Retro Sci Fi TV: Project UFO (1978)

By | January 26, 2019

A look at shows from the past that may not have stood the test of time and/or that are relegated to their era, but many of us still have fond memories of them.

What Is It? This series was inspired by the real life U.S. Air Force investigations into UFOs known as Project Blue Book. The show puts a contemporary spin on the actual investigations–which concluded in the late sixties with no proof of alien visitations–as it follows two USAF officials looking into unexplained sightings, and episodes often end with the suggestion that there was some truth to the UFO encounters.




Aired: NBC, 1978-1979, 2 Seasons Totaling 26 Episodes

Starring: William Jordan, Caskey Swaim, Edward Winter

Created By: Jack Webb, Harold Jack Bloom

Is it Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? No. But it is worth a look for the influence it later had on shows like The X-Files and the recent Project Blue Book.

The Skinny: This series debuted in 1978 at a time when public fascination with UFOs was at a high-point in the United States and also when the success of Star Wars had led the networks to try and find their own sci fi hit. It was co-created by Jack Webb of Dragnet fame–the last weekly series he produced–and very much follows the straightfoward “just the facts” template of his infamous cop show and the other series he worked on. Each episode had the Air Force officers–played by William Jordan and Caskey Swaim in the first season with Edward Winter taking over for Jordan in the second year–carrying out a by-the-book investigation of the UFO sightings. Interestingly, they were tasked with proving that the sighting did happen since you can’t prove a negative. Usually the episodes ended with the official suggestion that the case was closed on the investigation, and there was nothing to prove an encounter with aliens actually occurred. But that would be followed by a short teaser suggesting that there was some truth to the sighting.

Overall, the series could be fun, even if the special effects were often quite cringe-worthy with UFOs that looked like the plastic models you could buy from the local hobby store. It rarely diverged from its procedural formula–no silent alien invasion or government conspiracy for this one–but it did a decent enough job of delivering intelligent investigations into alien sightings (even if it did diverge considerably from the case files it was based on). And of course the show had plenty of 70’s cheesiness about it, though mostly the special effects and the stiff acting common to that era. Fans of the alien encounter / UFO sub-genre should definitely check this one out because it had lasting influence. And all sci fi fans might find an episode or two of interest, though once you see the basic formula you have a good idea of how the series played out through its short run.

Cancelled Too Soon? Yes. When this show bowed as a mid-season replacement in 1978, it proved quite popular and even ended that year in the Top 20 at the Number 19 slot based on total viewers despite stiff competition on Sunday nights from How the West Was Won on ABC and popular comedies on CBS. But for its second season, NBC moved it to Thursday nights where it sunk quickly against ABC’s breakout hit Mork and Mindy which was in its first season. Instead of trying to reschedule the show, the network decided to cancel it despite its promising first season start.

Should It Be Rebooted? For all practical purposes, it already has. The X-Files drew heavily on this show while also throwing in influences from The Night Stalker as well as its government conspiracy story-arc. More recently, the History Channel’s Project Blue Book is an even closer reboot of the 70’s series, though it also borrows back notably from The X-Files.

Interesting Fact: If you thought that the UFOs in the series looked an awful lot like the model kits on the store shelves at the time, you weren’t too far off. According to Wikipedia, the sfx company that worked on the series, Brick Price Movie Miniature,s combined parts from multiple models to make the space ships seen on the show.

Where Can You Watch It? Unfortunately, due to a rights dispute over the series, this show has never had an official DVD release nor is it running on any of the streaming services that I am aware of. All twenty-six episodes are currently available on YouTube at this link, but the quality of those uploads is rather poor.

Read More About the Show: Wikipedia | IMDb.com

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