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What was "Lost in Space?"

Who was "Lost in Space?"

How did they get "Lost in Space?"


What was "Lost in Space?"

Irwin Allen was a radio host, producer and director who decided to try the motion picture industry. His 1953 documentary, "The Sea Around Us," won an Academy Award and led to a series of movies. After the successful transition of his Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea from the big screen to television, Irwin's next project was to convert the Johann David Wyss novel Space Family Robinson to an outer space motif, the Space Family Robinson. The pilot was filmed with the Robinsons crashing on an alien planet, just as the Robinsons had been stranded on an island in the original novel. After CBS executives thought the show need more conflict, Dr. Zachary Smith and a robot were added to the cast. When Disney objected to the name (They had released their film version of the Wyss novel 5 years previously), it was quickly changed to Lost in Space.

Lost in Space was Irwin Allen's most successful television program, the second of his" Fab Four" TV programs (along with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants). It premiered on CBS September 15, 1965. The ratings were sluggish at first, but started to pick up steam by the second month. By January of 1966, Lost in Space was a top ten program, soundly beating the competition on ABC, The Ozzie and Harriet Show and The Patty Duke Show, and seriously weakening NBC's The Virginian. 

ABC then countered with a new show, Batman. Batman did beat Lost in Space initially in the ratings war, but LIS was able to rebuild ratings and eventually outlasted Batman.

When Star Trek premiered in September 1966 on NBC, there were comparisons between the two approaches to Space travel. Lost in Space garnered significantly better ratings than Star Trek. In fact, Lost in Space's lowest ratings were higher than Star Trek's highest ratings. However, Star Trek had 3 seasons of color to Lost in Space's two (first season was filmed in black and white). Because of the preference for color, Star Trek was able to blossom in syndication where Lost in Space couldn't.

By mid second season, Lost in Space had strayed from science fiction into a parody of science fiction. The ratings suffered accordingly, and LIS dropped out of the top 20. Third season found the Robinsons no longer planet-bound and traveling to new planets each week. The focus reshifted back toward science fiction with such classic episodes as Anti-Matter Man, but wavered toward the end of the season with the notorious Great Vegetable Rebellion. 

As the cast was preparing for season 4, CBS quietly canceled the show and replaced it with Daktari, which lasted one season with lackluster ratings.

Irwin Allen still had Land of the Giants on the air, but the ratings were ample evidence that it would not be renewed either. He tried at least five shows without any interest from the networks. So, Allen returned to his roots, spawning an entire genre of films and a new nickname, the "Master of Disaster" as his smash films The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno created the disaster film craze. 

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Who was "Lost in Space?"

Irwin Allen used the skills he honed in films to assemble a phenomenal cast of popular and talented actors.

Guy Williams: When Guy signed on to star as Professor John Robison, he was well known as Diego de la Vega, Zorro in Disney's popular TV series. Guy had just concluded a 5 episode appearance on Bonanza as Ben Cartwright's nephew (and possible replacement for Pernell Roberts) when he was approached by Irwin Allen.

June Lockhart: Best known as Timmy's mom in the perennial favorite Lassie, June had just finished a guest appearance on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Irwin saw the dailies for the appearance, and offered her the part of the Robinson matriarch, becoming the first cast member signed for the show.

Mark Goddard: Mark had initially turned down the role of Major Don West, not wanting to do a "kiddy show" after costarring stints on such critically acclaimed series Johnny Ringo and The Detectives (with Adam West). His agent told him the show would never be seen, so Mark agreed to join the cast.

Marta Kristen: Marta was well-known in the industry, with appearances on every TV series from Loretta Young to Leave It to Beaver. Best known at the time for her role as Lorelei the mermaid in Beach Blanket Bingo, Marta had also starred in Savage Sam, the sequel to Ol' Yeller, a role for which she was touted by Disney as the next Annette Funicello.

Angela Cartwright: "America's Little Sweetheart" from Make Room for Daddy, Danny Thomas allowed Angela to miss the last episodes because of a conflict with another project - The Sound of Music. 

Billy Mumy: Once referred to as "the only child actor worth a damn" by Jimmy Stewart, Billy was known as a child actor who actually could act. In addition to Stewart, he also worked with such luminaries as Brigitte Bardot, Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock before signing aboard the Jupiter 2

Jonathan Harris: With his extensive background in theatre and films, Jonathan knew that Dr. Smith, as written, would have to be killed off or left behind within a few episodes. So, he began a subtle shift toward a more comedic villain. The rest is television history.

Bob May: Grandson of Chic Johnson of the vaudeville team turned movie stars, Olsen & Johnson, Bob's uncredited work within the robot took all his background in dance and theatre. It brought a vitality and fluid grace to the robot, so much so that it was widely speculated that the robot was actually a mechanical construct.

Dick Tufeld: With nearly 50 years as a voiceover announcer, including the narrator for Lost in Space, Dick's mechanical inflection subtly suggested that the monotone of the robot was more than that of simple mechanical parts, giving the robot a heart in tandem with Bob May giving the robot a soul. 

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How did they get "Lost in Space?"

The date is 16 October 1997, the Alpha Control Command Center. The overcrowded Earth's best hope for survival is colonization of the Alpha Centauri star system. The Robinson family, and pilot Major Don West will be the first of millions of families to begin the long journey. As they enter the freezing tubes to cryogenically slumber during the long flight aboard the most technologically advanced spaceship ever created - Jupiter 2, trouble is brewing. Unbeknownst to them, Alpha Control has a spy from a foreign power determined to stop the mission. Dr. Zachary Smith has come aboard the Jupiter 2 and has sabotaged the environmental control robot. After launch, the robot will activate and destroy the ship and all aboard. Unfortunately for Dr. Smith, he is trapped aboard at launch. His added weight throws the trajectory of the carefully balanced vessel off course and into a meteor storm. Smith revives Major West who is able to steer the ship clear - just in time for the robot to activate. In the ensuing pandemonium the Jupiter 2 is thrown into hyperspace, hopelessly off course, severely damaged and lost in space!

The ship lands to effect repairs and immediately runs into problems with 60 meter tall cyclopean aliens, elliptical orbits that threaten to alternately freeze or incinerate the group, drought, various aliens passing through, killer robots and Dr. Smith's increasingly transparent scheming. The family preservers, not through technology, not through subterfuge, but through respect and affection for each other as a family. As John Robison would remark in a subsequent episode, "In all the worlds and galaxies of this universe, there is nothing stronger than love." Or, as Mark Goddard explains when asked about the longevity of the program, "Star Trek was a show that aimed at your head. Lost in Space was a show that aimed at your heart."

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