The 21st Century of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson- Space 1999 (Part 3)
Space 1999 completed its first season with a good deal of critical praise and a strong following among genre fans. A strong following doesn’t mean a big one.
ITC head, Lew Grade had been very disappointed by the lack of an American network sale and as usual, was seeing very little reason to continue the show. It was pretty expensive and although it wasn’t losing money, it wasn’t making money either. Breaking even is not the desired endstate for any business.
Gerry Anderson was familiar with his boss and could read the smoke signals. He needed to make changes fast if he was going to save the show. It was in this frame of mind that Anderson agreed to let disaster strike. At the strong insistence of Abe Mandel at ITC America, Gerry hired Fred Frieberger.
Freiberger had a great resume for show running a science fiction TV series.
Provided that you didn’t look at the details.
Freiberger started off as a writer on TV medical dramas and westerns. Pretty standard stuff but then he became the showrunner for the first season of Wild Wild West. A show that Gen Xers would award a reputation for originality that it didn’t r-e-a-l-l-y deserve.
Westerns had been losing ground to spy shows. An average tv mogul’s reaction would normally be, “well then switch to spy shows if that’s what’s popular.” The problem was, that there were a lot of sunk costs in westerns; Props, costumes, and the Laramie Street back lot for example. Throwing that all away was going to be a huge waste of unrecoverable capital. If spy shows were the in thing, then set one in the Old West. Let’s give that a try. There, simple.
And at first, it was. Frieberger was hired to be showrunner. The cameras were already rolling when someone thought to ask, “Hey this show is set in the 1870s, how is James West supposed to save the world when there are no atom bombs or Commies in it?” The answer would take the Wild Wild West into the realms of science fiction, but Fred Frieberger wouldn’t be a part of it. He was out after ten shows. Apparently, Robert Conrad said, ‘nope, not him.’
After showrunning, briefly, a more conventional western. Freiberger got hired to be producer of a real science fiction show: Star Trek.
That’s right Darklings, Fred Frieberger was the showrunner for Star Trek the original series. The one with Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, and Doctor McCoy.
During its third season.
Easily and unquestionably the weakest and least creative of the show’s two- and half-year run.
His next job was producing Korg 70,000 BC. A Saturday morning kid’s show about a family of Neanderthals, it was meant to be educational and wasn’t.
The sad truth is that in 1975, with Gene L. Coon dead and buried, the only guy in American TV with a stronger resume in producing science fiction was probably Gene Roddenberry himself. Fred Frieberger was a qualified choice but that is not the same as being a good one.
Every decision of his made Space 1999 worse.
Where do I start with the parade of Frieberger fail?
Professor Bergman. The beloved character of Professor Victor Bergman, the kindly scientist and grandfatherly brains of Moon Base Alpha was gone with a wave of Freddy’s hand. Actor Barry Morse was told that if he wanted to come back to the show it would be at only two-thirds of his previous salary and he had already lost his studio transportation. Morse made a counteroffer, and was told, “we’ll think about it.” After a week of silence from 21st Century Films, Morse got cold feet and told his agent to accept the shitty offer. The reply was, ‘we are going in another direction, you won’t be getting a new contract.’ Yeah, the fans noticed when one of their favorites was gone without explanation.
The old spacious two-story Main Mission was replaced with a new claustrophobic Command Center based on NASA’s Mission Control. The problem being there is no room for cameras in that kind of set layout. With the best will in the world, sets would take up about a quarter of the field of view. Nor was there a lot of room for the actors to move. Admittedly, there were a lot less of them now.
Koening’s loyal number two, Paul Marrow vanished. So did the computer jock, Kano. Bridge-bunnies Sandra and Tanya were also cut. In true Gerry Anderson fashion, none of these second-string performers had had contracts, so cutting them was easy. Fast Freedy decided to bring back Sandra but her actress, Zienia Merton didn’t want to at that point, but Barbara Bain talked her into it. Alan Carter was supposed to be cut too, but ITC for once made a good decision, noting that the Aussie pilot got the most fan mail.
This was a shame because unlike Star Trek where you could swap out the characters who only ever said, “aye-aye Captain,” the second-line characters in Space 1999 had depth.
The stress was getting to the Landaus, everyone was used to coming to Sylvia Anderson when there was a problem, but she was suddenly nowhere to be seen. The cast and crew were now looking to Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. The problem there was that Gerry Anderson didn’t return their calls. The only one that would was Fred Frieberger who was causing the problems in the first place. It turned out that Sylvia Anderson had broken up with Gerry. One of the strongest power marriages in the history of TV science fiction was over. It was a very ugly breakup. However, what this meant in the short term was that there was no one at 21st Century to handle any problems related to actual humans.
That wouldn’t be the only marital casualty. The strain of being together 24 hours a day plus the stress of the show being reworked took its toll. After fourteen years of marriage Martin Landau and Barbara Bain separated, although they vowed, they would try to save their marriage. Credit where it’s due they tried; they wouldn’t divorce until nearly twenty years later.
There were two additions to the cast, Tony Anholt who played, Tony the Good Looking Italian Guy with An English Accent. Believe it or not, that was type casting for Anholt. He was always playing the good-looking Italian with an English accent. He did so in Gerry Anderson’s The Protectors.
The second new face was Maya.
Maya was a female alien from a planet called Psychon, which the Alphans destroyed but she didn’t seem to mind that much. She was smarter than the Command Center Computer. She had to be made super smart to fill in for Professor Bergman. She was also able to act as a native guide on occasion, which the Alphans had never had before. Maya was also metamorphic. There were ironclad rules attached to this superpower that were frequently ignored. She could only hold a form for one hour unless it was three. She could only turn into something organic, nothing inorganic was possible. But since her uniforms always transformed with her, they were either ignoring this rule constantly, hadn’t thought it through, or Maya was running around naked the whole time.
Maya was a popular addition to the cast. Although, what made her a fan favorite was her personality. She was fun and lively without being a party girl. She had a great sense of humor and a fondness for practical jokes. Maya was enough of a hit that there were serious plans to give her, her own series. I will grant that Maya, despite the weird eyebrows, finally brought something to the show that it hadn’t had up until now. Sex appeal.
Catherine Schell wasn’t Seven of Nine sexy but she could hold her own in the mid-seventies and was a better actress than you would expect. She’d been a Bond girl and has 66 credits on IMDb. You might be wondering why it took a British show of that era so long to indulge in sex appeal. My guess is actress politics. Sylvia Anderson had overseen casting during the first season, and she would have been very solicitous of Barbara Bain’s feelings. This was supposed to be Barbara Bain’s show, so any actress outshining her would be a, let us say, a problematic addition to the cast. Bain was in her mid-40s at the time, she was holding up well but it is what it is. Sandra (Zienia Merton) was pretty without being threatening but a genuine hottie would be.
I haven’t found any account of hostility on the set of Barbara Bain towards Schell. Admittedly, the show had just barely missed a bullet, so everyone was on their best behavior. Lew Grade had briefly canceled Space 1999, but Gerry Anderson and Fred Frieberger were able to resell it as a new and improved action series.
The thoughtful plots from the first season were banished in favor of mid-1970s action. The differences between the first and second seasons are so great that they are basically two different shows that share the same premise. The 2001: A Space Odyssey tribute band was disbanded. The new opening made it clear that no more brainy stuff would be happening. When you first see Martin Landau in the second season opening he’s spinning around in his chair and coming up firing a laser pistol. Barbara Bain is rushing down the hall to tend to an emergency. The credits slam into the screen from the side while some garbage-tier music plays.
Long-standing 21st Century Studios maestro Barry Grey, who had been with the company since Tourchy the Battery Boy was out and happy to be gone. The new composer was Barry Wadsworth and he was clearly phoning it in. Understandable. He was a Brit musician getting notes by the Jewish guy from Hollywood who didn’t know anything about music, and it showed. It was cheap and gaudy with a lot of seventies synth.
Abe Mandel’s visits from New York were always harbingers of disaster. On one trip he was shocked to see there were no monsters in this show. That was immediately corrected, and the Alphas started fighting them on a weekly basis. On his next visit he wanted to know why there all these monsters in the show? And that they needed to get rid of them.
Martin Landau has never been shy about how the show was “corrupted and degraded,” in the second season. What had been unique and special was sanded away in an attempt to Americanize it. For the record, we didn’t like it either.
Was there anything I liked? I admit I like the uniform changes, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense for a marooned outpost to change them. The first season uniforms were only flattering on one body type. The added collars, while uncomfortable added a needed break between tunic and neck. These changes, like everything else in season 2 had to be made on the cheap. Martin Landau was in good shape for a guy from that era but he was in his forties and the first season uniforms were tight. The jackets in year two were much appreciated. He got a brand-new costume and so did Barbara Bain who hated the (rather inexplicable) zippers on the sleeves. Everybody else had to have modified costumes from the first season.
And there was one scene where Tony Anholt accidentally hit David Prowse in the nuts with a fire extinguisher. Once you find out that David was actually swearing through his monster mask in that scene and they caught it on audio, it’s pretty funny now. Watch Beta Cloud for yourself on Tubi.
While I didn’t like the Command Center, I admit it had to be cheaper to light. The redesigned Eagle cockpit probably did make more sense from filmmaking perspective.
And some of the action scenes have held up with time better than they should. There are people who like the second season more than the first but they are bad and they’re wrong.
The show probably did turn a profit. Certainly, everyone connected to the project thought they were getting a third season. The Maya spin-off series already had thirteen episodes planned. Anderson and Freiberger were discussing a possible replacement for her when Lew Grade gave them a call.
The last episode of Space 1999 was aired on November 12, 1977. Not quite September 13 but it didn’t matter, Lew Grade had seen Star Wars.
The rulebook for sci-fi was torn up and Lew Grade knew it. A canceled show for Gerry Anderson usually just meant it was time to pitch a new idea to ITC. Which is what he did. But Lew Grade stopped green lighting Garry Anderson’s knew projects. He’d lost faith in his former golden boy. Worse still, the divorce settlement with Sylvia was a brutal one. Gerry Anderson had to sell off the rights to most of his shows and 21st Century Productions was disbanded.
Lew Grade didn’t cut him off completely. There was a series of recut straight-to videotape movies made from Gerry Anderson’s old shows that he got paid for. Although Anderson finally parted company in the 1980s. He’d returned to kid’s shows after that. A new Supermarionation series was launched, but Terrahawks is nobody’s favorite. The best of his post-21st Century Productions was the surprisingly good Lavender Castle (1999). I didn’t even know it existed before I started this series of articles.
After the turn of the century, Anderson noticed that reboots were pretty easy to get greenlit. His first was a reboot of Captain Scarlett. His last project ever was new a version of Thunderbirds that featured a combination of CG and live action. I prefer the original from my childhood but it’s quite a watchable kid’s adventure. It was in production for four seasons making it the only one of his productions to last more than two seasons.
And Gerry Anderson didn’t live to see a single episode of it. He died in December of 2012. Sylvia died in 2016 at the age of 88.
For a man who during his life was often thought of as a failure, Gerry Anderson’s positive impact on pop culture has been enormous. The Andersons are up there with Ray Harryhausen. Star Trek (Fireball XL5), Battlestar Galactica (Ron Moore says he proudly stole stuff from Space 1999), Team America World Police (no point in listing all of it), Evangelion (a tribute band of Gerry Anderson’s work, the maker freely admitted it), all of these things and a bunch of others were influenced by the production company of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
You would think that in this modern world of CGI, kids wouldn’t care at all for the world of Supermarionation. But when kids grow up surrounded by computer graphics, the integrity of the physical models combined with the values of the past century keeps these old shows finding new, young audiences. Even in the 21st Century.
Okay, I’m done here.