The Planet of the Apes: Television

In 1974, the short-lived television incarnation of Planet of the Apes premiered. It lasted 14 episodes before CBS cancelled it; its performance lackluster due at least in part to the evening’s competition (NBC’s lineup of Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man dominated that time slot). In fact, the final episode was never aired until the series was rebroadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in the 1990s.

Discussion of a TV series actually began in 1971; the production company owned by famed TV producer Arther P. Jacobs had the rights to the franchise, but they held off on following up on the idea until Battle for the Planet of the Apes was released in 1973. Sadly, Jacobs died before they could move forward, the rights were then sold to 20th Century Fox, who then sold the broadcast rights to the films to CBS, who broadcast them in September 1973 to great success. Discussions about a weekly TV series were reignited, and on September 13, 1974, the series premiered.

The series opened as one would expect: Astronauts from 1980 encounter a time warp in space, and crash-land on the Earth of the far future. Starring Ron Harper and James Naughton as the surviving astronauts, the series also starred Mark Lenard (Star Trek’s Sarek) as the gorilla enforcer Urko, and Roddy McDowell (who had already portrayed Cornelius and Caesar in the movie series) was Galen, the chimpanzee assistant to Dr. Zaius (portrayed by Booth Coleman). John Hoyt and Jacqueline Scott also had recurring roles in the series.

CBS ordered 14 episodes, but only aired 13 as a result of the series’ poor performance and early cancelation. There is some dispute as to which of the final two episodes were dropped from the original broadcast, however; the 13th episode, “The Liberator,” was quite controversial for its use of poison gas (a weapon of mass destruction) due to anti-war sentiments at the time; the Vietnam war was still going on and the “Agent Orange” debate was raging, and there were other high-profile conflicts at the time. The 14th episode was less controversial, but some claim it was the one sacrificed.

The complete series is available on DVD.

-Written by John Pickard

If you’d had the pleasure of watching the NBC Saturday morning cartoon line-up in September ’75, you witnessed a rare treat, the cartoon series, “Return to the Planet of the Apes”!

Feeling there was still some life left in the Apes concept, the powers that be enlisted animation legends Friz Freleng, the creator of Porky Pig and the Pink Panther, and Doug Wildey, who created the original Johnny Quest, to bring the series to Saturday morning.

The series was unusual, in the fact that it was closer in concept to the original book by Pierre Boulle than the course set by the Apes films. Here, the apes lived in a city that was a mix of historical eras. The buildings resembled those of ancient Rome, and the cars were styled after those of 1940s and ‘50s. The apes had modern weaponry though, like jeeps and machine guns!

Director Wildey, attempted something different from the usual Saturday morning fare, the stories had a serialised format and the characters would evolve from week to week.

Despite this though, the show was hammered in the ratings and left the air after 13 episodes.

– written by Peter Noble