Classic: The Outer Limits

The Outer Limits began on 16 September 1963 as a one-hour segment on ABC.  The series only lasted 2 seasons and produced 64 episodes that explored the realms of horror and science fiction to a level rarely seen on television.  The show became an icon in television history and later enjoyed a great success as VHS resales.

The Outer Limits, like most science fiction shows of that era, had an extremely small budget.  Ultimately, this added to the show’s charm as it forced creativity to the forefront of productions.  What it lacked in finances it more than made up for in ideas and concepts. 

Some of the best writers of the time contributed their short stories and teleplays to create some of the finest stories ever filmed.  Authors like Harlan Ellison, who wrote the episodes “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand,” provided producers Joe Stefano (1st season) and Ben Brady (2nd season) with the source material for productions that could easily have been released as theatrical films. 

At times the series wandered into political commentary with the narrator ending the show with some thought-provoking comments.  Usually, it provided core science fiction stories with a humanity not before seen in the genre. 

Most fans recall the beginning narration, called the “Control Voice” in which the opening warned that “they” had taken control of your television set.  The music was stunning and still invokes feelings of awe and wonder.  Stories like “The Man who was Never Born” provided the foundation for later big-budget blockbusters like “Terminator”.  Indeed, if not for The Outer Limits, science fiction would likely have taken a very different form in later films and television series.  The series really was a landmark that still directs the course of contemporary stories.

One key hidden tribute to the series occurred in a key episode of Star Trek – The Next Generation.  In “Best of Both Worlds”, the Federation fleet was destroyed at Wolf 359, a cosmic battleground first mentioned in The Outer Limits.

In hindsight, the original series was never given its proper chance.  It was placed against the immensely popular Jackie Gleason show and stopped after its second season by studio executives who honestly didn’t understand the show.  Although never syndicated in the way The Twilight Zone was, The Outer Limits remained strongly popular with fans.

That popularity led to a revival in 1995 on the Showtime cable channel.  This “updated” series lacked much of the original’s charm, although its first season did have some worthy moments.  Although the larger budget produced a nicer looking show, the quality just wasn’t there for many of the episodes.  As it progressed, it relied on unwarranted sex and nudity and employed scripts that failed to meet the quality of the original series.  Further hurting the later series was the efforts of liberal writers and production members who used the series to promote political agendas that were only lightly “window dressed” as science fiction.  Like all series, some gems can be found in these later episodes.

To be fair, the newer show had a hard act to follow.  The innovation used in the original is unparalleled and speaks volumes for the accomplishment of the production teams that made those shows a reality.  Stephen King often called the original series the “Best television show ever”!

Many people agree with him.