Thursday, October 5, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Space: 1999, Cancelled: 1977

To be honest, I don't remember hearing that Space: 1999 had been cancelled. It probably just fell by the wayside as we geeks went on to something more interesting. The second season ended and the third season never arrived. (No doubt TV Guide's end-of-book yellow 'teletype' page made note of the show's axing. In late 1975 it was that page that announced Space's renewal for another television season of twenty-four shows.)

Clipping from Starlog Magazine, number 5.
(click on picture to blow up)

Space: 1999 was cancelled ― or left adrift ― in early 1977, or as some pundits have put it: Space: 1999, Cancelled: 1977. After two bumpy seasons of meteor storms, face-paint aliens, two-dimensional characterizations, soap bubbles, and even worse, disappointing viewer numbers, the colourful SF/horror UK-import television series finished its run of metaphysical mumbo jumbo and simple creatures not-so-great, ending up discarded mid-Atlantic. (The show never really caught on here in North America). Sir Lew Grade's, and ATV's, initiative to leave cathode ray marks through its own solar-deficient star-fields, while valiant, and not without conviction, was not to meet a successful syndication package. Forty-eight films was not enough linear celluloid to make for lucrative "stripping" (Monday to Friday at 5pm, kind of thing). If a commitment had been made to produce another twenty-four shows, more people reading this might have an idea as to what a "space nineteen ninety-nine" is. However, history has made its judgement, cheating me out of a potential conversation with someone, even someone my own age, about a "remember that show?" and leaving me with a dialogue-killing "I don't think I know that one".

It's possible that Space: 1999 was simply ill-conceived, getting off to the worst possible start, cutting itself off at the landing pads, leaving itself with enough leverage to break the Earth's moon out of Earth orbit, and sending it straight to oblivion instead of planets of interest. Going through a black hole (or a "Black Sun", in Space's case) knocked the series even further from what the audience expected. Audience expectation should never be overrated. In fact, it's important for the bottom line; the return on investment. It's a business. Introducing the viewer to something a little off the beaten astro path is fine, but any such re-education program is doomed to fail if that new way of looking at space phenomena is too obtuse, and worse, transparent. The remote channel-changer was becoming more commonplace in the mid-seventies. Treating its controllers to almost static forward narratives in the first few minutes of an episode will leave that "ep" prone to being abandoned for a mindless sitcom, and television station schedulers moving the series to a less prime time slot, or dropping it altogether midrun.

Space's second season was aware of what had come before it, and it reorganized its own DNA as best it could without becoming another series all together, and entertained that built-in audience, if leaving those fans who truly believed that the first batch of twenty-four somehow constituted profundity feeling forgotten. While Year Two, on average, was more fun and presented characters at least resembling human beings, it was saddled with that cosmic albatross around its neck: a dusty moon running at indeterminable speeds uncontrollable and, too often, misguided. And stories demanding, but not delivering, enticing drama.

No, I'm not a hater of Space: 1999, to use modern parlance. I was there, after all, to give something new and seemingly exciting, according to the prerelease publicity machine and its materials, a chance, but this then fourteen-year-old knew what constituted good drama and a sense of storytelling. I'll nuke a too-often repeated lie that we Trekkers were hostile to the new kid on the block. To use UK parlance: Rubbish! We were there with bells on! Many of us were kids, and dry sponges ― the fannish protective and reactive baggage was a few years away, at least. Keep in mind that two years earlier my friends and I welcomed The Starlost. If we became quickly disillusioned and disappointed by some strange new space vehicle, it may have been due to a feeling we were being sold VHS box cover "not exactly as advertised" content. (As collectors of physical media will tell you, what's on the covering artwork is often better than the movie itself; like finding one of those binned videotapes marked down: "Was $19.99, now $0.99!") Many of us may have gravitated back to our Star Trek reruns, which were in high rotation in 1975 - 1977, but if we ultimately rejected Space: 1999, we did so because we felt that too much promised cosmic-level quality content had been left in the promotional artwork, and in the heavens, not through any perceived encroachment on our precious star treks.

I was there.

Yes, indeed.

And I remember the fabulous sights, sounds, and, disappointments... all leading to my look back at a television series that could have been so much better, but is now wrapped tidily in nostalgia.

1 comment:

Simon St. Laurent said...

... and that concludes my 13-part look back at Space: 1999.

Now back to our regular programming....