Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.
Gene Roddenberry’s first project after Star Trek to come to fruition was the 1973 pilot Genesis II which starred Alex Cord and familiar Trek face Mariette Hartley. Cord plays Dylan Hunt, a scientist who undergoes an experiment with suspended animation but ends up doing the Buck Rogers thing and waking up in an unexpected future where the world has been ravaged by war. There, he hooks up with the group known as PAX who have preserved the technology from the past and who seek to rebuild the world by peaceful means. They control a vast underground “subshuttle” system, and the series premise would have had them making contact with new pockets of civilization each week in a sort of “Earth trek” twist on Roddenberry’s previous show where the Enterprise would encounter new societies on different planets. CBS chose to pass on the pilot, instead greenlighting the Planet of the Apes series which only lasted half a season. But Roddenberry did not give up on the idea and produced a second pilot that replaced Alex Cord with John Saxon as the lead character (still named Dylan Hunt) and also made a few more tweaks with a more technically advanced version of PAX. Unfortunately, that one did not fly either, and Roddenberry moved on to other projects (including the failed pilots The Questor Tapes and Spectre). The premise had a ton of potential, though, as it could have delivered the same type of morality plays and commentaries on society that Star Trek was known for, just in an Earth-bound, post-apocalyptic setting. As for the lead characters, Alex Cord (and his pornstar mustache) gave us a darker, more brooding central figure with some hints of moral ambiguity. John Saxon on the other hand channeled William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and delivered a more straight-forward, action hero type. Both had their strengths, though, and the series could have worked with either in the lead role (though I could see where the networks and audience might have a preference for Saxon). Interestingly, even though Genesis II / Planet Earth never went to series, several shows followed that delivered a similar “Earth trek” format including 1977’s Fantastic Journey, that same year’s Logan’s Run TV series, and 1985’s Otherworld (though none survived beyond a half season). Roddenberry’s original premise would definitely be ripe for a reboot these days, as it has plenty of untapped potential and his name would lend some cred to it. I know that his grandson Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry has been pursuing a revival of The Questor Tapes (more on that one at this link), but unfortunately I have not heard about similar efforts for Genesis II / Planet Earth. And for those who might remember a 1975 TV movie titled Strange New World that had a similar concept, that was a second reworking by ABC that brought back John Saxon and some of the ideas from Planet Earth, but Roddenberry had bowed out at that point. All three are available on DVD (see below), so feel free to decide which you think would best have worked as a TV series.
Aired: CBS, 1973
Starring: Alex Cord, Mariette Hartley, Ted Cassidy
Aired: ABC, 1975
Starring: John Saxon, Diana Muldaur, Ted Cassidy
Buy Genesis II, Planet Earth, and Strange New World, and The Questor Tapes on DVD from Amazon.com: