In 1954, the UK started a new commercial TV network of regional stations called ITV (Independent TeleVision). Lew Grade, his younger brother Leslie Grade, Prince Littler and Val Parnell formed the Incorporated Television Programme Company (ITP) to bid for a regional franchise. The ITV franchises were widely seen as "a licence to print money", a phrase often attributed to Lew Grade. They were not successful, because their talent agency, the Grade Organisation, was a potential conflict of interest.
Instead, they decided to produce programmes for the new network, under a new name, the Incorporated Television Company (ITC). The American sales organisation was named the Independent Television Corporation (also "ITC"). ITC put almost their entire budget into a single series, The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1956-60) and established their successful formula. Although British made, the ITC series were equally targeted at the American and international market, earning over £100 million in international sales. The series, and many later ITC shows, were created and executive produced by Hannah Weinstein, an American journalist who had fled McCarthyism in the US for London. She hired many blacklisted Hollywood writers to work on Robin Hood.
ITC stuck closely to the formula with following series, such as The Count of Monte Cristo (1956), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-57), The Buccaneers (1956-57) and Sir Francis Drake (1961-62). By the end of the 1950s they started to move on from the historical genre to contemporary action adventure, with Danger Man(1959-60). The 30 minute episodes began to be expanded to an hour with Ghost Squad (1961). They had a huge hit with The Saint (1962-68), and revived Danger Man (1964-67) with an hour-long format. The Baron (1966-67) was the first hour-long series made in colour in the UK. In 1962, ITC acquired AP Films, run by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and funded first Stingray (1964), the first children's series in colour, followed by the hour-long Thunderbirds.
The ITC series shared a common formula. Episodes were shot on 35mm film (most other series were made on videotape or poorer quality 16mm film, but 35mm film was higher quality and easily exportable to America). ITC were pioneers of colour in British TV in the 1960s (in the UK colour TV sales overtook black and white only in 1977). Directors and many crew were experienced veterans of the British film industry, while leading cast were internationally known British actors or sometimes imported American stars, chosen for their appeal to American audiences. The focus on popular entertainment meant that while ITC series were commercially successful, they were rarely popular with critics. The budgets were high compared to other British television, but filming schedules were relentless. Scripts in particular had to be written fast and on many shows were notoriously late.
Meanwhile, the Associated Broadcasting Development Company had won the weekend franchise for London and the weekday franchise for the Midlands. The company quickly ran into money problems, so the Independent Television Authority, the governing body of the ITV network, invited Grade and Littler to join the consortium. Val Parnell became managing director, and Lew Grade his deputy. The new company name became Associated Television (ATV). ITC became a wholly owned ATV subsidiary in 1957. In 1966, the companies were reorganised with a parent company, the Associated Television Corporation (ATC), which in 1978 was renamed the Associated Communications Corporation (ACC).
ACC was led by managing director Lew Grade ("Sir Lew Grade" from 1969, "Lord Grade" from 1976). Bruce Gyngell was deputy managing director. US-based Abe Mandell was President of ITC. Grade and Mandell had a long association with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Gyngell was also head of the Nine Network in Australia (the first commercial channel in 1956, where he had been the first person on camera). In Australia he had known actor Nick Tate, who had starred in the series The Chaser.
Gerry Anderson (series producer), Lew Grade (managing director, ATV), Bernard J Kingham (ITC executive in charge of production) and Bruce Gyngell (deputy managing director, ATV) during a visit to Pinewood Studios while filming Earthbound
Martin Landau, Bernard J Kingham (ITC executive in charge of production) and Abe Mandell (President of ITC, seated)
In the 1950s and 1960s, ITC had been successful in selling British series to the American networks. The Adventures Of Robin Hood ran on CBS, as did Danger Man (retitled as Secret Agent) and The Prisoner. NBC broadcast The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The Saint and The Champions. The Persuaders ran on ABC.
In 1973, ITC pitched the series to the US networks. The casting of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in August 1973 was intended to attract American audiences, and thus network executives. CBS gave their tentative commitment to buy the series for their 1974 autumn schedule, on condition that the Landaus were the stars.
The US TV market was undergoing big changes in the 1970s. Starting from 1971, networks were subject to new regulations. The Prime Time Access Rule limited the amount of network programming in the evening ("prime time"). Another requirement was to spin off the network syndication divisions. These rules were intended to reduce the power of the national networks and promote competition. Selling series to networks became more difficult, while selling shows to individual US stations ("syndication") became a growing market.
A major series like Space: 1999 required a sale to a major US network. ITC could sell the show in syndication, but that required an expensive sales operation and earned back the money unevenly over a lengthy period. Space: 1999 was already starting production, but network backing had evaporated. Prompted by exceptional ratings for the TV premiere of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes, CBS commissioned a spin-off series. CBS president Robert Wood told ITC that they only had room for one science fiction series. ITC had to sell Space: 1999 in syndication. It was already too late to sell the show for 1974. Instead, the series would be sold for autumn 1975, one year later.
Syndication could be successful- the first series of Space: 1999 was successful enough for a second season to be commissioned. In 1976, ITC had one of its biggest hits, The Muppet Show (1976-1981), sold via syndication (based on a deal with CBS owned and operated stations). ITC did make two major sales to US networks for later series: Jesus of Nazareth (1977, sold to NBC) and Return of the Saint (1978, sold to CBS).
ITC also tried to bring in other investors. Italy's state broadcaster RAI were first involved with the TV film Moses the Lawgiver (1974). The first series of Space: 1999 was produced with a third of the money from RAI, but they did not invest in the second series. RAI were also involved with ITC's Jesus of Nazareth and Return of the Saint.
The first series of Space: 1999 reached screens in September 1975, but ITC was not keen to renew the series. The first series budget in 1973 was £2.6 million (equivalent at the time to US$6.5 million). The start of filming of the first series coincided with a world-wide economic recession (caused by a quadrupling of the oil price by OPEC in response to the Yom Kippur war), and political instability in the UK. Inflation in the UK was 16% in 1974 and 25% in 1975 (US inflation was 11% in 1974 and 9% in 1975, but ITC's budgets were in UK pounds). By the end of 1975, the recession was technically over, but the UK continued to suffer from high inflation, unemployment and strikes. ITC eventually committed £3.7 million to the second series (equivalent to $7.2 million); the 42% increase was less money after the 57% increase in inflation over 3 years.
ITC's president Abe Mandell wanted an American producer to take Sylvia Anderson's vacant slot, and he would give them the freedom to make any changes they wanted. ITC wanted a series with major changes which a US network would buy. First Mandell approached Mission: Impossible writer and producer Allan Balter. Balter advised ITC to sack Landau and Bain, but didn't want to move to the UK. Mandell turned to Fred Freiberger. Freiberger's proposed changes were accepted, and the second series was commissioned. Unfortunately the second series didn't attract a network sale either, also being sold to syndication. While the 1975 season had been weak, the new TV shows for 1976 were more popular and ITC struggled to find buyers. At this point, ITC gave up and cancelled the series.
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Martin Landau stated (in an interview with David Hirsch in Starlog 108, July 1986) that Space: 1999 was cancelled because Lew Grade was moving into film.
"We got sacrificed," Landau declares. "Lew Grade who owned the production company was getting into the motion picture business and it turned out his advertising budget for his films, like Raise the Titanic, was our total budget for another season. It would have served them, from a syndication point-of-view, to have another season, but it came down to economic priorities. I think there was a very good chance of our going another season if he hadn't gotten into movies and needed that money."
This is a little simplistic. While ITC was moving into film and reducing its involvement in TV series, it continued to produce new series. Just as Space: 1999 was cancelled, it was committing $12.5 million to the TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. ITC successfully sold this and other series to US TV networks. Syndication could be profitable, and ITC created one of the most popular syndicated series: The Muppet Show. The immediate reason for cancelling Space: 1999 was because it had not secured a US TV network sale. The series was profitable in syndication, but insufficient to justify a third series. Lew Grade preferred to move on to new projects unless a show was an instant hit.
There were several reasons that ITC was shifting away from TV towards film. The TV market was in decline, and selling series was becoming more difficult. In addition, the UK regulator had ruled that the chairman of an ITV company must be under 70- and Lew Grade would be 70 in 1976. With the regulator forcing him away, Grade and ITC began to focus on films. To reflect the change, ITC became "ITC Entertainment" in September 1976.
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), starring Catherine Schell, was the first big hit. Grade announced a $6 million investment in films in 1974, and in September 1976 he announced an $100 million commitment to new films (plus $60 million for new TV). ITC films included some critical hits such as The Boys from Brazil (1978), The Muppet Movie (1979), Gregory's Girl (1981) and Sophie's Choice (1982). None made major money, and two films in 1980 were expensive failures, Can't Stop the Music and Raise The Titanic. The next year, The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) also flopped.
In addition to film production, Grade was also keen to get involved in film distribution. In 1975 ACC created Associated General Films to release films in the US, but the company ended in 1977. In 1979, ACC created the a new US company, Associated Film Distribution. Grade also bought the Classic chain of cinemas in the UK. At a time of declining cinema audiences and with ITC's poor track record, ACC began to suffer major losses.
In 1982, ACC was taken over by the Bell Group, run by notorious corporate raider Robert Holmes a Court, who purged Lew Grade in a boardroom coup and fired most of the staff. In 1987 the Bell Group ran into financial difficulties and was taken over by another Australian businessman, Alan Bond and his Bond Corporation. The ITC Entertainment division was bought out by its own managers in 1988.
Meanwhile, the rights to the music for Space: 1999 belonged to another ACC company, ATV Music, which managed publishing rights for pop music as well as ATV's film and TV themes. The major property in the library is the Beatles catalogue. ATV Music was sold in 1985 to the pop star Michael Jackson (Paul McCartney had previously tried to buy the rights). In 1995, Jackson's ATV Music merged with Sony to become Sony/ATV Music Publishing. In 2012 it acquired EMI to become the largest music publishing company in the world. In 2016, Sony bought the 50% share belonging to Michael Jackson's estate for an estimated $750 million, taking full control.
Library incidental music used in the series came largely from the Chappell catalogue, which in 1987 was bought by Warners and is now Warner/Chappell Music.
In 1995, the Dutch-German company Polygram bought ITC for $156 million. In December 1998 Polygram was bought by Seagram, who then sold the ITC division to Carlton Communications in January 2001 for £91 million. Carlton already owned much of the ITV network, including ATV's successor Central.
In 2004, Carlton was bought by Granada (which owned most of the rest of ITV), forming ITV plc.
Licensing for Space: 1999 is managed by the division ITV Studios Global Entertainment.