Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Project Tic Toc






Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time. – Opening voice over credits




During the mid-1960s science fiction returned to network television in a big way.


While the 1950’s had seen shows such as One Step BeyondThe Twilight Zone, and even earlier efforts like Tales of Tomorrow – very few of their episodes provided anything in the way of special effects or `hard science’ fiction.


That is, until Irwin Allen brought Voyage to the Bottom of The Sea to TV.  And it’s first year – 1964-65 – produced a well-remembered block of solid episodes with both sci-fi and cold war elements. 

The network (ABC) apparently decided the show was too `dark’, and for its second season (filmed in color), pushed for more of the `monster of the week’ type episodes.  


As the series progressed, things just got sillier.


In 1966, Irwin Allen would launch two other sci-fi series; Lost in Space  and The Time Tunnel.


1966 will also be remembered for the launch of the most durable sci-fi franchise of them all . . .  Star Trek.


While popular with the younger generation, none of these 3 shows would make the top 30 in the Nielson ratings that year.


Lost in Space, which began with promise - like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - descended into juvenile antics and `camp’. By its second season, every 12 year-old I knew had decided it was a `kids’ show, and had migrated to Star Trek.


The Time Tunnel, however, was for the most part more of an `adult’ series (although it too had its low moments).


The stars were Robert Colbert and James Darren, both popular actors in the 1960s.


Colbert had reluctantly played `Brent Maverick’ in two episodes of the long running western series, but was mercifully not called back for the final season.  He also showed up in popular series like The Virginian, 77 Sunset Strip, 12 0’Clock High, Perry Mason, and Bonanza.


Darren started out as a teen idol, appearing as Moondoggie in several Gidget films, and had a successful recording career.  His biggest selling record – which is still played 50 years later – was Goodbye Cruel World.


Darren also appeared in 1961’s The Guns of Navarone, but it was The Time Tunnel that really helped him shed his teen idol image.


Venerable character actor Whit Bissell, and  the winner of the 1955 Miss America pageant – Lee Meriwether – rounded out the cast.



The plot was simple (and would be reused by Voyagers! and to an extent, by Quantum Leap).  Our two heroes would `jump’ into a new time (always at an important moment) and have to try to change history.


Each episode would end with one of Irwin Allen’s patented cliff hangers, as Tony & Doug landed in a new predicament.


Using stock footage from the vast 20th Century Fox library of historical dramas, and selective `editing in’ of the central characters, the show had a `bigger budget’ feel than most TV shows of the day.


Despite that advantage, the pilot episode cost an astounding $500,000 and was the most expensive hour produced to that point.


The series lasted but one season.  While the ratings weren’t terrible, the story goes that studio executives wanted to promote The Legend of Custer, but there was no open slot in the schedule.


Something had to go.

Given the costs of production, the decision was to cut the Time Tunnel loose.   Custer was panned by critics and viewers alike, and went down in flames after just one season.


FANCAST has all 30 episodes of The Time Tunnel available for you to view online.  

You can access them at this link.


The cast would move on successfully to other projects, with James Darren becoming a regular on T.J. Hooker and later making appearances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.


Colbert would spend a decade on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless, and later appear on Baywatch.


Both actors remained active into the 1990s.


Lee Meriwether worked steadily, including such famous roles as Catwoman on Batman (1966), she replaced Barbara Bain on Mission Impossible for 6 episodes during its 4th season, and spent 7 years helping Buddy Ebsen solve crimes on Barnaby Jones.


Whit Bissell passed away in 1996, with nearly 300 credits listed on the Internet Movie Database.


Jeffrey Talbot said...

Actually contrary to popular belief THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC 1966-67) was cancelled just one point shy of the passable renewal audience ratings baseline.

However there is likely some truth to the reasonable thinking that politics on the part of the 20th Century-Fox Television also played a substantial part in this fondly recalled tv series discontinuation after just a single season.

Likely the (then) exorbitant production costs incurred by THE TIME TUNNEL tv series along with Fox Studios determined intent on getting THE LEGEND OF CUSTER (ABC 1967-68) on the air played a major influencial hand in the elimination of the former for the intended 1967-68 television season.

In retrospect we are all poorer for it. How many people today remember the abortive CUSTER tv series?

Michael Coston said...

Thanks for that clarification, Jeffrey. I'd heard the `Custer' story several times over the years, but also figured the cost per episode was a major factor as well.

I recently tried to watch an old episode of Custer.

It was canceled with good reason.