in the apparent love triangle that sprouted from her relationship with Skip and the supposed romance with Skip and Ganzel’s widow Winkler.

Brooks and Skip

Jack Gilford is practically a legend, and his comedic timing and skills come from a lifetime in front of a camera.  As the older, more experienced Brooks, he brought a world-weary knowingness to his character.  The now-deceased Buddy had  browbeaten Brooks into believing he was a shell of the director he’d been, but his faith was slowly restored by Skip’s belief in his work.  Clarence Gilyard Jr.’s Roland was given some thankless storylines, but the actor proved himself an audience mainstay later with two lengthy runs in Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger.  Perhaps pure comedy wasn’t his strong point, but he was still very competent and showed potential at this stage of his career.

Woody and Skip

Others didn’t fare so well, although to be honest, when you’re surrounded by great people, ordinary sticks out more than usual.  Don Messick as Wally, the voice actor who’s been doing other voices so long he’s forgotten his own, isn’t really an on-screen actor anyway.  Messick was hired particularly for his previous voice work, having done numerous characters for many years.  He originated the voice of Scooby-Doo, Boo-Boo on Yogi Bear, and other iconic animation favorites.  While the voices were excellent, the screen presence was lacking.  And Julie Payne as Aggie was also primarily a voice actress, doing duty as the antagonistic foil for the rest of the cast and being about as two-dimensional as some of the cartoons she’d voiced.  But that was also the role she’d been given.

“I agree whole-heartedly that his talent and star power was wasted on that show. It seems like he was miscast in that straight role.”
The Duck Factory crew member Larry Verne

The biggest crime of The Duck Factory was in making Jim Carrey essentially the straight man to all these comical characters, portraying the wide-eyed newcomer from the mid-west who marvels at the weird world of LA and showbiz.  While later episodes of the series started to allow Carrey’s elastic-faced comic genius to be on display, initially his Skip character was almost overly earnest.  Critics saw promise in the series, but viewers saw a few too many early caricatures and not the fleshed out people who populated other successful comedies of the time.

“Running out of gas was the highlight!  Let’s see… we found out we lost the cable series to another company, and Aggie punched out Mr. Kemper; Roland’s date turned out to be a hooker; Wally lost twice; Marty accepted an award he didn’t even win… the only person who won anything was Buddy!  Brooks got bombed… and Mrs. Winkler fired him, hired him back, and then went home.  All in all it was pretty much a disaster.”
–Jim Carrey as Skip

Mrs. Winkler, why are you and Skip hiding?

The disaster above is a description of the events in one particular episode, but the true disaster was that audiences never appreciated the show.  Following an act like Cheers was hard enough, but the best known “name” at the time was Gilford.  Ganzel was a relative newcomer.  Tarses, Messick and Payne came from other fields.  Gilyard and especially Carrey had their best roles and years ahead of them, and The Duck Factory, while not a disaster, simply wasn’t really complete yet.

What many didn’t realize was that, as an example, the noted and popular Cheers had a similar experience early on, but had received a year’s worth of seasoning by NBC before it became a top-rated success.  The Duck Factory wasn’t allowed that time to grow, and so the series became nothing but wasted potential.  Here was a series with some definite highlights that, allowed to become fulfilled, would have been just as strong as any on television at the time.  With a little more work, The Duck Factory had all the markings of a potential hit, but a canceled show is still considered a failure… and a duck is still a duck.

JIM CARREY (Skip Tarkenton) had one other spectacular success on television, as a regular on the sketch comedy series In Living Color.  He’s been one of the biggest movie stars of comedy, after coming to prominence in the Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective films.  Other features followed, including The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Bruce Almighty, plus more dramatic turns in Man in the Moon, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Coming back to animation, he’s done voices (and computerized animation acting) in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who, and A Christmas Carol.

TERESA GANZEL (Sheree Winkler) played the ditzy blonde stereotype character on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in sketches over an 11-year run, and was also a featured regular in The Dave Thomas Comedy Show.  In recent years, she’s become a voice-over actress, heard in Monsters, Inc., WALL-EUp, and reuniting with Jim Carrey in Horton Hears a Who.

JACK GILFORD (Brooks Charmichael) had a career dating back to the 1930’s, but was a victim of the House Un-American Activities blacklisting on the 1950’s.  He reemerged on the New York stage, originating the roles of Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Fourm, and King Sextimus in Once Upon a Mattress.  He was in both Cocoon movies, and won an Emmy award for a guest appearance on the children’s series Big Blue Marble.  He passed away in 1990, at the age of 81, due to stomach cancer.

JAY TARSES (Marty Finneman) is better known behind the scenes, producing and creating other series (he also co-created The Duck Factory).  He was the driving force behind The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Public Morals, The Slap Maxwell Story, and Buffalo Bill.  His most famous acting role was in the comedy movie Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox, as his high school coach.  He wrote or co-wrote episodes of The Carol Burnett Show and The Bob Newhart Show, and the movies The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Great Muppet Caper.  His other, most significant creations are his children, TV producer Matt Tarses (of Scrubs and Sports Night) and TV executive Jamie Tarses (former head of ABC).

NANCY LANE (Andrea Lewin) was a member of the original Broadway cast of A Chorus Line, bringing audiences to tears each night as a member of the trio singing “At the Ballet”.  She appeared on Rhoda, Angie, Who’s the Boss?, and My Sister Sam, in addition to receiving a writing credit for an episode of Taxi.

CLARENCE GILYARD, JR. (Roland Culp) was a regular on over a decade of television, first on Matlock as assistant Conrad McMasters, and then as Texas Ranger Jimmy Trivette on Walker, Texas Ranger.  Prior to The Duck Factory, Gilyard had been a regular in the final season of CHiPs.  Movie appearances included Top Gun and Die Hard.

DON MESSICK (Wally Wooster) has a lengthy list of voice characterizations, but some of them include Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith (The Yogi Bear Show), Dr. Quest and Bandit (Jonny Quest), Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo in various incarnations of Scooby-Doo, Papa Smurf and Azrael (The Smurfs), and Hamton J. Pig (Tiny Toons Adventures).  The Duck Factory was one of his extremely few live-action performances.  He and his talented voice left us all in 1997, the victim of a stroke.

JULIE PAYNE (Aggie Aylesworth) had been a member of the early improvisational troupe The Committee, but many of her jobs in Hollywood were as a voice-over actress.  She gave voice to characters in Garfield and Friends and The Tracey Ullman Show.  More recently, audiences might recognize her as Cheryl Hines’ mom in appearances on the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The Duck Factory saw a limited release on VHS, but no DVDs are available commercially.  There are a few websites which describe the series online, but even those have limited information.  Most of the actors and actresses are really known for other work, and The Duck Factory is almost a footnote in their credits, when it appears at all.  It’s not that they’re embarrassed by the show, it seems that they’ve just gone on to bigger and better things.  That was certainly true of Carrey and Gilyard, and most of the rest have other, more prominent work.  Carrey’s online site has the most information available.

Surprisingly, almost all the acting talent in The Duck Factory went on to do other animation voice-work at one point or another.  Some came from there, obviously, but the rest either sought out that type of job, or were sought out by others for it, due to their association here.  At the very least, there was an appreciation for all kinds of performing, drawn and otherwise, by the cast and crew.  The Duck Factory may not have been a success, but it turned out a number of hit performers.

Was it a great comedy?  Perhaps, if it had been given some room to grow.  Although a show doesn’t necessarily have to be a popular hit to be considered “great”, with this particular cast I’d like to think that The Duck Factory would ultimately be known as such.  A little time and a little more craziness, and everyone would agree that the series would have been known for its quality.  And quality is still quality… just like a duck is still a duck.

Vital Stats

13 aired episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  April 12, 1984
Final aired episode:  July 11, 1984
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  No.  Thursday nights at 8:30/7:30 Central, immediately following Cheers and just before Hill Street Blues.  Wackiness should have worked here, but it just wasn’t up to par with its surroundings during its short run.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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