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Outer Limits, The

Entry updated 25 July 2023. Tagged: TV.

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1. US tv series (1963-1965). A Daystar/Villa di Stefano Production for United Artists, ABC TV. Created by Leslie Stevens, also executive producer. Produced by Joseph Stefano (season 1), Ben Brady (season 2). Writers included Stefano (many episodes), Stevens, David Duncan, Robert Towne, Harlan Ellison, Meyer Dolinsky, John Mantley, Jerry Sohl and Ib Melchior. Directors included Byron Haskin, Leonard Horn, Gerd Oswald and Charles Haas. Two seasons; 49 50-minute episodes. Black and white.

The Outer Limits, which featured a new sf story each week, is often regarded as the classic sf-anthology Television Anthology Series. Though leaning towards the Horror or Monster-Movie end of the sf spectrum, the series was often innovative in both style and subject matter, and many of its writers were either sf professionals or knew the genre well. Episodes were hosted by the offscreen "Control Voice" (Vic Perrin). The pilot episode, "The Galaxy Being", written and directed by Stevens, concerned an Alien made of pure energy who is accidentally absorbed into a 3D radio transceiver on Earth. Harlan Ellison contributed two well-remembered segments: "Soldier" (1964) – adapted from his own story "Soldier" (October 1957 Fantastic Universe) – about an ultraconditioned soldier from the future who is projected back in time and finds himself in a typical 1960s US household – a precursor of The Terminator (1984) – and "Demon with a Glass Hand" (1964), perhaps the finest episode, about an Android, pursued by aliens, who has the entire human race coded in his internal circuitry. "The Zanti Misfits", a memorable episode about insectoid Aliens and human xenophobia, was cited as one of the best all-time television episodes by TV Guide in 1997. Like "Soldier", several episodes were based on published stories, including "Corpus Earthling" from Louis Charbonneau's Corpus Earthling (1960); "The Bellero Shield", very loosely based on "The Lanson Screen" (December 1936 Thrilling Wonder Stories) by Arthur Leo Zagat; "I, Robot" from Eando Binder's "I, Robot" (January 1939 Amazing Stories); and "The Duplicate Man" from Clifford D Simak's "Goodnight Mr. James" (March 1951 Galaxy).

Actors who appeared in The Outer Limits – many of them then unknown – included Robert Culp, Bruce Dern, Martin Landau, David McCallum, Leonard Nimoy, Donald Pleasence and William Shatner. The bizarre make-up for which the series was known was the work of Wah Chang (primarily), John Chambers and Fred Phillips. Jack Poplin, the art director, was nominated for an Emmy award for his work on the series in 1964.

Dominic Frontiere composed the theme tune and the first season's incidental music. The talented cinematographer Conrad Hall also worked on the first season, and the series was visually striking. Only stupid programming (it was shifted to a time-slot opposite the hugely popular Jackie Gleason Show) led to the series' cancellation halfway through the second season. The Outer Limits was, on the whole, more imaginative and intelligent than its more famous competitor on CBS, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. It inspired the homage Fanzine The Outer Limits: An Illustrated Review (1977) and its successor Outer Limits Newsletter (1978-1983). The Outer Limits: The Official Companion (1986) by David J Schow and Jeffrey Frentzen is a nonfiction overview of the series. Three Anthologies of stories adapted from series episodes (each also including a reprinted tale that became a noted episode) begin with The Outer Limits: Volume One (anth 1996) edited by Debbie Notkin (whom see) and Roger Stewart.

2. US tv series (1995-2002). Produced by Alliance Atlantis and other companies for MGM Television. Created by Leslie Stevens. Executive producers included Brent-Karl Clackson, Pen Densham, Richard Barton Lewis and John Watson. Consulting producer: Leslie Stevens. Writers included Alan Brennert, James Crocker, Sam Egan, Chris Ruppenthal and Brad Wright. Directors included Mario Azzopardi, Neill Fearnley, Adam Nimoy, Joseph L Scanlan and Brad Turner. Seven seasons; 154 44-minute episodes. Color.

This revival of the 1963-1965 series retained the anthology format, with all of the episodes being self-standing, but there were a handful of episodes that were followed up by later sequels. The offscreen Control Voice (Kevin Conway) provided commentary at the beginning and end of each show. Most stories were original to the series but a few were remakes of shows from 1 above, and several of the later episodes were constructed around excerpts from earlier ones in this new series. The shows were generally well-written, and visually interesting, but they lacked the distinctive cinematography, music, lighting, direction, and overall style of the original series. The stories often concluded with an ironic twist. Common themes included encounters with AIs or Extraterrestrials, and time travel. In addition to the original screenplays, a number of episodes were based on published stories, including the two-hour pilot, which was adapted from George R R Martin's novelette "Sandkings" (August 1979 Omni). Other adaptations included "The Human Operators" from Harlan Ellison's and A E van Vogt's "The Human Operators" (January 1971 F&SF); "Think Like a Dinosaur" from James Patrick Kelly's "Think Like a Dinosaur" (June 1995 Asimov's); "The Revelations of Becka Paulson" from Stephen King's "The Revelations of Becka Paulson" (19 July-2 August 1984 Rolling Stone); "First Anniversary" from Richard Matheson's "First Anniversary" (July 1960 Playboy); and "Inconstant Moon" from Larry Niven's Hugo-winning story "Inconstant Moon" (in All the Myriad Ways coll 1972). [JB/PN/DRL/LW]

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