Space 1999

Space: 1999

1975 - United Kingdom

In 1972, Gerry Anderson was still under the impression that a second season of UFO would be commissioned and the storyline was expanded to develop SHADO’s Moonbase headquarters as a more major part of Earth’s defence. Sylvia Anderson remembers that the new series would have fleshed out a feature of later episodes of UFO; the relationship between Ed Straker and Colonel Virginia Lake. “The main characters were, for the first time in a science fiction series, a couple.” But when the second season was cancelled Gerry and Sylvia decided to move the focal point of their new series to take place entirely on the moon.

Space: 1999 was set, as the title suggests, in the year 1999. Moonbase Alpha is a self-contained community for scientific research and deep space exploration. It is also a dumping ground for nuclear waste following a thermonuclear war on the earth in 1987. On September 13th, 1999 a sudden surge of magnetic radiation detonates the waste, hurling the moon out of Earth’s orbit and into a black sun from where it finally emerges hundreds of light years from our own galaxy.

Alpha’s commander, John Koenig retains command of the 311 men and women as their home drifts aimlessly through space encountering different alien life forms, in the hope that one day they will find a planet with a breathable atmosphere where they can finally settle. Lew Grade was suitably impressed with the story outline to give the new series a budget of £3.5 million, making it, up to then, the most expensive British television series ever made.

Gerry Anderson's next task was to find a US actor with a suitably high profile to attract the American networks where it was vital the series succeed. The actor he decided on former I Spy star Robert Culp. Sylvia Anderson thinks that Culp would have added an extra dimension to the series: "I wanted Robert Culp. When we met him he was quite outrageous, but he would have given the series a very interesting angle. He would not have been the stereotyped hero; he would have been scared at times, he would have made the wrong decisions." However, Gerry Anderson's memory of meeting the star was different from that of his wife’s: “He said ‘there’s something I have to tell you. I want you to know that I’m a great actor. Something else you should know is that I’m an even better director and an even better writer.” Gerry says that at that point he decided that Robert Culp was not going to be suitable for the series.

Abe Mandell, the President of ITC in New York, suggested the husband and wife team of Barbara Bain and Martin Landau who had been a big hit together on the US series Mission Impossible. Gerry agreed. Sylvia didn’t. "I battled very hard and stood up to Lew Grade and said 'I don't think they're right. I don't think we're going to get what we should get." But Grade decided that they were a good commercial bet, "and that was that." 

The casting wasn’t the only disagreement that the Anderson’s had behind the scenes it became apparent that their marriage was falling apart. The first season of Space: 1999 took two years to complete and during this time tensions rose to breaking point. The break, when it finally happened was on the evening of the end of filming party. 

America received Space: 1999 very well and wanted a new series, however, Abe Mandell was insisting on a format change and also wanted to bring in an American writer. Gerry Anderson set off to the USA where he finally met Fred Freiberger, an experienced TV writer who had written and produced on the third season of Star Trek. Anderson phoned Mandell with the good news. Mandell asked if Freiberger were available and when Anderson said he was Mandell asked, “why is he available?” 

In spite of Mandell’s unreasonable concerns about Freiberger, Gerry Anderson got his way and made him producer of series two, whilst Anderson himself became Executive Producer. However, Mandell was not finished. He wanted a new character introduced to the series, an young actress called Catherine Schell. This caused problems with Barbara Bain who was concerned that her role of female lead was being threatened and Gerry Anderson had to go to great lengths to keep the peace.

Abe Mandell contacted Gerry one day during the production of the second series and told Gerry that he was very disappointed that there were no monsters in the show. “In America,” he said, “monsters are all the rage and every science fiction show has to have them.” Gerry hurriedly arranged for scripts to be rewritten and called in sculptors and animatronics experts to give the show the required ‘extras’. A few months later Mandell visited the set and looked in horror at Gerry. “What are you doing, you’ve got monsters in the show?” “Of course we have!” said Anderson pointing out that they were put there because Mandell had said US audiences wanted them.
“But that’s all changed now,” said Mandell. “Monsters are out!” Martin Landau was particularly unhappy with the changes: "They changed it because a bunch of American minds got into the act and they decided to do many things they felt were commercial. Fred Freiberger helped in some respects, but, overall, I don't think he helped the show, I think he brought a much more ordinary, mundane approach to the series."

In February 2012, ITV Studios America and HDFILMS announced their intention to produce a reimagining of Space: 1999, to be titled Space: 2099, however this never developed beyond the concept stage.

Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Noel Onely (2013) for Television Heaven.

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