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Lavish Visual Effects in 'Space: 1999' Series

by John J. O'Connor, New York Times, 19th September 1975

With the new season's general level of mediocrity, television executives have enough to worry about, but now they are nervously preparing to contend with "Space: 1999." a science fiction series produced in Britain.

"Space: 1999" is not a network show. It is being syndicated station by station, and it has already been sold to 155 stations, the vast majority of them network affiliates.

If the series has any ratings success, those affiliates will be tempted to substitute episodes of "Space: 1999" for episodes of network series that might be sagging. That could mean even more serious trouble for, say, ABC's "Barbary Coast" or NBCs "The Montefuscos" and "Fay."

One Interesting indicator of things possibly to come was registered last Saturday in Cleveland. Shown from 7 to 8 p.m. on a UHF channel, "Space: 1999" came in first in Arbitron ratings, beating all the competition on VHF channels. That is the kind of performance that makes the broadcasting crowd begin rushing to dust off excuses.

In New York, "Space: 1999" will be carried on WPIX/Channel 11, which had decided to be rather timid and show the program on Sundays at 6:30 P.M. That's a pity. The station could have confronted the networks directly in prime time and created one of the more interesting sideshows of the new season.

This is not to suggest in any way, that "Space: 1999" is great art. But it is fun television, of the sort that has left countless thousands of viewers still heartbroken over the demise of "Star Trek." The real stars of the series are Brian Johnson and Nick Allder, who share most of the credit for special effects.

The Initial 24 episodes were produced at a cost of $6.5 million, or about $275.000 a program. One spokesman for the Independent Television Corp. estimates that In Hollywood, with its higher rates, the same episodes would have cost $400,000 each. In any case, the visual lavishness is immediately apparent, from the dazzling array of electronic gadgets and hardware to the "Moon City" costumes designed by Rudi Gernreich. To be caught without basic beige, in a variety of tones, would amount to social suicide In "Space 1999."

The first episode, which WPIX will show this Sunday, sets the galactic stage for an open-ended series of adventures. Moonbase Alpha is on the dark side of the moon, which is being used to store atomic waste disposal from planet Earth. The base contains 311 men and women from all Earth's nations, which makes the series more attractive in a wide range of foreign markets. The waste begins generating its own magnetic energy, and the moon is blasted out of earth's orbit by a gigantic thermonuclear explosion.

Moonbase Alpha is thus launched on standard flights of science fiction. In the inspirational words of a publicity release: "Weekly adventures depict the quest for a compatible planet, struggles for survival, defense against the fantastic life forms found in space and conflict with the awesome forces of the universe itself."

One future episode, "Death's Other Dominion," finds a group of people who can live forever, but discovers that "the price of immortality is impotence." That kind of thing, just to be on the safe side, the episode features several chesty women dressed in what appear to be bathing suits strategically torn for maximum exposure.

The stars of "Space: 1999" have prominent TV records. Martin Landau plays John Koenig, commander of the space outpost. His wife, Barbara Bain, is cast as the chief medical officer. Both performers won TV fame and fortune in the first 80 episodes of "Mission: Impossible."

As the chief scientist, "Space: 1999" has Barry Morse, who used to be Lieutenant Gerard on "The Fugitive." All three have developed cool robot styles entirely suited in the sci-fi genre. Miss Bain is particularly proficient at serious lifelessness.

"Space: 1999" is produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. ITC executives are especially pleased that the series has won a "recommended viewing" endorsement from the National Space Institute. Space scientists have noticed scientific flaws in the program. For instance, sound will not "carry" on the moon, but "Space: 1999" is ear-splitting with the crashing of spaceships and the booming of timpani on the music track. It's simple, one spokesman explained "No sound, no series." That's entertainment.