Sci Fi TV Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of sci fi TV
What Is It? This late 50’s speculative fiction entry was a semi-anthology series (with William Lundigan playing the only recurring character) that chronicled the exploration and colonization of the solar system. This series relied heavily on scientifically accurate data for the time and tried to present a realistic, less fanciful portrayal of space travel (i.e., no aliens, time travel, space battles, etc.).
Aired: 1959-60, 1 Season Totaling 38 Episodes
Starring: William Lundigan, Tyler McVey
Created By: Lewis J. Rachmil
Why It Stands Out: This was a rare bit of serious science fiction for its day that stepped away from the “kiddie space operas” that defined the genre in the 1950’s like Captain Video and his Video Rangers, Space Patrol, and Tom Corbet Space Cadet, and that tried to tell realistic stories based as much as possible in science.
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi? Not necessarily. It is more a curio of its day, and its definitely worth catching a few episodes for its early attempt at series science fiction. But the episodes do get rather repetitive after a while.
The Skinny: This little known relic from the early days of television ran only one season on CBS from 1959 to 1960 and it has since been mostly forgotten because it never enjoyed much of a syndication run (the episode count of 38 was less than what market prefers). And that’s a shame because this series represented a significant step forward for sci fi television, even if it rarely gets the credit. This was an early instance of hard sci fi / speculative fiction on television with British entries like Quatermass and A for Andromeda as the few other similar examples to make it to the small screen during the 50’s and early 60’s (and those two only aired in the UK). Men into Space focused on the near future exploration and colonization of the solar system, and it did it by sticking as close as possible to scientific fact (based on the knowledge of the day). This series was a far cry from the Captain Video-type space operas of the early 50’s as it eschewed plots dealing with alien menaces, mad scientists, or maniacal villains. Instead this series took a realistic look at space travel that at times focused on such mundane issues astronauts would have to face as technical malfunctions to their spacecraft and the impact of extra weight on a rocket launch. The downside of the show’s approach is that it often led to episodes that seemed rather stoic and dull compared to other Prime Time fare, and that likely lent to the show’s cancellation after only one season. Nowadays it definitely has a dated look to it, but the show’s special effects were actually quite good for the time, and sci fi fans today might find it more than just a curio from an age past. It’s definitely much more enjoyable than Captain Video or Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (though those shows do have their own particular charm), and it offers an interesting early attempt to deliver a serious show about space travel not aimed primarily at kids. It’s definitely worth seeking out to to see a rare attempt at serious science fiction from an age when the genre was considered for kids only.
Cancelled Too Soon? Apparently. This one aired on Wednesdays at 8:30 PM EST directly opposite popular shows Ozzie and Harriet and The Price is Right. It probably did not play well on Prime Time television especially against audience friendly shows like that, and that’s likely why the series was not brought back for a second season and why it did not have much of a life in syndication.
Should It Be Rebooted? Not necessarily. This one never garnered much name recognition among sci fi shows, so there’s not much in the way of nostalgia appeal or a built in audience. But the general idea of a series giving a realistic portrayal of the exploration and colonization of space has appeal, and Hulu’s upcoming series The First looks like it will be doing that.
Interesting Fact: The series, which predated the Gemini, and Apollo programs, had an episode similar to the actual events of the Apollo 13 mission and one that seemed to predict the fate of the malfunctions encountered by the Gemini 8 crew.
Where Can You Watch It? This series has lapsed into the public domain, but unfortunately it has not been collected into a definitive DVD edition. You can find bootleg DVDs of the series on the internet of varying quality (I purchased a set from ClassicRadioAndTV.com and was happy with it). The entire series is also available on YouTube at this link. And since it was a low rez, black and white series, it comes across pretty good on on that venue.