Updated: February 17, 2020|
Even today, the 1960's television show Lost in Space defies
description. Some would call the program "science fiction", others
"action adventure" and still others as "children's television".
Truth be known, the show probably was all these at one time or
Probably the best description one could give is the show represented
an amalgamation of two popular television formats popular in the
1960's. Science fiction on television was fairly commonplace as
America's space race with the Soviet Union reached a fevered pace.
The media gave detailed, almost daily, reports on the United States
expensive race to be the first humans to step onto the lunar surface.
Because of that, it was only natural to tap into this national frenzy
with a slick television series where the audience could travel with
those astronauts. To obtain the coveted "family hour", the ephemeral
8PM to 9PM time, one had to appeal to the sensibilities of the 1960's
family. With that, all the networks programming reflected family
situation comedies, and family centered adventure.
Lost in Space could deliver that with spades by offering family
adventure in the reaches of outer space.
CBS network executives gave Irwin Allen's Lost in Space a green
light after his popular Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea took off in
the ratings games in 1964. It became a network "no brainer" to bring
the successful producer to CBS.
Interestingly, the Lost in Space pilot, a 45 minute "introduction"
to the series expressly created for CBS network brass and never
meant to be aired publicly, was also the most expensive pilot ever
made to that date!
Boasting elaborate model special effects from industry master L.B.
Abbott and Robert Kinoshita - the same two men who created the
"universe" for the cinematic special effects laden movie, Forbidden
Planet, it was only natural Lost in Space wowed its network
benefactors. The show was immediately given a prime family hour time
slot: 7:30PM, Wednesday nights, debuting in the fall of 1965.
The show was "big" in scope and included two full size mockups of
the famous Jupiter-2 the family space vehicle, a converted SnowCat
for all terrain travel on new worlds referred to in the series as
The Chariot, and a wonderfully impressive Environmental Control
Robot known simply as "Robot". Our family members would set out each
week on adventures in a strange new world.
The series cast included such popular and seasoned television
veterans as June Lockhart from the popular Lassie series, Guy
Williams, the swash-buckling, swarthy Zorro from the series of the
same name, Angela Cartwright who had just finished a long run on the
popular Make Room for Daddy, and would later appear with Julie
Andrews in The Sound of Music, handsome Mark Goddard a rapidly
rising star from the then popular Johnny Bravo, and popular child
actor Billy Mumy from many shows, not the least of which, three of
the most popular Twilight Zone episodes of all time!
The series had incredible potential and top talent which generated
huge publicity prior to its release. Unfortunately after the hugely
successful first season the series saw two transformations which
would change critics opinions as well as alter its demographics.
Seasons two and three would be influenced by series contemporaries
Batman and Star Trek.
In the fall of 1966, ABC Television launched a new series in a
rather original format. The campy, but smartly written Batman with
actors Adam West and Burt Ward was pitted against Lost in Space on
Wednesday nights. Irwin Allen, realizing he would have to seriously
compete against this shows popular format. Unlike most producers who
would simply emphasize the current creative aspects of the present
format of action and adventure - instead decided to mimic the Batman
format. The result was a transformation from a drama to a comedy.
That change would increase Lost in Space's popularity in the short
term, but it would also turn the critics squarely against the show.
Employing the comedic talents of cast member, Jonathan Harris and
Billy Mumy the series moved away from the family centered theme to
one of adventure and action similar to Treasure Island's Long John
Silver and Jim Hawkins. The series routinely beat out Batman in the
8 to 9PM time slot.
By 1968 another series was turning in okay numbers for network
television, NBC's Star Trek. But unlike Lost in Space it never saw
the popularity of the former. Irwin Allen stole some of the more
interesting Star Trek series particulars and incorporated it into
Lost in Space. The Jupiter-2, our "land locked" spaceship was given
wings and the Space Family Robinsons would travel from world to
world, just like our NBC Star Trek counter parts. Along with this
change came an enthusiastically written new John Williams theme and
opening credit sequence.
The series also boasted many more stories involving the rest of the
cast, satisfying actors who felt "short-changed" contributions from
the second season. New hardware like the Space Pod, was added to the
series allowing other adventures beyond the confines of our now
space worthy mother vessel.
Two of the most popular episodes emerged from the third season
re-tooling, The Anti-Matter Man a spooky tale involving an evil John
Robinson exchanging places with his "nice" double and "Visit to a
Hostile Planet" where our space faring family actually make the trek
back to earth. This story was so popular TV Guide did a nice feature
spread during this episode's premiere.
The series was still very popular in the spring of 1968, and cast
members were confident that a 1968/1969 fall season would be in the
works. Unfortunately, due to the excessive cost of 20th Century
Fox's disastrous movie for a Cleopatra, all television and film
divisions of the massive studio were asked to collectively absorb the
losses. Lost in Space was no exception and series creator, Irwin Allen,
felt his portion of the cuts were unacceptable and refused to produce
Lost in Space for the following season. And with that, the show was
cancelled - not because of bad ratings, but because of lack of proper
The series, however, would not be soon forgotten as television
syndication was a popular (and profitable) way to continue the adventures
of the Space Family Robinsons. The series would run almost indefinitely
throughout the world.
Today Lost in Space is aired virtually in every country. In fact, one of
the most popular countries is Australia, which boasts a huge fan base,
and regular, prime-time treatment, amazingly, 30 years after the show's