The Starlost
February 19, 2015 2:03 PM   Subscribe

It could have been the greatest television show ever. Conceived by Harlan Ellison. Ben Bova acting as technical advisor. Special effects genius Douglas Trumbull was on board. Scripts and storylines had been contracted from Phillip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Alexei Panshin and A.E. van Vogt. Keir Dullea starred. (Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Guest stars: John "Baltar" Colicos (Battlestar Galactica), Walter Koenig (Star Trek) and Barry Morse (Space:1999). And then it all fell apart. In all, 16 deliciously terrible episodes of The Starlost were made. Was it the worst science fiction series ever? Watch and decide for yourself!

Background
* The Starlost Compendium (Article with a ton of info on the series, including sketches.)
* Starlost Reference Site
* Wikipedia
* TV Tropes ("One of the legendarily bad television shows...")
* Previously on Mefi.
* Pop Matters: White Jumpsuits, Catsuited Babes, Pornstaches and Other Joys of ‘70s Sci-Fi Television
* DVD Talk Review
* Smart Girls love SciFi Review
"The concept is simple: some Amish-type people discover that their world is actually a part of a miles long spaceship, sent to space to escape a disaster on Earth. This “generational ship” has dozens of domes, and each of these domes has another culture of people who also do not know they are actually on a ship. But the people who were running the ship are gone, and the ship is lost. The characters are shunned from their society because of their story about the ship, and so they wander from dome to dome, discovering new societies around every bend. It’s a great set up for exploration of different aspects of human nature, in the same way that Star Trek had a starship, Stargate had the stargate, etc.
DVD Verdict: "If you see this title on a store shelf, not only should you not buy it, you should not buy any adjacent title on the off chance that osmosis allowed this set to contaminate others with its utter suckage. The writers didn't have any experience in television writing or science fiction; furthermore, the story editor hired after Ellison ran screaming into the night didn't know anything about science fiction. The results are predictably painful."

Something this bad must be seen!

The Episodes
* Expanded Episode Guide
* Full Series Playlist

Series Pitch

Episode 1: Voyage of Discovery
Episode 2: Lazarus From The Mist
Episode 3: The Goddess Calabra (Guest Stars: John Colicos and Barry Morse)
Episode 4: The Pisces
Episode 5: Children of Methuselah
Episode 6: And Only Man is Vile
Episode 7: Circuit of Death
Episode 8: Gallery of Fear
Episode 9: Mr. Smith of Manchester
Episode 10: The Alien Oro (Guest Star: Walter Koenig)
Episode 11: The Astro Medics
Episode 12: The Implant People
Episode 13: The Return of Oro (Guest Star: Walter Koenig)
Episode 14: Farthing's Comet
Episode 15: Beehive
Episode 16: The Precinct

Alternate links to episodes can be found here.
posted by zarq (119 comments total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, so like Jodorowsky's Dune, but it actually got made.
posted by emptythought at 2:09 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was sentient when this show first aired. I clearly remember the buildup, the delicious anticipation, and the soul-crushing letdown. And now it will live forever. Thank you, Internet.
posted by MACTdaddy at 2:09 PM on February 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


The episode with the space ambulance is responsible for 38% of violent crime in North America.
posted by dr_dank at 2:15 PM on February 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


Dare I admit that not only do I remember this, I watched all sixteen episodes and was sorry not to get more?

Yes, I had, ahem, "interesting" tastes back then.....
posted by easily confused at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh man! I love/cannot watch this show so much! Even as a sci-fi obsessed preteen protonerd I found the show as unwatchable as it was intriguing. And this is from someone who got through several episodes of the soap opera Another World before giving up on it as being misleadingly titled.
posted by rodlymight at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


oh my god I cannot wait to watch this
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:23 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


One sentence description: it was like Star Trek as filmed by the production crew of The Littlest Hobo.

Both shows were inescapable Saturday afternoon syndicated Can-con in the 80s.
posted by cardboard at 2:28 PM on February 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's quite impressive the way they cast Sam Rockwell in it though.
posted by dng at 2:31 PM on February 19, 2015


The episode with the space ambulance is responsible for 38% of violent crime in North America.

Heh, I can just imagine some lonely, frantic man studying the R output for the regression from which this figure is no doubt derived on a computer with a DRAFT SPOCK bumper stickers on the case
posted by clockzero at 2:32 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


How could I have never heard of this? Television; check. Bad Television; check. Science Fiction,; check; Early to mid-Seventies; check; Harlan f-ing Ellision; check, Philip K. Dick, check. The Venn diagram of this overlaps so many of my interests that I'm sort of shaken by the fact that I never even heard of it.

So I have to conclude that you are a phenomenal liar and put this together for some nefarious reason ("Who are you Mr. zarq, and why are you doing this to me?")

I also have to conclude that that I'm going to have to find sixteen hours in the next week or so to watch this, no matter how horrible it turns out to be ("Who are you Mr. zarq, and why are you doing this to me?")
posted by rtimmel at 2:33 PM on February 19, 2015 [19 favorites]


Oh my goodness, I remember Ellison's essay "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto" about the Starlost.

I particularly remember the part where he said that - and the action is supposed to take place inside an enormous generation ship with large, enclosed communities - since the camera could not film distances of more than one mile, the director said that the plot had to describe these enclosed societies as no more than one mile in diameter. Ellison was all "why can't we film it at a mile and call it ten miles?" and the director was all "nope". Ellison was talking about how the hero had to flee from [angry seventies generation ship characters] in one of these self-enclosed communities and wrote something "well, if it's only a mile, then the other characters can pretty much link arms and walk across the entire space and find him that way." I loved that essay - I think it was one of the first Harlan Ellison essays I ever read.
posted by Frowner at 2:33 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Poor Keir Dullea...A mere five years after 2001.
I am so thankful no station picked this up via syndication in my neck of the woods. Yikes!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2015


I was such a young boy when this came out. Despite every criticism, I can ensure you that I was gripped to every plodding, interminable second of the show.

70s sci fi really wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere before Star Wars.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 2:42 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Harlan Ellison is a (brilliant) asshole, but sometimes, when things need to be pooped on, an asshole is what you need.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:43 PM on February 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


Man, this was such a big part of my childhood. You know how we don't get crap filters for the first few years? I watched the whole thing, time and again on reruns.

It's more than laughable watching it again as an adult, but then honestly, everything then was, Buck Rogers, Battlestar, even the Pertwee-Era Dr. Who was more than a little hokey. Still, nice to see it all available again.
posted by bonehead at 2:46 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Venn diagram of this overlaps so many of my interests that I'm sort of shaken by the fact that I never even heard of it.

I was half way through the list of names, and hadn't even reached the last line of the FPP and I already knew: this show must have sucked major space balls. There are just too many Venn overlaps of cool here for it to have ever worked.
posted by kanewai at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Poor Rachel... er, I meant, this is ridiculous ! (thanks).
posted by nicolin at 2:49 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Favoriting this so hard. I remember this from my childhood and have occasionally tried to figure out "What was that show?" with out much success, so thanks!!

I remember enjoying it as a kid. Now I will settle in to watch it again, for the first time.

Some blogging of episodes.
posted by Kabanos at 2:54 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I watched this as a child via a Canadian vhf station picked up in Buffalo on the weekends in the 70s and what I remember of it was that it seemed to be such an unending series of rooms everyone keeps going to and from, and without having a full understanding of the show I had a feeling these people were just doomed to wander these rooms forever. Which is more depressing and less interesting to watch at that age, but I have feeling that I was spot on at the time.
posted by reedcourtneyj at 2:54 PM on February 19, 2015


At least they tried. "It's better to have loved and starlost..."
posted by Apocryphon at 2:56 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Apocryphon,

Well played, well played.
posted by reedcourtneyj at 2:58 PM on February 19, 2015


It could have been the greatest television show ever.

I'm still not convinced that it wasn't.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


kanewai: “I was half way through the list of names, and hadn't even reached the last line of the FPP and I already knew: this show must have sucked major space balls. There are just too many Venn overlaps of cool here for it to have ever worked.”

exactly – the idea of AMISH PEOPLE IN SPACE! is just so completely awesome that the execution couldn't possibly live up to its vast and towering promise
posted by koeselitz at 3:03 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


The more i read and see about this, the more i think someone could take the original scripts and do a battlestar style remake that actually worked.

and i really hope they do.
posted by emptythought at 3:04 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


oh YESSSSS.... been looking for this show for quite a few years. loved it as a kid; will probably cringe while binge-rewatching it this weekend hahaha
posted by lapolla at 3:17 PM on February 19, 2015


Anyone who believes The Starlost is the worst sci-fi series ever made has yet to watch Quark.

The Starlost is merely tedious by comparison.
posted by sonascope at 3:21 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


One sentence description: it was like Star Trek as filmed by the production crew of The Littlest Hobo.

So a bit more spendy than classic Doctor Who?
posted by Artw at 3:23 PM on February 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


The Starcrossed: Ben Bova's novelization not of the show itself, but of the behind-the-scenes making-of.
posted by larrybob at 3:33 PM on February 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


YES, THIS PLEASES THE STICHERBEAST
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:38 PM on February 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yup, I remember watching this about 30 years ago. Yup, I've studied Harlan Ellison's savage account of it. Sometimes staggering failure is not simply 'garbage in, garbage out'.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 3:40 PM on February 19, 2015


Thorzdad: "Poor Keir Dullea...A mere five years after 2001."

That mustache was a seriously bad choice.
posted by octothorpe at 3:41 PM on February 19, 2015


I remember reading about this in some "television history" book I got from the library* and thinking it sounded like the coolest thing ever. And had probably totally forgotten about it until now.

* because didn't every kid in the mid 80s just check out reference books about television and read about synopses of shows they'd never seen and dream about what might have been...that's normal, right?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:43 PM on February 19, 2015 [24 favorites]


* because didn't every kid in the mid 80s just check out reference books about television and read about synopses of shows they'd never seen and dream about what might have been...that's normal, right?

I totally did the living shit out of this, and honestly it was better than watching almost any of it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:50 PM on February 19, 2015 [17 favorites]


Anyone who believes The Starlost is the worst sci-fi series ever made has yet to watch Quark.

How and why the hell did i instantly recognize this intro? Did this get syndicated on like, early scifi channel or G4/techtv or something? I know i've seen this, and it seems like something i would have watched at 2am when i was 13. Right up there with U.F.O.
posted by emptythought at 3:59 PM on February 19, 2015


The Starlost deserves some bonus points for having women scientists and techs. The moments where Rachel realizes that women can be more than wives and mothers is pretty amazing for the early 70s.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:02 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was sure this was a double, but the first FPP was so long ago and this one is so well fleshed out it really should be a "Previously, on Metafilter..."
posted by CynicalKnight at 4:08 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Scripts and storylines had been contracted from Phillip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin,

Fun fact: PKD and UKLG were both at Berkeley High School in the same class year, but didn't know each other.
LE GUIN

Partly it was that he and I had similar interests in certain things, such as Taoism and the I Ching—after all we were both Berkeley kids of exactly the same generation. And then, his sci-fi novels were about ordinary, unexceptional, confused people, when so much sci-fi consisted of Campbellian or militaristic heroes and faceless multitudes. Mr. Tagomi, in The Man in the High Castle, was a revelation to me of what you could do with sci-fi if you really took it seriously as a novelist. Did you know we were in the same high school?

INTERVIEWER

You and Philip K. Dick? Really?

LE GUIN

Berkeley High, thirty-five hundred kids. Big, huge school. Nobody knew Phil Dick. I have not found one person from Berkeley High who knew him. He was the invisible classmate.
[source]
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:10 PM on February 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


Props to zarq for the comprehensiveness of this post.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 4:14 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


May I be of....assistance?
posted by hearthpig at 4:22 PM on February 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nice post Zarq but I think your post is missing something critical. As others have pointed out this was made in Canada. The badly shot video and effects remind me so much of that time... And those of a *ahem* certain age will remember this playing ad nauseum on TV to meet Cancon rules... Walter Koenig's performance in Starlost is more or less the same as his performance as Bester in Babylon 5.

Terrible but awesomely awesome. That being said I will argue to my death bed it is an entertaining show if you can bend your brain enough. Its been on DVD for a few years by the way but I can't imagine it is a hot seller! If you want to explore crappy obscure Canadian genre TV perhaps you should check out Strange Paradise the cheap Canadian version of Dark Shadows... maybe Guy Maddin could do a version of that for us and do what Tim Burton did for Dark Shadows. Ha, or not.

I don't know what Keir Dullea was doing in Canada in the 70's and early 80's but he did a bunch of things here during that time - Black Christmas, the failed soap Loving Friends and Perfect Couples, Starlost and probably some other stuff I can't think of... Maybe he summered here.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Kier Dullea always played insane people. Even in the pitch, he has an insane, possessed look in his eyes.
posted by QuietDesperation at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's the eternal question. Which would you want to watch first: something intelligently conceived and competently executed, or something that gets FIVE STARS FOR SUCKING?
posted by chicobangs at 5:10 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


OK I finally watched the pilot and man oh man does that give me a Zardoz vibe.
posted by localroger at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2015


Zardoz? Zardoz is trippy. Starlost is the exact opposite of trippy. Square as Canadian TV in the 70's could be.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:24 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


That mustache was a seriously bad choice.

The 70s called ... and ... they don't know what you're talking about, at all, man.

Ben Bova's novelization not of the show itself, but of the behind-the-scenes making-of.

Imagine reading that first, and then, years later, finding out that Starlost actually existed. (Yeah, I think there was an introduction or something, but I immediately forgot it. Time passed, and then I was reading some Ellison somewhere and something clicked.)
posted by dhartung at 5:28 PM on February 19, 2015


INTERVIEWER

You and Philip K. Dick? Really?

LE GUIN

Berkeley High, thirty-five hundred kids. Big, huge school. Nobody knew Phil Dick. I have not found one person from Berkeley High who knew him. He was the invisible classmate.


Just when you start to think that Philip K. Dick was actually just a normal man who wrote amazing books about bizarre, fantastical things, Ursula K. LeGuin comes along and casually announces that he was a hologram in high school
posted by clockzero at 5:44 PM on February 19, 2015 [19 favorites]


I just finished episode 101 and it's definitely tedious but not that terrible. Yes, there's a blacksmith for no reason, a miniature crossbow for no reason, a "detector" that doesn't detect weapons, the "kids" are 30-something, the special effects are ridiculous, the computer is insane, and the plot is laughable but I've seen worse episodes of Under the Dome.

I think we should FF this puppy.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 5:50 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Anyone who believes The Starlost is the worst sci-fi series ever made has yet to watch Quark yt .

that's the one where they invented ipads fyi

ipads w/ enormous clicky 70s buttons
posted by Sebmojo at 5:53 PM on February 19, 2015


Also do you mean "worst" or "most fantastic"? I've been randomly clicking different places on that video for the last minute and have seen nothing that isn't glorious.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:55 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


This has Space-Amish Sterling Hayden,and you expect me to believe you when you say it's bad?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


sonascope: "Anyone who believes The Starlost is the worst sci-fi series ever made has yet to watch Quark.

I didn't know either of these were real things. How did I not know about these things?
posted by dejah420 at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think we should FF this puppy.

That seems like an inappropriate and probably illegal thing to do to a puppy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read Edward Bryant's novelization when I was in high school; it's great. Never seen the show.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:22 PM on February 19, 2015


Wow, a lot of haters chiming here. I liked 'The Starlost' when I first saw it when I was young. I thought that the concept was fascinating, and the clunky low-budget visual style was innovative in it's own way, but then I've always liked that odd funky 70's futurism aesthetic.

Harlan hated it because of his negative personal experiences in the production, but much as I love Harlan, I take his personal opinions with a grain of salt sometimes. The basic story appears to be similar to Universe by Heinlein.

'The Starlost' is hardly "the worst sci-fi series evah!" 'Space 1999' had a much more goofy unworkable premise, so that might be relatively worse. And there's also many more old SF TV shows that I cared about less, and can't remember now.

(I haven't seen 'The Starlost' lately, so if I watched it now I might concede that the awkward pacing and plot-holes probably don't hold up really well.)
posted by ovvl at 6:39 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did anybody here know that there is actually a Roku streaming channel that is nothing but every episode of The Starlost running in an endless livestreamed loop? It's way more random than the Youtube playlist above, but it is absolutely amazing to know that somebody thought it should exist.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:09 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Did anybody here know that there is actually a Roku streaming channel that is nothing but every episode of The Starlost running in an endless livestreamed loop?

It gets 3 1/2 stars!
posted by BungaDunga at 7:15 PM on February 19, 2015


it was like Star Trek as filmed by the production crew of The Littlest Hobo.

From the sounds of it - and my own vague memories of seeing StarLost episodes as a young Canadian child, lost in the wilderness of our strange TV landscape of the time - they could've use the same theme song:

Maybe tomorrow
I'll want to settle down.
Until tomorrow,
I'll just keep moving on.

posted by nubs at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


It gets 3 1/2 stars!

Oh my god, it's -- not quite empty of stars.
posted by maudlin at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


and the plot is laughable but I've seen worse episodes of Under the Dome.

That show has proven to me that this kind of truly terrible, first couple decades of TV type of dreck could still be made right now. It's a bizarre juxtaposition of quality special effects and good camerawork with occasionally hilariously bad acting and bizarrely awful scripting.

It's like someone directly adapted the script from a 70s show that never got made, hired the original director, and then made it with a modern walking dead type budget and seeming seriousness. There's even some really baldfaced misogyny(the entire girl-locked-in-dungeon-then-they-make-up thing what) and general placed-out-of-time weirdness that seems to mostly have died off on modern tv in there.
posted by emptythought at 7:22 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just when you start to think that Philip K. Dick was actually just a normal man who wrote amazing books about bizarre, fantastical things, Ursula K. LeGuin comes along and casually announces that he was a hologram in high school

Or perhaps she hasn't "found one person" because *they* were all holograms!
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:26 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd never heard of this show, but since Wikipedia says, "The Best of Science Fiction TV included The Starlost in its list of the "Worst Science Fiction Shows of All Time" (along with Space: 1999, Lost in Space, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Manimal)," it sounds like it's going to be pretty great.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:53 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyone who believes The Starlost is the worst sci-fi series ever made has yet to watch Quark.
WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.
Quark was a sci-fi comedy/parody, created by Buck "Get Smart" Henry. Calling it "the worst sci-fi series ever made" is like calling Get Smart "the worst spy series ever made". If it was ridiculous and silly that's because it was SUPPOSED to be. And if characters and situations seem hackneyed and overdone, that's probably because so many other attempts at satirical sci-fi copied from Quark in the 37 years since its tragically brief run (I even noticed a few things in Spaceballs that Henry's one-time writing partner Mel Brooks lifted from Quark).
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:56 PM on February 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yes, it was a kid's comedy show, but if you want bad 70s sci-fi it's impossible to keep The Lost Saucer out of the running. I mean where else would you get Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi teamed up as tinfoil androids?
posted by sardonyx at 8:04 PM on February 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


(along with Space: 1999, Lost in Space, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Manimal)," it sounds like it's going to be pretty great.

Including The Starlost, that makes three out of five shows that I've posted to Metafilter. Buck Rogers isn't on YouTube, Dailymotion or veoh. I've checked more than once.
posted by zarq at 8:09 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is astounding. Like they used 70s porn production technology (and sets, and costumes, and directors), and cheap cameras to film a real network television show (Well, canadian TV + Syndication).
posted by DigDoug at 8:28 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


The novelization Phoenix Without Ashes is actually not at all appalling but it only covers the first bit of the show. It also includes a forward from Ellison explaining his vision for things, and what they did with it after he left.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:28 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Buck Rogers isn't on YouTube, Dailymotion or veoh.

I had to laugh when I looked up from my screen to see my Buck Rogers boxed set sitting on my left monitor under my Quark boxed set and my Mighty Boosh box.

There's a common thread there, I'm sure.

Rewatched Starlost on the Roku Starlost channel, but even with a 'stache—Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow. Recently revisited Buck Rogers for the express purpose of determining if my childhood horniness whenever Princess Ardala was onscreen was from latent bicuriosity or just the notion that Buck might have to take his shirt off and wear sex clothes (the jury is still out, and now I want to put on some lip gloss and do weird future dances with horns on, which just adds to the uncertainty).

Seventies futurism was a hell of a drug. Don't even get me started on Roddenberry's attempts to kick off a new series before we ended up back in Trek purgatory forever and ever.
posted by sonascope at 8:29 PM on February 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Was it supposed to look like they were living in a hologram?
posted by mazola at 8:52 PM on February 19, 2015


I liked how the promo reel doesn't bother to show the gigantic spaceship from the show, offering us instead some reused footage of Valley Forge from Silent Running.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'm saying it: Episode One was fantastic. And I'm pumped for a future episode where Baltar is doing the Kirk-type fightin' with the Lirpa.
posted by mazola at 9:39 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Somehow, I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore, Toto really is vintage Ellison essayism. It first appeared as the introduction to Ed Bryant's novelization of the original screenplay mentioned above - it's worth noting that novel (along with a fair amount of his other work) has been re-released in an arrangement that channels most of the profits to Bryant himself (who has struggled with health issues for over a decade) - Ellison donated all of his portion of proceeds from the novel to Bryant. The essay also appeared reprinted in the Ellison collections Stalking the Nightmare, The Essential Ellison, and Edgeworks 2. The novelization was also adapted into a graphic novel by IDW.

Someone above also mentioned Ben Bova's funny roman á clef about the making of the series The Starcrossed - some of which you can read online at Baen (the whole book is reprinted in Bova's humor collection Laugh Lines.
posted by nanojath at 9:52 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


sardonyx: “Yes, it was a kid's comedy show, but if you want bad 70s sci-fi it's impossible to keep The Lost Saucer out of the running.”
Yeah, but that theme song, man….
posted by ob1quixote at 9:53 PM on February 19, 2015


My standard for this type of show is Far Out Space Nuts. If it has Bob Denver and a line like "Lunch? I thought you said 'Launch!'" I'm sold.
posted by bigbigdog at 10:17 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


What oneswellfoop said, times about a million. Unlike The Starlost, Quark was precisely what it meant to be: it was to to SF shows what Get Smart was to spy shows like The Man From Uncle and I Spy. And it was marvelous if you have a taste for its style of humor. Even the theme music was perfect: like the Star Trek theme turned utterly cornball, as if it were reimagined by whoever wrote the theme to The Love Boat. The fact that Quark failed when so many terrible things just go on and on is a bitter indictment of human civilization and is probably the reason aliens don't think we're worth talking to.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:33 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Or perhaps she hasn't "found one person" because *they* were all holograms!

Holo-Americans: 2nd fastest-growing demographic group of most of the 20th century, beaten out only by real ghosts
posted by clockzero at 11:02 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: now I want to put on some lip gloss and do weird future dances with horns on, which just adds to the uncertainty
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:49 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised. Ellison was terrible at writing for TV.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:55 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe we should take this discussion to FanFare.
posted by Kabanos at 5:39 AM on February 20, 2015


offering us instead some reused footage of Valley Forge from Silent Running.

Weren't the fx in both done by Douglas Trumbull at about the same time? The domes were certainly identical, and the ark had a complex of connecting sections that were basically a dozen or two dozen Valley Forges hooked together at various angles. I've always assumed that he re-used / re-purposed the models from Silent Running in The Starlost (or vice-versa) to save on costs.

I'm not ashamed to admit that The Starlost was one of the first things I torrented back in the day when I felt safe to dl whatever. (My 10 year old self who loved the show during its original run demanded it.) I didn't think it was anywhere near as bad as my adult self feared it would be. (In part it just "suffers" from the way older shows were paced so much more slowly than contemporary tv and film.)
posted by aught at 5:52 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I'm not surprised. Ellison was terrible at writing for TV."

There's probably worse, but, jeez, he is the dictionary illustration for"overwrought" and "bathos".
posted by Chitownfats at 6:27 AM on February 20, 2015


It's more than laughable watching it again as an adult, but then honestly, everything then was, Buck Rogers, Battlestar, even the Pertwee-Era Dr. Who was more than a little hokey.

DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE JON PERTWEE DOCTOR WHO ERA!!!!

Well, OK...Carnival of Monsters...I'll give you that.
posted by Billiken at 6:47 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


In part it just "suffers" from the way older shows were paced so much more slowly than contemporary tv and film.

I don't think so. Look at any of the the other shows mentioned in this thread, Buck Rogers, Doctor Who, Space 1999, Star Trek, none of them are nearly as bad. Starlost was rightlyconsidered terrible in its own time. If anything, age has improved it.
posted by rodlymight at 7:23 AM on February 20, 2015


Wow, people are talking shit about "Carnival of Monsters" and Keir Dullea's moustache. This thread proves, even more than this show, that there's no accounting for taste.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:46 AM on February 20, 2015


Yes, it was a kid's comedy show, but if you want bad 70s sci-fi it's impossible to keep The Lost Saucer yt out of the running. I mean where else would you get Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi teamed up as tinfoil androids?

Bugger me raw, I had completely forgotten that existed. Yes, I was a viewer back then. I would pretty much omnivorously devour ANY TV scifi. Yes, I know what a gourmand is...
posted by Samizdata at 8:12 AM on February 20, 2015


I'm not surprised. Ellison was terrible at writing for TV.

"The City on the Edge of Forever" forgives all ills.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:39 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even if the teleplay was heavily reworked. ;D
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you watch the first episode at 1.5x playback speed, it feels almost decently paced. I can't tell whether it's just that it comes to us from more unhurried times, or whether the directing is just lethargic.
posted by vanar sena at 8:46 AM on February 20, 2015


Wow, this certainly puts Garth Marenghi's Darkplace in context. I love it.
posted by yaymukund at 9:27 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Frowner: Oh my goodness, I remember Ellison's essay "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto" about the Starlost.

The full essay was 7,100 words. Here are the first 950, The third graph was quoted in the io9 article at the top of this post, and it's a doozy.
SOMEHOW, I DON’T THINK WE’RE IN KANSAS, TOTO
by Harlan Ellison

Six months of my life were spent in creating a dream the shape and sound and color of which had never been seen on television. The dream was called The Starlost, and between February and September of 1973 I watched it being steadily turned into a nightmare.

The late Charles Beaumont, a scenarist of unusual talents, who wrote many of the most memorable Twilight Zones, said to me when I arrived in Hollywood in 1962, “Attaining success in Hollywood is like climbing a gigantic mountain of cow flop, in order to pluck one perfect rose from the summit. And you find when you’ve made that hideous climb... you’ve lost the sense of smell.”

In the hands of the inept, the untalented, the venal, and the corrupt, The Starlost became a veritable Mt. Everest of cow flop, and, though I climbed that mountain, somehow I never lost sight of the dream, never lost the sense of smell, and when it got so rank I could stand it no longer, I descended hand-over-hand from the northern massif, leaving behind $93,000, the corrupters, and the eviscerated remains of my dream. I’ll tell you about it.

February. Marty the agent called and said, “Go over to 20th and see Robert Kline.”

“Who’s Robert Kline?”

“West Coast head of taped syndicated shows. He’s putting together a package of mini-series, eight or ten segments per show. He wants to do a science fiction thing. He asked for you. It’ll be a co-op deal between 20th Century-Fox and the BBC. They’ll shoot it in London.”

London! “I’m on my way,” I said, the jet-wash of my departure deafening him across the phone connection.

I met Kline in the New Administration Building of 20th, and his first words were so filled with sugar I had the feeling if I listened to him for very long I’d wind up with diabetes: “I wanted the top sf writer in the world,” he said. Then he ran through an informed list of my honors in the field of science fiction. Let Asimov chew on that for a while, I thought, blushing prettily.

Then Kline advised me that what he was after was “a sort of The Fugitive in space.” Visions of doing a novel-for-television in the mode of The Prisoner splatted like overripe casaba melons; I got up and started to walk.

“Hold it, hold it!” Kline said. “What did you have in mind?” I sat down again.

Then I ran through half a dozen ideas for series that would be considered primitive ideas in the literary world of sf. Kline found each of them too complex. As a final toss at the assignment, I said, “Well, I’ve been toying with an idea for tape, rather than film; it could be done with enormous production values that would be financially impossible for a standard filmed series.”

“What is it?” he said.

And here’s what I said:

Three hundred years from now, the Earth is about to suffer a cataclysm that will destroy all possibility for life on the planet. Time is short. The greatest minds and the noblest philanthropists get together and cause to have constructed in orbit between the Moon and the Earth a giant ark, one thousand miles long, comprised of hundreds of self-contained biospheres. Into each of these little worlds is placed a segment of Earth’s population, its culture intact. Then the ark is sent off toward the stars—even as the Earth is destroyed—to seed the new worlds surrounding those stars with the remnants of humanity.

But one hundred years after the flight has begun, a mysterious “accident” (which would remain a mystery till the final segment of the show, hopefully four years later) kills the entire crew, seals the biosphere-worlds so they have no contact with one another... and the long voyage goes on with the people trapped, developing their societies without any outside influence. Five hundred years go by, and the travelers—the Starlost—forget the Earth. To them it is a myth, a vague legend, even as Atlantis is to us. They even forget they are adrift in space, forget they are in an interstellar vessel. Each community thinks it is “the world” and that the world is only fifty square miles, with a metal ceiling.

Until Devon, an outcast in a society rigidly patterned after the Amish communities of times past, discovers the secret, that they are onboard a space-going vessel. He learns the history of the Earth, learns of its destruction, and learns that when “the accident” happened, the astrogation gear of the ark was damaged and now the last seed of humankind is on a collision course with a star. Unless he can convince a sufficient number of biosphere worlds to band together in a communal attempt to learn how the ark works, to repair it and reprogram their flight, they will soon be incinerated in the furnace of that star toward which they’re heading.

It was, in short, a fable of our world today.

“Fresh! Original! New!” Kline chirruped. “There’s never been an idea like it before!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the idea was first propounded in astronautical literature in the early 1920’s by the great Russian pioneer Tsiolkovsky, nor that the British physicist Bernal had done a book on the subject in 1929, nor that the idea had become very common coin in the genre of science fiction through stories by Heinlein, Harrison, Aldiss, Panshin, Simak, and many others. (Arthur C. Clarke’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning bestseller, Rendezvous With Rama, is the latest example of the basic idea.)

posted by zarq at 9:28 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, it was a kid's comedy show, but if you want bad 70s sci-fi it's impossible to keep The Lost Saucer out of the running.

I was confusing this with Far Out Space Nuts, which turns out to be pretty reasonable as they were apparently both from Sid and Marty Krofft, based on the same idea and were on the same single 1975-76 season.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:15 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


sonascope: Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow.

I've just discovered that iPhones are not conducive to high fives.
posted by dr_dank at 11:12 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Look at any of the the other shows mentioned in this thread, Buck Rogers, Doctor Who, Space 1999, Star Trek, none of them are nearly as bad.

I re-watched a couple Space1999 episodes recently and I swear to god time was going backward at points during the show. I'll grant you STTOS wasn't as bad in this regard.

(Buck Rogers and the orig BSG I loathed even as a kid, and I certainly haven't re-watched those as an adult, so I can't compare those.)
posted by aught at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2015


Years ago, a Canadian friend of mine once challenged me to write a brief series bible and treatment for a pilot for a reboot of The Starlost. The challenge: adhere to the same basic idea, but make it suck less.

Took about twelve hours.

My treatment wasn't good, by any stretch. Honestly, it was shit. But it was better shit than the actual show.

That's sad.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:05 PM on February 20, 2015


The paperback novel is hilarious. Now where did I put...

Oh here!

The Starcrossed by Ben Bova
posted by Splunge at 1:53 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is astounding. Like they used 70s porn production technology (and sets, and costumes, and directors), and cheap cameras to film a real network television show (Well, canadian TV + Syndication).

Sounds like the formula for Lexx.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:23 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Quark was a sci-fi comedy/parody, created by Buck "Get Smart" Henry.

I stand by my contention that it's horrible, not because I take it at face value (I didn't even when it was my favorite bestest show in the whole world when I was nine)—it's a contender for worst sci-fi show because it's just not funny. I mean, it's funny in the way that Hee Haw is funny, in a kind of horrorlarious sort of campy oh-my-fucking-god-the-horror-the-horror way, but nothing that Buck Henry tried to do in Quark ever reaches the lowest rungs of actual humor. Nearly forty years later, of course, this is what is charmingly wonderful about Quark, but you have to be sort of mean to revel in its carbuncular nudity.
posted by sonascope at 2:41 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


ZeusHumms, you forgot to add "but Lexx was fucking awesome." Because it was.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 4:24 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The 'stache is back!
posted by mazola at 12:35 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thought the first episode was awesome, such a great concept.
posted by PHINC at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2015


I agree, it was excellent if you look past the scriptwriting, acting, editing, music, and special effects.
posted by localroger at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, and it was quite a thrill to actually see that Cordwainer Bird title slide.
posted by localroger at 8:26 AM on February 21, 2015


Like others I watched this when I was a young lad because it was in space and such, but I remember very little. I've taken a look at it throughout the years from time to time. It clearly lacked budget and suffered for it horribly.

Was it the worst science fiction series ever?

Maybe until the new Doctor Who came out.
posted by juiceCake at 9:34 AM on February 21, 2015


John Colicos really outclasses the material here.
posted by mazola at 10:11 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


What if three old people could save the Starlost?! Would that matter?!?
posted by mazola at 10:58 PM on February 21, 2015


Ok, Space:1999 was so much better. But The Starlost was so much more Canadian.
posted by mazola at 11:09 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


And what if they were 800 years into the near future instead of the far future?
posted by localroger at 5:45 AM on February 22, 2015


Currently watching the second one and this is much better than it has any right to be.
It's not high art and the effects and writing aren't great, but it's definitely watchable.
It's eerily reminiscent of Baker era Who (which I loved as a kid) based on pacing and the visual elements, which is probably why I am attracted to it.
posted by Seamus at 1:45 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


So ... I watched the first 3 episodes so far and will probably try to watch #4 tonight.

It's a funny show, because ... well, it's not well done TV, for any decade. The direction and pacing are bad, and the scripts are mediocre. The SFX are atrocious. It registers as "badly done Star Trek." But it's got a core that is not awful – it's like, if you just watch it and don't expect anything, there were clearly the bones of a good adventure show. And just enough of it remains to make the whole affair enjoyable, if you're the sort can get past the kitsch and cheese.

It really helps that Colicos and Morse, in episode 3, managed to spin dross into gold; the script could have easily been unwatchable, but the actors manage to give it some compelling moments. (There's also a "fridge" moment in that episode when you realize that there are only men in Omicron and they're all wearing muscle shirts and tight pants – except Colicos and the priests.)
posted by graymouser at 3:50 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fridge moment?
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 4:17 PM on February 22, 2015


Fridge Logic - stuff that's not stated in the text but you realize when you think about it.
posted by graymouser at 5:03 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it wasn't until Episode 5 that I detected any movement with any urgency or conviction.

And it involved a sandwich.
posted by mazola at 9:28 PM on February 22, 2015


I'm now convinced Canada's problems could be solved by three young people
posted by mazola at 9:44 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm now convinced Canada's problems could be solved by three young people…

The priority issue is, of course, Nickelback.
posted by juiceCake at 2:48 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of all the things wrong with this series — the direction, the pacing, the production – the thing that bugs me most of all is HOW THE DOORS DON'T OPEN RIGHT!
posted by mazola at 11:58 PM on March 1, 2015


And the acting is so… beige.
posted by mazola at 11:59 PM on March 1, 2015


Chitownfats: "There's probably worse, but, jeez, he is the dictionary illustration for"overwrought" and "bathos"."

He's the illustration for, "in love with his own voice."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:58 PM on March 3, 2015


Ok, I'm not quite through the series (just finished Episode 12) but DOES ANYBODY USE THAT CROSSBOW IN THE ENTIRE SERIES?!?
posted by mazola at 7:05 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lucky 13.
posted by mazola at 10:50 PM on March 16, 2015


The more I think about it, the more I am convinced they should film a final episode. The principles are all still alive and stock footage could be used for 'Mu Lambda 165' (William Osler RIP). It could drop in 40+ years after the events of the last episode. Hell, even Oro (Koenig) could be there. It could use the same set/costume design and play for camp. And the Starlost could finally plow into the Class 'G' Solar Star. It would be great fun!
posted by mazola at 11:16 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


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