Cancelled Before It Began: Gene Rodenberry’s Spectre (1977)

By | August 5, 2016

Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.

spectre-gene-roddenberryAmong the pilots that Gene Roddenberry worked on during the 1970’s, The Questor Tapes (more on that at this link) and Genesis II / Planet Earth (more on those at this link) are better known to hardcore fans. But mostly forgotten is this supernatural drama that Star Trek‘s creator tried to launch during the latter half of that decade. It aired as a television movie in 1977 and starred Robert Culp and Gig Young as investigators looking into a case that involves the occult which ultimately leads to a face-off with the demon Asmodeus (who rather resembled the Gorn as you can see from the picture here). This was quite a leap for Roddenberry as science fiction had been his main playground since Trek bowed in the 60’s, but the pilot showed some promise. Culp and Young worked together well as the leads (modeled after Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson), and to an extent this predicted the direction of the many supernatural-tinged dramas that would follow in the years to come such as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural (the latter most heavily). Unfortunately, the story in the pilot itself, which started out decent, eventually collapsed under its own weight and verged toward bad camp by the end of the movie. Perhaps because Roddenberry was not as comfortable writing in the supernatural realm (he was assisted by Trek veteran Samuel A. Peoples who had more experience writing sci fi and westerns). But the premise had potential, and if he could have pulled some decent writers onboard the show might have worked. Sadly, the pilot was rejected (the TV movie was shuffled off to a late May run by NBC) and has since been mostly forgotten by genre fans. It hasn’t even received the DVD treatment like Roddenberry’s other 70’s pilots did. The movie did get a theatrical release in Europe in 1977 which added some scenes, including nudity and violence not acceptable on American television. Some bootleg copies of that are circulating around on DVD for those curious. The story also received a novelization by Robert Weverka which expanded on the characters and background, but that is long since out of print and very hard to find. A reboot of this one might be interesting, but there are so many similar supernatural dramas like this on television these days that it would have a hard time standing out. The Questor Tapes and/or Genesis II would be much more ripe for a reboot, but Spectre is still interesting for what it was and worth seeking out for fans of Gene Roddenberry’s work. You can read more about the Spectre pilot over at Occult Detective.

Aired: NBC, May 21, 1977

Created By: Gene Roddenberry, Samuel A. Peoples

Starring: Robert Culp, Gig Young, John Hurt, Majel Barrett

Order The Questor Tapes, Genesis II, and Planet Earth on DVD from

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