Now God saw that the whole world was corrupt and full of violence. And God said to Noah, "Everything on earth shall perish. Make yourself an ark with ribs of cypress. Its length shall be 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. . . And you shall bring living creatures of every kind into the ark to keep them alive with. you. . . ." -Genesis 6
There's no doubt that Harlan Ellison, like most good fiction writers, reads the Bible. Both Hemingway and Steinbeck devoured the book, not only for its majestic prose and poetic titles, but for its stories. Great, gripping adventure tales. Most of them involving mortal men involved with immortality. Life beyond this life. The stuff of dreams and epic drama. The stories, to some, are gospel truth. To others they're the finest science fiction. But whatever. If you're going to steal, steal from the best. So Harlan Ellison did. He took the story of Noah's ark and flung it -with space-age updating, of course-900 years into the future. In a famous Esquire article, Gay Talese once described Ellison as a "very California-cool and casual little guy" who infuriated Frank Sinatra one night merely by ignoring him. "What do you do?" Sinatra snarled. Said Ellison, "I'm a plumber." Cool, he is. A plumber Ellison isn't. While not as famous as Rod Serling or Ray Bradbury, he's also a novelist, scriptwriter, and a superstar of the sci-fi field. In fact, he has won more major science fiction awards than any other American writer . After 25 novels, scores of scripts, and 700 short stories, he dreamed up this idea of a gigantic space ark floating through the universe in the year 2873. then set it all down in a detailed 50-page outline, and took it to 20th Century Fox last spring.
That's how the whole thing started on its strange circuitous way .to becoming The Starlost-a Toronto-made TV series costing '$100.000 an episode which premiered across the U.S. and Canada in mid-September . Bob Kline, Fox's vice-president of TV drama, read the outline. Ellison's ark, he realized, was somewhat more grandiose than Noah's. Instead of mere. cubits (the length of a forearm), the main body of The Starlost spacecraft stretches 100 miles long, 80 miles wide, and 30 miles high. From this central control ship are suspended more than 60 circular domes. Each enclosed dome is 10 miles in diameter. And within each dome lies a separate, socially structured and self-supporting community, originally placed in the spaceship from different parts of the earth. Ellison's concept was this: 250 years from now, a group of top UN scientists predict that the world will be destroyed in a holocaust. To preserve life, they start constructing a giant space ark between earth and the moon; all units are lifted into space by rockets. Then small, representative groups of people are lifted aboard .-.but isolated to retain their cultural identities. The scientists' predictions prove correct: 300 years from now the earth goes Boom! But the great ark, safe in space, floats on for 100 years. Then, suddenly, it meets its own star-struck catastrophe. The ship's crew is wiped out. The different domes are instantly sealed off from one another with a built-in fail-safe system. The separate communities, originally intended to colonize various stars and planets, are suddenly locked within their own environments. Another 500 years go by. The Starlost drifts through space, out of control. Children are born and eventually die-unaware of their origins or of any neighboring communities besides their own.
The series starts 900 years from now. More than 20 generations have lived and died. Because of the catastrophe in space, certain domed civilizations have been destroyed. Some have turned into deserts, swamps, ice-fields, Others have flourished, become overpopulated. But to all the survivors, earth is merely a myth. And yet, because of their inbred isolation, they still live as they did on earth. They are 900 years into the future. but they exist as they would today. The Starlost series focuses mainly on two young man and a girl from a dome called Cypress Corners Amish-type community from the U.S. midwest-reIigious, restricted, non-Mod. The youngsters have grown up on neighboring , farms, but one lad is inquisitive, searching, rebellious. He discovers a connecting tunnel to the central control ship, and convinces his friends to join him ,on an odyssey of discovery. So they start on their search. And, of course, they can discover anything that sci-fi script writers can think up-western towns, nudist colonies, all-male societies, all-kid communities, name it. The possibilities are as potentially endless as the series itself. A helluvan idea. At least that's what Bob Kline thought when he read Ellison's outline, and instantly picked up the distribution rights. Then he started putting it all together as a production package.
The first thing he needed, of course, was a star. A good young actor with a name, and one who would look right at home on a space odyssey. Who better than Keir Dullea (pronounced Keer Doo-lay), the star of 2001? Dullea isn't exactly a kid. He's 37. But he looks 21, so no sweat there. The only hitch: He now lives in London, and refuses any extensive work in Hollywood. So the series could be shot in England, Kline said, if Dullea would accept. Preston Fisher is Kline's New York counterpart.before that he was a stage manager in the Broadway' show Butterflies Are Free-the hit show that Dullea starred in for a year. So Fisher called Keir in London. And Dullea recalls he "jumped for joy. I said sure 1'd do it." So Fisher said great, he'd let Keir know. Then Fisher phoned Johnny Bassett in Toronto. Bassett, the vice president of special projects for CFTO, is also a film producer. And he'd just finished making a movie called Paperback Hero-starring Keir Dullea. Fisher said he'd like to see the film. Bassett asked why. (For Bassett, 'you see, doesn't like the movie much himself. He calls it a "Canadian Five Easy Pieces-and I hated Five Easy Pieces. I'm an action man. My favorite movies are The Longest Day and Nevada Smith." ) So Fisher explained that the brass at 20th wanted to see Dullea's performance in the picture because they were planning to star him in a TV series in England. "Why London?" Bassett snapped. "We've got the best studios, 'the best facilities, the best techniques in the world right here in Toronto.,Bob Kline knows that. He saw our layout when we made Famous Jury Trials here. Tell him to come up and talk it over ." So Bob Kline came to Toronto. Bassett got him together with Murray Chercover, CTV's president, and Ted' Delaney, the general manager of CFTO-the network's flagship. Kline, DeJaney and Chercover went into a meeting. At that point Bassett left. "I was just the marriage broker ," he says. The results of the meeting were that Glen-Warren Productions, the production wing of CFTO, would produce and finance the series in association with the CTV network. The network would also run the show each Friday in Canada from 7 to 8 p.m. 20th Century Fox would put up half the $100,000 per-episode cost upon delivery-and distribute it on at least 35 major NBC, Westinghouse and independent TV stations in the U.S. from 7 to 8 p,m. each Saturday. Preston Fisher then called Dullea back in London. You're on, he said, but there's been a slight switch. We're doing the series in Toronto instead, Okay? Well, said Dullea, he'd prefer London. But Toronto was a "palatable alternative." He'd liked the city ever since 1958 when he used to come up from New York and stay in the downtown YMCA-he had a girlfriend going to the u. of T. Then too, he'd made some good TV shows here-Pale Horse, Pale Rider; and Firing Squad-and he'd shot The Fox at Kleinburg. He liked I Toronto and Canadian crews. Of course he'd come. And I he did. The wheels were rolling. A producer was needed, I called CTV hired Bill Davidson for the job. Davidson, a friendly mustachioed, 45-year-old Torontonian, had directed 60 documentaries for the NFB; 800 shows for the CBC and two B-budget features in Toronto before creating and co-producing Adventures In Rainbow Country.
Davidson read Harlan Ellison's outline ( "The Bible" as it's called) and jumped at the job. Another Torontonian, Jack McAdam (art director of The Neptune Factor) was hired to design The Starlost sets and models. And from Hollywood, Douglas Trumbell (the Oscar-winning special effects supervisor of 2001) was brought in as executive producer along with his partner, Jerry Zeitman (who had previously headed up Hugh Hefner's film operations). Meanwhile. Davidson was feverishly searching for his two remaining. stars. Robin Ward, who had made three Canadian features-including the Frankenstein monster role in Flick-and starred in Spring Thaw '69, was auditioned and instantly cast just two weeks before the shooting date. Handsome and assured, the 29-year old Ward plays a narrow-minded Amish traditionalist named Garth in the series. "But after playing nothing but young twit-like princes so far," he says, "it's great to play a heavy for a change." Heavy or not, the role is likely to make him a star. The same future is possible for Gay Rowan, the lovely 25-year-old actress from Peterborough who recently starred In U-Turn, the Canadian entry in the Berlin Film Festival. "I know it sounds corny," she says, "but getting this role is like the classic Cinderella story. Regardless of U-Turn, and all the hoopla in Berlin, just two months ago I was waitressing in the Coffee Mill on Floor Street." The person who got her the role, in fact, was Keir Dullea. A few years ago in Toronto he had seen her audition for a friend who was planning a small feature. "She was so good," he recalls, "I just flipped out. Then, ",hen I heard they were searching for a female lead in The Starlost, I suddenly remembered Gay and told Bill Davidson." She auditioned for the part, was signed on the spot. "If the show's a success," says Davidson, "it won't just be due to the special effects and all the trappings -but because audiences will react to those three young people. They're just sensational, believe me. I've never seen more perfect casting."
But besides the three stars, the series will have name guest stars on each week-actors like Richard Basehart, Patrick MacNee, Barry Morse, John Colicos. Leslie Nielsen, Gordon Pinsent, Lloyd Bochner, Willlam Shatner-who'll be paid $2,500 for their efforts. For the opening show on Sept. 14, a coup of sort was achieved by getting Sterling Hayden to appear in his first dramatic TV appearance. Again, it was Keir Dullea who got him. When Davidson said he would love to have someone like Hayden play the role of the .Amish Datriarch, Dullea said, "Hey, I know him, I'll give him a call." So he contacted Hayden on his houseboat in Paris, and Hayden agreed to fly to Toronto. Davidson ~sent him a first-class return ticket. Then waited. No Hayden. Feverish phone calls went to Paris. (It was hard to reach Hayden, because he doesn't have a phone on his boat; he uses the one at a nearby firehall). But finally Davidson discovered the problem. Hayden had tried to. cash in his first-class ticket for economy class and pocket the difference. Pan Am said it couldn't give him the refund since he hadn't paid for the ticket himself. So Hayden said to hell with it, and ,went back to his boat. CTV immediately sent him the cash difference. And he came. First class. And conquered the role.
The first show, directed by veteran pro Harvey Hart, was written by Harlan Ellison-who, for reasons known only to himself, is using the pseudonym "Cord,vainer Bird" in the series. Ellison-Bird was supposed to have written five other shows, but didn't. So they're rapidly being scripted by former writers of the Star Trek series. The rest of the first 16 scheduled shows are all being written-at $3,600 a crack-by Canadians. But for all the last minute delays and jitters, the shooting of the opening show went superbly. Shot in a huge sound stage at the CFTO studios, the whole program is a triumph of technological wizardry. For only a few real sets are used. Most of them are tiny, intricately detailed models. Through the use of a complicated process called Magicam, one stationary ( or drone) camera is focused on the miniature set, while another is focused on the actors who walk through their paces in a completely empty stage painted blue. The blue is the secret-it blocks out everything but the actors and the model sets. But on the screen, it appears that actors are actually walking through the scenery. The final effect is dazzling. Dullea, Ward and Rowan cross the empty blue stage. But on screen you see them standing on the bridge of the spacecraft. They look through a window at the great expanse of The Starlost-stretching out 100 miles before them. (While in fact the spaceship model sits in front of a camera in a corner-no more than six feet in length. ) 'If we'd used real sets," says Davidson, the budget would have been astronomical. We couldn't have touched it. But this way, we're getting shots that look like they've been done on a 4 million budget. It's going to knock people's eyes out. It's going to be the greatest sleeper of the year in the U.S. And wait till they hear it was made in Canada. "It's by far CTV's biggest project to date," he adds. "We're going for broke. But if it works, it will open up a whole new expansion in Canadian TV. . . " He breaks off and hurries onto the set. Robin Ward has been flying through the air on wires.But something has slipped, and Ward is suddenly dangling upside down. 'If it works," Davidson laughs. And he's gone. .
THE Starlost, already acknoledged as the biggest and most expensive series ever tried by private television in Canada, turned out last night to be the most impressive, too. In one glorious 6O-minsute debut it carried thc CTV network and its CFTO-TV partner - and scienecen fiction in general - a galactic leap forward.
From a deceptively slow and somber opening scene, it inched quietly into a spectacle that, in depth of plot and sincerity of acting and staging, was a world ahead of Star Trek, television's last big effort at the one literary form which has always (until now) defied the small screen's efforts to transfer its sense of wonder from the printed page to a visual image. To phrase it more simply-this is the best scienc-fiction series ever to come to television by a country mile (or shou]d we say a lightyear? ) . And since it's to be seen in almost every major U.S. city this season, it could put Troronto more firmly than ever on the continental TV map.
The premier's sucess was all the more eye-opening in the view of the odds against it. This was the chapter that carried the burden of explainging the basic plot-that Earth had died untold generations ago, thal cluslers of each human cullure had been gathered, put aboard a giant srace ark and sent off in a quest for a new planet - escaping jjust before the cataclysm finished thc old gobe.
There was a seprate domed mini-world housing each of these mini civilizations, iisolating them from eachother for so long that they had all forgotten they were on the ark. The ark carried and supported hundreds of these ethnic microcosms each tilinking it was the only one, each kept in genetic balance by central compulers that decided who should mate and when.
There had been "an accident". 405 years ago that had killed the main crew, leaving the ark racing on pilotless through space, steered by the computers on a collision course with a dislant sun, while the last of humankind squatted content and unquestioning (excepl for a few.) in it's many sealed environinents.
That was the plot.
How you can explain that (so audicnces will understand the concept in cnming weeks) and still find time to build a love triangJe in one of the domes-and make it all a fascinating and even artistic odyssey-was a challenge that no TV script wriler ever even imagined, let alone achieved, before. But it was done last night. On a Canadian network, From a Canadian production centre (CFTO). Under Canadian artistic conlrol. With two of the three stars and most of the supporting players being Canadian.
The first chrtpler starled in one of the mini-worlds that housed a reilligous sect patterned on the Amish. In tile story; the group had come under the control of a corrupt leader, playcd with a flourish by Sterling Hayden. One of the sect's girls (Gay Rowan) had been promised in marriage, to the village blacksmilh (Robin Ward), but she loved an orphaned rebel (Kelr Du1lea), who kept upselting life by asking questions like "What's over that hill?" and "Where does the water come from?"
Hayden, the guru who enjoyed playing god for his little flock, grew so aroused at this heresy thal he ordered Dullea exccuted so Keir, fleeing for his life, stumbled out of the dome, out of its simulated eustic comminuty, and into a massive, metal, blinking-lighted, futuristic heart of the great space ship itself.
His own wonder at the revelation that there WAS a bigger world, that it was flyjng straight towards a deadly sun, was the real dawn of The SlarJost series. It was superbly staged. There was little feeling of gimmicks. And yet this was one of the most gimmicked shows ever - bccause in almost all scenes, Dullea really had stood in a blank studio, a camera picturing him alone, while another campra focussed separatety on a miniature countryside, or space ship interior - with the two piclurcs being put into scale with eachother and filled together by a new electronic technique being tried heree for the first time.
The illusion of the staging was a technological break-through but it was, even more, an entertainment winner.
Dullea, quiet, intense, bright eyed, was fine as the rebel whose curiosity drove him over the hill. Canadian Gay Rowan, tbig eyed, chiselled-featured, was fine as the girl for whose hand he first risked old Hayden's wralh. But Toronto's Robin Ward, as the man to whom she had originally been promised, was so good that his part had been expanded to equal prominance with the other two.
When the three of them, in last night's closing scene, walked gingerly to the main window of the giant shlp's bridge. and looked Out across an eternity, and Dullea whispered: "We may be lhe first people here in 400 years." you couldn't help thinking that it was also the first time in all its 20 years that Canadian TV has seen such a hori...
The xerox copy I have cuts off at this point. If you local library has microfishe of old newspapers send me a copy of the rest please!! Evidently it is on Microfolm at public and univiersities in the greater Toronto area. Or so it sayz at http://king.thestar.com/archives/
CTV's latest and biggest plunge into international entertainmcnl programming is going to be a succcss.
The rash predictipn comes after the first episode of the Starlost (Fridays at 7 pm.), the new scicnce.fiction opus produced at CFTO Toronto starring Keir Dullea, Robin Ward and Gay Rowan.
Thc Starlost shows every sign of inheriting thc mantle of the phenomenlly succcssful Star Trek which is now in its umpteenth rerun and has just bccome an animated Saturday morning series as well.
First episodes of a series like this are allways a bit tricky because all the background has to be established before anyone can get on with current situations But even without making allowances for that problem or for the difficulties of dealing with the new techniques being used in this series, The Starlost looked just fine to me.
It was a litlle slow off the mark, mind you, concentrating a touch too long on the biosphere Cyprcss Concrs (which lookcd like a Hutterite community) before letting the audience out into the enormous space ark to get a feeling of thc futurislic goodies one expccts of such a series.
But once launched into the life supporrt conduits, and once having made the acquaintance of the computerized information man, the series was off and running and, as they say at the U.S. Space Centre, "looking good."
The three lead charactcrs are not yet established and all were looking pretty wooden on Friday night. But it seems reasonable to expect that oncc they're used to the techniqucs required of this series they'll loosen up.
It must be an odd expericnce to be acting against a neutral background whlle another camera films miniatures of the sets in which the actors seem to apear. It's fine for the audience because the images are electronicly mixed, but the actors must find it passing strange.
Thc main thing at the momcnt, though, is that the concept of The Starlost looks fine and should allow for all kinds of flexibility and variety of expericnce.
The other chief ingrcdient is the futuristic quality - wether or not we can believe the premises and situations imposed by planners and writers.
On the basis of a single episode (but the most difficult for all concerned) I'd say the concept is good and should work very well, and that there's no problem at all believing in the ark, its inhabitants, or its dangerous drift toward a firey end in deep space.
CTV deservies a great deal of credit for undertaking this hour long weekly series. television is a highly unpredictable medium and this is an expensive production, even though it has already been bought sight unseen by nearly two doxen countries.
The private network has had enough confidence to take a major rish, and the confidence has proved to be well founded.
I think that the Starlost and the major public affairs series of last season (and presumably this one too) provide clear evidence that CTV has turned a corner in its development.
The private network has established a rock solid news department, a first rate public affairs unit, and is not branching into major entertainmnet series.
The financial base seems to be there, and so is the conviction that a broadcasting company is only as good as its program.
I suggest that you keep an eye on CTV this season, in fact from now on. The prospects look very promising indeed.
The CBC, meanwhile is gearing up for its Olympic coverage. the corporation announced late Friday that French and English networks will each devote at least eight or nine hours a day to live nationwide TV coverage of the Games, and the radio networks will provide similar time.
In addition, the CBC as host broadcaster, will provide facilities for more than 70 TV teams and more than 100 radio teams who are expected in Montreal in 1976.
According to predictions based on earlier Olympics, more than one billion people around the world will watch or listen to the coverage of the two week event.
Ok, this article made me go back and watch the pilot again. Actually it was not all that bad. The acting was wooden, but i could see how the reviewer might think it would get better as the series went along. Unfortunatley the pilot is usually the best episode of the series for everything but the acting. One thing that did impress me was the use of miniatures in the bounce tube sequences as opposed to a painted backdrop the miniatures could be placed to match almost exacticly! In one or two shots it was very realistic!
New information is hard to come by about this series. I did have this old Crazy magazine from when I was a kid. I probably kept it for the Westworld parody, but it did have a page that poked fun at the Starlost called The Starloose!
The Starlost is one of the TV series covered in the new book, SCIENCE FICTION TELEVISION SERIES.
Canadian authors Mark Phillips and Frank Garcia spent 5 years researching this mammoth reference book which exhaustively covers the histories of 62 science fiction TV series produced between 1959-1989. You'll find such series as Lost in Space, The New People, The Immortal, V, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers. Every series also has full episode guides and "Whatever became of..." sections for all cast members. There's also a Unsold Pilots section, a huge index and 120 photos.
The 300 exclusive interviews include chats with Jonathan Frakes, Scott Bakula, Roy Thinnes, David Hedison, Lee Meriwether, Ray Bradbury, Lynda Mason Green, Gregory Harrison, Thom Christopher, Robert Hays and John Colicos.
For The Starlost fan, the chapter gives the Canadian writers a chance to present their side of the show. There are full interviews with producer William Davidson, story editor Norman Klenman, director Ed Richardson and star Robin Ward. On the American side, Ben Bova is represented.
The huge book is 78 dollars American, but it's meticulous research makes it a reference source that you'll constantly refer too for facts and information.
The book is available from McFarland publishers.
"Every series is detailed with full chapters, interviews with over 300 writers, directors and actors - and in the Starlost chapter, I presented the "Canadian" side of The Starlost's production: producer William Davidson, story editor Norman Klenman, director Ed Richardson, series star Robin Ward and guest star John Colicos. However, Ben Bova, The Starlost science advisor, weighs in from the U.S. with his unhappy memories of working on the series.
The chapter also includes information from rare memos issued at the time: When a Tom Jones special preempted a Starlost episode, 150 angry viewers called in to protest...only one viewer called in to praise the Tom Jones special.
And several stars, including Richard Basehart, William Shatner and Gordon Pinsent, were ready to make appearances on STARLOST had it continued. Many Canadian TV columnists felt that Starlost was the best SF TV show ever made at the time."