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Space: 1999 Proves Big Competition to Networks

This was an agency news report by Lee Margulies that was syndicated to local newspapers in the USA in November-December 1975. It appeared under the titles "Space: 1999 Proves Big Competition to Networks" (30 Nov, 1975), "Space: 1999 Producers Fought For Space on Television" (5 Dec, Pittsburgh Post Gazette), "Space: 1999 Scores Unique Success" (7 Dec) and "Space 1999 - footnote or new TV chapter" (7 Dec)

"Space: 1999" was sold successfully to individual stations after the networks refused to buy it. But that doesn't mean other television series can be sold as easily. Few can operate in the American market as inexpensively as the producers of "Space 1999."

By Lee Margulies

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Some of the folks involved in "Space: 1999" believe the science fiction series is writing n new chapter in the annals of American television.

Some outsiders think it's more likely to wind up as a footnote.

Regardless of the final verdict, there's no disputing that "Space: 1999" is significantly unusual - and not just because of its fantastic special effects.

What makes it so is the fact that it was rejected by the three networks, was then sold city-by-city nationwide and now is proving a success in prime time competition against the networks.

If that isn't enough to make network programmers chafe, there is the added irritant of knowing that 83 of the 155 television stations that bought "Space" in syndication have taken the unusual step of canceling or rescheduling regular network series to make room for it.

Twenty-four of the others reportedly plan to do the same later; the remainder are running the program in slots outside prime time.

Network executives aren't conceding publicly that the pre-emptions for "Space: 1999" have hurt, but they can't have helped network ratings. At the least, it's an interesting coincidence that the NBC and CBS shows most often displaced by "Space" - "The Invisible Man," "Fay," 'The Montefuscos," "Three for the Road"- have been canceled by the networks, and it looks like the prime ABC victim, "Barbary Coast," will be too.

"I think the industry implications of this are tremendous," says Abe Mandell, president of Independent Television Corp., the British-owned company producing "Space: 1999."

"I've gotten letters from syndicating competitors of ours saying 'God bless you' because they now know that the stations will pre-empt network programs if you come to them with the right kind of material. "

Most from Networks Syndication in itself is far from new, but "Space" is one hour long, and for the most part the only 60-minute shows that are syndicated arc reruns of former network series such as "The FBI" and "Mod Squad". "Hee Haw" and "The Lawrence Welk Show" are exceptions.

Original programs in syndication almost invariably are half-hour game shows: "Match Game," "High Rollers," Don Adams Screen Test" and animal shows "Animal World," "Wild Kingdom." Moreover, they're never intended for prime time.

Mandell bucked all that. He originally had conceived the series about a moon base gone adrift in space for the American market and, although produced in England, it was executed that way - with an American story editor and American stars Martin Landau, Barbara Bain (both formerly of the highly successful "Mission: Impossible") and Barry Morse.

Thus Mandell wasn't prepared to accept the networks' rejection.

"I believe that our show is good enough," he recalls arguing to colleagues. "I believe individual general managers and program directors will have a better feel for the American public than three guys who sit on Sixth Avenue in New York and say they know what 68½ million households want to see."

He wasn't wrong. The first year's package of 24 episodes was sold in 155 U.S. cities, covering all of the top 50 markets and about 94 per cent of the nation's homes with TV, Mandell says. All but four of those stations are network affiliates, he adds with pride.

Mandell is thrilled, you may be sure. And what delights him even more is the fact that CBS, NBC and ABC have eaten their words and come back to talk about picking up "Space" for next year.

That's still the route Mandell prefers because, despite the series' spectacular syndication success it still nets ITC only two thirds the $250,000- $280,000 per episode that a network pays. But even if a network deal falls through again, he promises "Space" will be back, because he believes more than ever now that syndication can be a viable alternative.

"We wrote a new page in the history book,' boasts Mandell, who has spent 19 of his 27 years in the entertainment business in television.

"Our success is going to give other syndicators more heart. Because if they will find a way to improve the quality a bit, to put out the money to make network-quality shows at a price general managers can live with, the managers are going to say to the network, "Hey, your show is not as good and I'd rather keep all the revenue I generate from this syndicated product instead of the percentage I get from yours.'"

But others aren't that optimistic. They point out that "Space" was bankrolled by Sir Lew Grade, the millionaire chairman of the ITC's parent company, at $215,000 per episode - the equivalent of $400,000 if the series had been made in Hollywood, Mandell says - and that it has been sold in 100 other countries because ITC is a well-established, worldwide television distributor.

"Space 1999" is unique, unfortunately, because it's produced in England," says Les Wallwork, head of his own syndicating company in Los Angeles. "ITC can sell it at a low figure in the United States because it's already making a profit on the show in the European market. It would be almost impossible to produce a prime time show in the United States with a budget that would make it attractive for syndication."

Said Tom Reiff, program director at KPRC-TV in Houston, Tex, an NBC affiliate that moved "The Invisible Man" out of prime time to air "Space": "There's so much required to make a major sales effort in something like this. You've got to go for big names and top production values, and that's going to cost you just like it costs the networks - maybe $120,000 for half an hour and upwards of $200,000 for an hour. You have to sell an awful lot of markets to come out on top on something like that."

Wallwork said a syndicated half hour program can't be budgeted at more than $50,000 if the producer wants to have a shot at making money in the United States - and the $25,000 - $30,000 range is preferable.

"It's just a matter of economics" he explained. "Look, I'd love to make a pilot for $100,000 but in order to get your $100,000 out of it, you'd have to make the sales price so astronomical that stations wouldn't be able to buy it.

"So you're strapped to the animal show format, where you can use a lot of stock footage and narration, or game shows, where the budget is small and there are no residuals to pay."

Space Vehicles Are Locale for Ch.21 Feature

The locale for the action of "The Day After Tomorrow." a "Special Treat" presentation on Channel 21, Tuesday, Dec. 13, is a spaceship and a space station.

A special 5'x9' model of the spaceship was built for exterior shots, so that various predicaments it gets into during flight could be shown on camera. A second model, half scale, was made and attached to the space station, which was 10 feet wide, 6 feet high and 8 feet deep.

In the program, the spaceship is supposed to be powered by chemical rockets and the "Photon Drive," an idea created by the writer with help from the science adviser.

The rockets were powered by Freon gas under pressure and the "Photon Drive" was produced by a quartz iodine lamp of approximately 2,000 watts.

During the Photon Drives the five occupants of the capsule arc shown with caved-in checks and seem to be under tremendous pressure. This was accomplished by aiming high-pressure nozzles of microfiltered nitrogen at the actors. The procedure was done little by little so they could become accustomed to the feeling.

Special effects producer Brian Johnson and his staff of 14 spent many weeks planning and shooting the unusual scenes for the program.