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Son Of Star Trek

Son of Star Trek To Appear In Fall

Indianapolis News, 19 April 1975

By Richard K. Shull

If the Justice Department ever gets around to prosecuting its case against the three commercial networks for alleged monopolistic tactics; it may have Exhibit A in the making right now with a show titled Space: 1999.

You won't find the show's title on any of the network schedules. It will be seen in most cities, sold station by the hard way as a means of circumventing the three networks.

So what is Space: 1999?

"It's Star Trek I not ashamed to admit, Star Trek was my model," said Abe Mandell, president of the New York-based Independent Television Corp. the production-sales arm of Sir Lew Grade's London- based A T V entertainment empire.

Mandell, who fathered the project, has 24 long episodes completed - as they say in the trade, "in the can," - at a cost of $6.5 million.

He said he geared the whole project to U.S. viewers who are 60 per cent of the worldwide TV market.

The series stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, of Mission: Impossible fame, and Barry Morse, the relentless pursuer in The Fugitive series.

Mandell used an American director to set the pace of the show and an American story editor and many Hollywood writers to further Americanize the series.

What's it about?

It's a variation on Star Trek. The time is 1999 and the place is the moon where a self-sustaining base with 311 scientists has been set up.

An atomic waste dump on the dark of the moon accidentally explodes, blasting the moon out of orbit and into a journey through deep space.

Individual story lines are comparable to the adventures familiar to all fans of Star Trek.

Now consider that ever since NBC dumped Star Trek from its schedule in 1969 there has been an increasingly vocal mob out in televisionland howling for a return of space science fiction.

And consider that NBC has been going through a virtual annual ritual of trying unsuccessfully to come to terms with producer Gene Roddenberry for a revival of Star Trek. Space: 1999 would seem like a natural. Right?

Wrong. That's where the arcane aspects of TV programming come in.

In Hollywood, networks usually advance money to producers to develop their shows in return for part ownership of the shows. There have been years when network profits from show ownership exceeded their profits from operating the networks.

Or as Mandell put it, "The networks like to be involved in the production. The project was done when I contacted them."

In fairness, he said when he approached NBC last year "we screened the show for them the day they announced their fall schedule. We were too late."

Mandell continued, "At NBC, Robert Wood (the president) was a gentleman about it. He said he liked the show but he already was committed to Planet of the Apes and he only wanted one science-fiction show on his schedule.

"Now ABC ... don't ask me why but they didn't want it," Mandell said.

It might be pointed out here that the ABC official - no longer with the network - who rejected it was the same fellow who turned down "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" - last season's blockbuster dramatic special on CBS - contending "Nobody wants to watch an old black woman scrubbing floors."

In frustration, after he faile to sell his series to any network, Mandell decided to sell it in syndication, one station at a time, as something to fill the early evening time slot when the networks are prohibited by Federal Communications Commission regulation from programming.

"Look what is in that prime time access period!" Mandell said. "There's 'Son of Let's Make a Deal' or looking at some elephant's fanny in a put together nature film."

But there's a hitch. On week nights, most stations only have a half-hour in the access period and Mandell has an hour show. On weekends, there's usually an available hour but it's filled with the likes of Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw.

So, Mandell has come up with a plan in which he'll meet the networks headon. "I predict Space: 1999 will be on network affiliated stations in prime time in the fall" he said.

As he sees it, station program directors, "who in many ways are smarter than the Sixth Avenue network people" will buy the show and sit on it and wait.

"They'll wait four or five weeks after the networks have their fall premieres - when the feathers hit the fan with the second or third Nielsen rating book, then they'll preempt the weakest network shows and schedule this into prime evening time.

"By the first of June, I expect to have Space: 1999 sold in 150 U.S. markets" Mandell added. To which might be added that reticence and modesty are not among Mandell's traits.

Meanwhile, those who care can ponder why the current network schedules are composed of 40 per cent cops 'n' robbers shows yet there isn't room anywhere for one science-fiction show.

Space: 1999 copyright ITV Studios Global Entertainment