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Refinements in 'Space: 1999' Give Science Fiction a Future

Refinements in 'Space: 1999' Give Science Fiction a Future

By Chris Stoehr (Milwaukee Sentinel, 22 October 1976)

One of the contenders for "most improved series" is surely "Space: 1999," the syndicated science fiction program shown at 5p.m. Sundays on Channel 18 in Milwaukee.

Last season, its first, was an interesting foray into the vacuum left by "Star Trek." Unlike "Star Trek," one of the hottest shows in rerun, no "Space .." cult we've heard of has appeared on the scene to hold "Space" conventions and sing the praises of John Koenig, commander of Moonbase Alpha, played by Martin Landau (Koenig's most recognizable fellow traveler is Dr. Helena Russell, played by real his wife Barbara Bain).

For those who haven't checked in with the series since last season, some surprises are in store: the production qualities are at least 100% improved, as are story lines and character development.

The series is shot outside London, and in a phone conversation during a break in taping there, Landau made no bones about the fact that he was less than ecstatic about the first season and the "woodenness of the characters."

But if a science fiction show doesn't have excellent miniatures (the spacecraft Eagle has three, varying from 4 1/2 feet to 8 inches) the effect on a TV screen can be devastating. "It's much harder to do science fiction well on TV. Video tape tends to make everything look flat. You don't have the advantages the large movie screen gives you. In science fiction, the bigger it is, the better it looks. Look at "2001:" Landau said. "When you need some exterior shots, you can't just go out into the street and shoot the scene. Every exterior has to be carefully constructed - the cost is phenomenal, compared to a cop show - and even more carefully snot to give the tight perspective."

More Interplay

This season there's more interplay among the characters, more of what Landau calls "battlefield humor," as Moonbase Alpha floats through the universe on a moon out of orbit.

"My character is very interesting. Since it's 1999, we're not that far advanced. It was an accident that pushed us out, and we're still trying to adjust. Koenig was born in the '50s and really grew up in the '70s. People are seeing someone of their time coping with it, without the scientific or emotional advancement."

Surprisingly, Landau feels, "Space: 1999's" largest group of fans are not trekkies, fans of "Star Trek."

"There was a lot of resentment at first. I think they resented another science fiction show. From the mail "Space ..." gets, Landau thinks they're coming around.

People who did not come around to space were network programmers two years ago, when the package was offered. Much to their chagrin, "Space: 1999" now beams Into 101 countries and 155 markets (cities) in the US.

Landau wasn't surprised that networks, having seen the success of "Star Trek." didn't jump on "Space." They didn't jump on "Mission Impossible," his and wife Barbara Bain's previous series, which is still seen in 69 countries.

Were Against 'Mission'

"They told us "Mission" wouldn't work, either. They were dead set against it. It was too far out.

"There are 50 ways to play every scene, and once we got a fix on the right style for 'Mission', a certain kind of daring do, hitting the right notes, we were set. Something that looks simple was very hard to arrive at. That's the way it usually works. They told Barbara, they warned a combination of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly for the role of Cinnamon. It sounds impossible, but that's what it was. Who would have thought that five pretty impersonal agents ganging upon one bad guy week after week and coming out on top would have worked?

"The music, the cutting, the look of "Mission" affected all of TV, and even cinema.

"The role of Rollin Hand was written for me. In fact, in the draft of the pilot script they just inserted my name in the draft - Martin. They chose Rollin for the character's name because it had the same number of letters as mine, and they didn't want to have to retype the script. It was a romantic reality, "Mission". But you can't stay in something too long."

When Landau was dropped from the series, Barbara Bain also bowed out in one of the most publicized casting stories of TV. "Mission Impossible" went along for a season with several actresses trying to fill Cinnamon's glamor and them suffered a styleless death a season later.

Bain and Landau are back. And even in spacesuits facing intruders from other worlds, intergalactic wars, and mysterious diseases in the soil beneath them, Miss Bain still has the half smile that seems swiped from da Vinci. And Landau's the commander who lets his humanity slip through at the height of a crisis. Science fiction may be the most popular form of worldwide entertainment. The message of 'Space: 1999" comes through, even in Japanese.