Sylvia Anderson the heart of SPACE 1999

“That’s the purpose of that… ‘Ghost in the Machine’ as it were, that sort of popped up from time to time, where things would correct themselves, [as an example]the journey through the Black Sun [episode]. There was something guiding them. We didn’t put a name to it but it was there and it came, I think, full circle [with the episode THE TESTAMENT OF ARKADIA]. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this would be the final episode of that kind of SPACE 1999. And what it was, was a question of identity. A question of belief.”

—Johnny Byrne, Main Writer, Speaking on the season 1 finale, TESTAMENT OF ARKADIA

Just got done watching the Sylvia Anderson interview on the special features disk of the SPACE 1999 SEASON 1 Bluray (Sylvia Anderson being the Co-creator and Producer of SPACE 1999). It’s a must listen. You realize exactly how right her instincts were, and what she brought to the show. Particularly this is born out by the difference in the quality of the show from Season 1 when she was there as producer fighting for it to season 2 when she was no longer with the show.

Among the things Ms. Anderson discusses in the interview is that she didn’t feel Martin Landau or Barbara Bain were right for the show. And it’s a viewpoint I can understand. While I think they work in the roles (particularly Barbara Bain brings an odd, but endearing quality to her performances), I think the show worked in-spite of the leads, not because of them.

There are some shows you look at the cast, and say ‘Well I can’t see anyone else doing those roles. That’s perfect casting!” You can say that of the first STAR TREK series (even in light of the movies etc, that first crew is perfect, seminal casting) and FARSCAPE, etc. However, you can’t say that of SPACE 1999, I think numerous actors could have done the role of Commander Koenig to equal or better effect. It’s the ambitious scripts and the [for the time] strong production values, and the ensemble performance of the actors, rather than just the leads, which makes the show.

Particularly when you hear Sylvia Anderson’s interview (which is available on the Blu-Ray) and Gerry Anderson’s commentary and the concessions they made to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and the problems they had, it makes you question if the roles would have been better served inhabited by unknown actors, etc.

Well those are questions beyond the answering. What is known is that with the departure of Sylvia Anderson, at the end of season one, the show lost its rudder and its way.

Sylvia Anderson fought hard in the first season for script conferences and to give some sense of weight and seriousness and cohesiveness, a heart if you will to an admittedly fantastic show. But I think she understood that the more fantastic the show, the more important it is that the little things, the connections and reactions of people ring true and be grounded and relatable. And with her out as producer, the show also lost its voice of reason in front of the camera… Barry Morse, and ultimately the show succumbed to dumbed-downed storytelling and pandering to audiences with spectacle and rubber monsters… rather than craft and story.

And that difference is clearly seen in the first episode of season 2, METAMORPH (kindly included on the Season 1 Blu-ray’s special features). Devoid of Sylvia Anderson and Barry Morse, and anyone to fight the cliched ideas coming from the American office of ITV, the show increasingly looked like a poor man’s Buck Rogers.

But hindsight is always 20/20. Hurdles and politics and all, the 1st season of SPACE 1999 was pulled off, and flaws accepted, it’s ambitious television, it is television that tries to say something. And that is television to be proud of.

And since I’m talking about the show thirty five years after its cancellation, it seems that it is also television… that endures.

Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray] – Buy it here!

Some of this post has been edited into the earlier SPACE 1999 article.

SPACE 1999 vs MISSION IMPOSSIBLE! and Crop Rotation?!!

Okay I don’t mean to make this the SPACE 1999 hour, but I’m listening to the Gerry Anderson commentary on the first episode BREAKAWAY, and it spurs me to some comments of my own. First it’s not really a commentary, it’s maybe 15 minutes of comments by Mr. Anderson sprinkled throughout the hour long episode.

But the comments he does offer are riveting. He discusses just the immense pressures and issues getting this series made. From trying to acquire American leads, to problems with the first director, to set issues, to basically ITC America telling them what stories they definitely couldn’t do.

Even problems with having stars Landau and Bain stand near each other in a two shot. It seems that Martin Landau wanted to show off his California tan, and Barbara Bain wanted to appear as white as possible, so when the two were in a shot together, grading the film became nearly impossible, as the color film stock lacked the range of the Black and White film stock. Martin Landau would either end up looking Black, or Barbara Bain would end up looking transparent. So they had to compromise a bit, with Landau toning down his tan, and Bain adding some color.

It’s little anecdotes like that that make commentaries fun. Of course today in the age of digital, film grading is not an issue, but in 1975 technological limitations ruled. Yet another reason the show looks better on Blu-ray today than it ever did.

It’s a fun bit of behind the scenes business. And it highlights why the people that move any medium forward be it radio or tv or movies or music, are generally under 30.

Whether it’s Paul Robeson redefining the theater in the 1920s while in his 20s (after also breaking barriers in both academics and sports), or Orson Welles redefining theater, radio and film in the 30s (while in his 20s), or if it’s Steven Spielberg and George Lucas defining the modern blockbuster with their one two punch of JAWS and STAR WARS, while they were 29 and 33 respectively (given Lucas a pass here), changing the face of the world in small ways and large… is generally a job for the young.

Even to this generations JJ Abrams, who started in his 20s changing the face of television and now cinema.

The movers and shakers all start young, because impossible has not yet become part of their vocabulary. It’s young people with hunger and vision and boundless energy, that have to get these visionary shows made around and through and despite the objections or qualms or head shaking of the gate-keepers. The old people, who hold the purse strings, and want to keep attracting/appealing to a new audience but are generally afraid of the new.

And Gerry Anderson, who started producing shows at 28, talks a bit on the psuedo-commentary about the hurdles involved in creating the show.

This isn’t to say only young people change their respective mediums, there are tons of people late in life who decided to change the world… and have.

George Washington Carver comes immediately to mind, who in addition to finding hundreds of uses for food byproducts including dyes, oils, charcoal, conditioner, glue, bio-diesel fuel, etc., pretty much single-handedly saved the economy and agriculture of the south. It was his creation and tireless implementation of a program of crop rotation, that kept the Southern United States from destroying its soil and looking like what Haiti has become [a country that can’t grow its own food due to soil depletion].

But geniuses like Mr. Carver aside, as a general rule it’s the young who blaze the trail into the new. Be it science or architecture or… tv/cinema.

You see what I did there? Like how I brought it back on track? Yeah I though it was nifty too. 🙂

All this to say. it’s a fun commentary. Go pick it up and give a listen. 🙂

Oh and a few words on the stars:

Martin Landau, who it’s worth mention at 84 is still going strong, has 5 films in production! Wow! In addition to SPACE 1999, he’s known for Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, ED WOOD his 4 year run on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, the recent stints on EVIDENCE, ENTOURAGE, and WITHOUT A TRACE, and memorable guest spots on shows as diverse as OUTER LIMITS, GUNSMOKE and SIMPSONS.

Barbara Bain- The lovely Ms. Bain who is also going strong, and like Landau, has forged an amazing career. From the film AMERICAN GUN to PANIC to Zack Horton’s POLITICAL DISASTERS to GIDEON to ANIMALS WITH THE TOLLKEEPER to SAVAGE(also stars Landau and directed by Steve Spielberg) to GOODNIGHT MY LOVE (doesn’t appear to be on DVD yet, but has great reviews) to the RICHARD DIAMOND television series to her 4 years on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, and mountains of shows and movies between and since. CSI, DIAGNOSIS MURDER, the list goes on.

You can see why the studio pushed hard to get the two of them together in SPACE 1999. They wanted to capitalize on the two actors previously starring together in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. Instant marketability.

However that said I have to agree with Sylvia Anderson the co-creator and producer, who didn’t feel Martin Landau or Barbara Bain were right for the show. I think the show worked in-spite of the leads, particularly Martin Landau, not because of them. There are some shows you look at the cast, and say ‘Well I can’t see anyone else doing those roles. That’s perfect casting!” You can say that of the first STAR TREK series (even in light of the movies etc, that first crew is perfect, seminal casting) and FARSCAPE, etc. You can’t say that of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, I think numerous actors could have done the role of Commander Koenig to equal or better effect.

Particularly when you hear Sylvia Anderson’s interview (which is available on the Blu-Ray) and Gerry Anderson’s commentary and the concessions they made to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and the problems they had, it makes you question whether the roles would have been better served inhabited by unknown actors, etc.

Well those are questions beyond the answering. What is known is that with the departure of Sylvia Anderson, at the end of season one, the show lost its rudder and its way.

Sylvia Anderson fought hard in the first season for script conferences and to give some sense of weight and seriousness and cohesiveness, a heart if you will to an admittedly fantastic show. But I think she understood that the more fantastic the show, the more important it is that the little things, the connections and reactions of people ring true and be grounded and relatable. And with her out as producer, the show also lost its voice of reason in front of the camera… Barry Morse, and ultimately the show succumbed to dumbed-downed storytelling and pandering to audiences with spectacle and rubber monsters… rather than craft and story.

And that difference is clearly seen in the first episode of season 2, METAMORPH (kindly included on the Season 1 Blu-ray’s special features). Devoid of Sylvia Anderson and Barry Morse, and anyone to fight the cliched ideas coming from the American office of ITV, the show increasingly looked like a poor man’s Buck Rogers.

But hindsight is always 20/20. Hurdles and politics and all, the 1st season of SPACE 1999 was pulled off, and flaws accepted, it’s ambitious television, it is television that tries to say something. And that is television to be proud of.

And since I’m talking about the show thirty five years after its cancellation, it seems that it is also television… that endures.

That’s all for now. Come back later for more reviews!

Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray] – Buy it here!