Planet of the Apes TV Series

Planet of the Apes

1974 - United States

Based on the successful film series that started with Planet of the Apes (1968) in which a nuclear war on Earth has made the apes the dominant species while mankind have become mute slaves wearing animal skins and hunting for food. 

Similar to the original movie, the TV version features the crew of a 20th century spacecraft who, due to a mishap, find themselves returning home some 2000 years late (the future-date in the TV series pre-dates the movie by almost 900 years). The only two astronauts who survive the journey are Alan Virdon and Pete Burke (played by Ron Harper and James Naughton). They are immediately branded outlaws by the ruling ape society and sentenced to death as a threat to the state, because they represent the ancient race who destroyed the Earth with their greed, violence and weapons of mass destruction. Galen, a chimp played by Roddy McDowell (who had appeared in similar roles in the movie series) joins the astronauts, feeling that they are unjustly accused.

The series was filmed on the old Fox ranch in Malibu Canyon where the original films were made. Ron Harper, also familiar to viewers from the TV series Garrison's Gorillas was later very critical of both series' (movie and TV): "The first film was very interesting. The idea of reversing the roles of apes and humans was a novel one. But beyond that first film, I think they ran out of steam as to what to do with this crazy premise. I thought the series went downhill real fast." James Naughton agreed: "It was a one idea show and once we got past that one idea, the actors and, more importantly, the audience had seen it all. Our story was one of us would get captured by the apes and the other two would have to rescue him. It got to the point where Jim and I would pick up a script each week and the first words out of our mouth would be 'whose turn is it to be rescued this week?'" 

To confirm what the two actors said, Planet of the Apes found it difficult to sustain a loyal audience and after four episodes viewing figures dropped dramatically. It was eventually decided to cancel the series with only 16 episodes "in the can" (although the last two were not broadcast). However, two years later the show was back as a series of two-hour movies (actually two one-hour original episodes joined together). Entitled, a little misleadingly perhaps, The New Planet of the Apes, these suprisingly fared much better, selling to TV stations around the world. They also entered syndication, and ABC got Roddy McDowall to re-create his role of Galen in a series of new openings and closings specifically for ABC's owned and operated stations, so unless you saw it on one of those, you will not know the two astronauts fate: "They found their computer in another city and disappeared into space as suddenly as they'd arrived" Galen informed us at the end of the final episode. The ABC openings and closings were never seen on other stations, nor were they included on the DVD set of the series.

Published on January 19th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

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