Welcome to The Outer Limits

The following article is taken from the book Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.

Monsters have always been hits with moviemakers and their audiences, but The Outer Limits (which aired from 1963 to 1965) marked the first time TV viewers got a "monster of the week." The show was more than that, though; the lighting and cinematography gave the show an offbeat, intensely atmospheric look -and the writing was impressively literate. Despite its lukewarm ratings in its first run it remains one of TV's most memorable shows.

HOW IT STARTED

In 1961, Leslie Stevens came up with an idea for a science fiction show about "the awe and mystery of the universe." He brought it up in a conversation with "package programmer" Dan Melnick, who agreed it would make a good show -as long as it had monsters in it to make it commercial. And The Outer Limits was born.

Well, actually Please Stand By was born, because that was the title of the proposed pilot that Stevens sold to ABC in 1962. Filming began on December 2, with Joe Stefano producing. Early on, ABC requested the addition of a Rod Serling-like host to speak directly to the audience. Stefano didn't want one, so he compromised: he created an unseen presence called "The Control Voice" which introduced and commented on each episode. It was Stefano's excuse to editorialize. However, 1962 was a bad time to flash "Please Stand By" on screen while an "ominous voice" took control of viewer's TV sets. Only a few months earlier, the Cuban Missile Crisis had brought us to the brink of World War III. ABC guessed that an already frightened public might mistake the show for an official announcement and create an Orson Welles-type panic.

So the name was changed to Beyond Control and then to The Outer Limits. The series finally began shooting on May 22, 1963 and premiered three and a half months later. The show ran until January 16, 1965.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

To the producers of The Outer Limits, the monsters were metaphors; it was the contemporary themes of the stories that mattered, not the costumes or special effects. This was convenient, because their "creature budget" was only $10,000 to $40,000 per episode. They had to be very creative when it came to scary stuff. For example:

(YouTube link)

* The Andromedan from the episode "Galaxy Being" was a guy in a brown wetsuit coated with glycerin and oil, and negative-reversed to produce a shimmering white monster.

* In one scary episode, poisonous alien plants take root on the earth and shoot deadly spores into the air. But the audience wouldn't have been too frightened if they had known the "spores" were actually puffed wheat cereal!

* By consensus, the most ridiculous Outer Limits monster ever created was the Megasoid. It consisted of "a floppy velour gorilla suit" (through which the actor's t-shirt could frequently be seen), a dubbed-in German growl, and a "recycled bird mask" from a previous episode.

CAN YOU BEAR IT

Although Stevens and Stefano had lofty ideas about what they were trying to accomplish with their stories, ABC only cared about the monsters, which Stefano always referred to as "the bears." He explained, "In the old Vaudeville days, when things were going wrong and the audience was getting bored, out would come a comic in a bear outfit. That's what we do in each of our shows -'Bring on the bear!'"

(YouTube link)

HOT PROP-ERTY

Eleven years after The Outer Limits last showing, Robin Williams appeared as Mork from Ork, wearing a helmet used in an Outer Limits episode called "The Specimen."

CENSORED

"The Cats," an episode in which aliens "take possession of household pets to invade the Earth," was never shown. ABC feared that viewers who had cats at home might become scared of them.

REALLY SCARY

The Outer Limits producer Joseph Stefano also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Psycho.

(YouTube link)


TRUE CONFESSIONS

Instructions given to The Outer Limits writers: "Every play should have one splendid, staggering, shuddering effect that induces awe, wonder, tolerable terror, or even merely conversation and argument."

THE CONTROL VOICE

An announcer named Vic Perrin supplied the narrator's voice ("There is nothing wrong with your television set… Do not attempt to adjust the picture…") Here's the sort of thing viewers heard him say every week:

Here in the bright, clustered loneliness of the billion, billion stars, loneliness can be an exciting, voluntary thing, unlike the loneliness man suffers on Earth. Here, deep in the starry nowhere, a man can be as one with space and time; preoccupied, yet not indifferent; anxious, yet at peace. His name is Joseph Reardon. He is, in this present year, thirty years old. This is the first time he has made this journey alone….

OUR FAVORITE EPISODES

"The Architects of Fear." Robert Culp, a scientist, is selected by idealistic cronies to frighten the nations of Earth into uniting against a common enemy. The plan: He'll be transformed into a monster, land a flying saucer at the U.N., and threateningly announce he is from the planet Theta. Instead, the saucer crashes off course, and he's shot by a bunch of hunters.

"The Man Who Never Was Born." Reardon, a time traveler, discovers that in the year 2148 the human population has been wiped out by an alien germ which was nurtured by a man named Cabot. So he and a disfigured humanoid from the future travel back in [Ed note: this is where the Bathroom Reader article abruptly ends.] time to prevent Cabot from being born. The disfigured humanoid (Andro) manages to change the events of history, but he also disappears, because in the altered timeline, he himself was never born.

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Legendary Lost Bathrom ReaderThe article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader. This special edition book covers the three "lost" Bathroom Readers - Uncle John's 5th, 6th and 7th book all in one. The huge (and hugely entertaining) volume covers neat stories like the Strange Fate of the Dodo Bird, the Secrets of Mona Lisa, and more ...

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute 


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The episode of the man who talked to the cat was called "Soldier" and was also written by Harlen Ellison. It was about a soldier from the future who accidentally gets sent back in time. An enemy soldier from his own time also gets sent back to track him down and kill him. In the future cats are used for reconnaissance so he tries to talk to them. The best episode was another written my Ellison called "Demon with a Glass Hand." Robert Culp wakes up in a strange building being pursued by aliens. He can't remember who he is or how he got there. His hand is made of glass and missing most of his fingers. The hand tells him that if he can capture the missing fingers from the aliens it can tell him who he is. In the end he turns out to be a robot sent from the future, carrying the human race encoded inside him, to escape the future earth intentionally polluted to destroy the invading aliens. If these sound familiar its because years later Ellison successfully sued James Cameron for using similar ideas in Terminator. This was a truly great television series.
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I don't remember what show it was - may have been Outer Limits - but there was a guy who would grab every cat he saw and say some indecipherable phrase to it. It turned out he was part of an invasion force that came from a planet run by cats, and he was looking for his commanding officer. He kept saying (when slowed down), "C. O. This is Private R-T-N-T-N-D-O" It's been driving me nuts trying to find it.
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