We Are Controlling Transmission
I was privileged to grow up in what I consider to be the glory days of sci-fi on TV. Star Trek was a phenomenon when it first aired, even though it only lasted three seasons. But years before, two amazing and ground-breaking shows preceded it: Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Twilight Zone is universally known and loved by all genre fans, and rightly so. But for my money, the other show at the time hit me deeper in my soul: The Outer Limits. It is the under-appreciated cult fave that was hardcore sci-fi, as opposed to its morality play counterpart TZ. It was creepy as all hell and it grabbed you by the throat right from it's famous opening:
Psycho Beginnings: The People Behind The Outer Limits
The show was created by Leslie Stevens, but the mastermind and main creative force behind this ground-breaking show was Joseph Stefano. That name might be familiar, as he was the screenwriter of the epic Hitchcock classic, Psycho. He wrote most of the episodes but had assistance from the likes of the legendary Harlan Ellison and Oscar winner, Robert Towne. Both were anthology shows, but the main difference between TOL and TZ was the tone: Twilight Zone was more fantasy and morality based, usually with that twist ending that everyone loves. The Outer Limits was far more nuanced in its depiction of the hard choices of mankind.
The thing that set The Outer Limits apart was the very format of the show conceived by Stefano. Borrowing from the idea of the "McGuffin," Hitchcock's story device that really didn't do much except move the plot along, Stefano came up with something that changed the game in sci-fi and horror on TV forever: "The Monster of the Week", also known as "The Bear."
Stefano called the baddie who was the center of the plot that week "The Bear," the thing that would scare the Bejesus out of you. Even though a monster was central to the story, the plots were heavily focused on the science too. This heavy emphasis on actual science gave the show a gravitas that The Twilight Zone didn't have.
Every genre show since, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Supernatural, The Flash and countless others owe a good portion of their popularity to the "Monster of the Week" format. Later shows wisely integrated an over-arching "show mythology" into their storytelling because the "Monster of the Week" can get stale after a while (unless the writing is top notch). But make no mistake — what The Outer Limits did was a game-changer as far as sci-fi and horror on TV is concerned, and it should be remembered for that. Here's a collection of some of the greatest "Bears" from the series:
Where No Man Has Gone Before: The Star Trek Connection
Something that most people don't know is the major "creature" influence that The Outer Limits had on the original Star Trek. Many of the creatures and special effects from The Outer Limits made their way onto the equally influential Star Trek. The "transporter beam" effect on Star Trek? Yep, it came from a technique used on The Outer Limits episode, "The Mutant," while Spock's ears derived from a concept from The Outer Limits makeup team for the episode "The Sixth Finger."
Some of the creatures in The Outer Limits were even straight up re-used and re-purposed in Star Trek. Take a look at the example below.
The Outer Limits' Bear From 'The Probe':
Reworked Monster On Star Trek: The Original Series:
The influence of The Outer Limits even made its way into the psyche of James Cameron, who was sued on behalf of Harlan Ellison's estate, contending that the plot for Terminator was heavily influenced by two The Outer Limits episodes ("The Demon with the Glass Hand", and "The Man Who Was Never Born") written by Ellison. Cameron conceded the direct influence, resulting in Ellison getting credit on the movie.
The Legacy Of The Outer Limits
Called by horror legend Stephen King as '"the best program of its type ever to run on network TV," The Outer Limits stands as one of the all-time greatest shows in the history of TV, and deserves the recognition that the more popular Twilight Zone and Star Trek already have.
And not for nothing — what show can boast such weird and creepy ''Bears" like this:
So that's my take on this great show. Your turn.