Flashback 50 years when our heroes were Lost in Space!

Brain snatching aliens! Space cowboys! Amazon females! Fanciful space hippies! These are several examples of the perils our heroes faced when they were “lost in space” for three seasons.

In the pilot episode of Lost in Space, which debuted on CBS on September 15 in 1965, the United States launched the Jupiter II, a spaceship with the mission of helping man to colonize deep space.

The occupants of the above Jupiter II were the Robinson family, which consisted of Dr. John Robinson (Guy Williams), an astrophysicist, his wife Maureen (June Lockhart), a biochemist, their 19 year old daughter Judy (Marta Kristin), 13 year old Penny (Angela Cartwright) and nine year old Will (Bill Mumy) a brilliant child prodigy whose expertise is in computer technology. Also aboard for the mission is space pilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard) of the U.S. Space Corps.

There’s a thorn in the side of the Robinson family, Dr. Zachary Smith (Johnathan Harris), who is acting on behalf of rival enemy nations out to beat the United States in colonizing space. In the pilot episode, Smith sabotages the Jupiter II, but to his dismay, he inadvertently finds himself trapped aboard the doomed ship. Due to a meteor storm and the ship’s damaged hyper-drive, the Robinsons, Major West, Dr. Smith and a robot find themselves “lost in space.”

How did this successful show, with a fan base that endures even today, come to air on television? According to Mark Phillip’s The History of TV’s Lost in Space, in 1964, CBS was the top network, airing hits like The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island. Producer Irwin Allen pitched a space adventure series originally titled Space Family Robinson to then CBS President James Aubrey. Aubrey green lighted the show and it went into production. Interestingly enough, shortly after Aubrey approved Lost in Space, Gene Roddenberry pitched the idea for Star Trek to him. He turned it down, believing Lost in Space would be a greater commercial success.

With a budget of $600,000, it was at the time one of the most expensive pilots ever filmed.  The first season, the show aired on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and was an immediate hit, , with Dr. Smith and the Robot becoming the breakout characters.

The first season was more serious in tone but soon our space adventurers would tangle with an enemy more deadly than any galactic foe in the cosmos. They would face the caped crusader of Gotham City.

On January 12, Batman, Robin and a colorful assortment of villains jumped from the pages of comic books to television screens with the debut of Adam West’s Batman. While Lost in Space was still airing in black and white, Batman was full color and made full use of the new medium, creating a fun, kitschy comic book come to life atmosphere. Temporarily, Batman took a chunk out of Lost in Space’s ratings. When the show returned for a second season in the fall of 1966, it was in full color and, in order to better compete with Batman, was a lot campier in tone with the addition of storylines featuring space pirates, knights, Vikings, intergalactic zoos and ice princesses.

While the series was intended to be an ensemble piece, the show started focusing mostly on Will, the Robot and especially Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith was originally portrayed as a sinister, cunning villain but in the second sense became a more comical character. These changes didn’t sit well with the whole cast, but show remained a hit.
In the third season, Lost in Space aired probably one of its most infamous episodes which, to this day, remains universally loved or hated by fans. On February 28, 1968, an episode titled “The Great Vegetable Rebellion” first aired in which Dr. Smith incurs the wrath of Tybo, a giant carrot man – yes, you read that right – who turns him into a giant talking stalk of celery – yes, you read that last part correctly, too!

The series aired its last episode in March 1968. It reportedly had been picked up for a fourth season, but in May of 1968, CBS announced the show was cancelled, leaving no resolution, and our heroes were still “lost in space.”

In 1969, the show began airing in syndication and was a hit. In the early 70s, a short lived Saturday morning cartoon based on the show debuted. In 1979, Ted Turner acquired the rights to the show and started airing daily reruns for the next five years.

As with many retro television shows, Lost in Space got the silver screen treatment in 1998, with Gary Oldman starring as Dr. Smith.

In 2003, a pilot for a new Lost in Space was produced for the WB Network (Now known as the CW) but was not picked up as a regular weekly series.

In October 2014, it was announced that a new version of the series was in development at Legendary Television, which is said to be more serious in tone. As of yet, there has been no official announcement as to when this show might air. On September 15, a special 50th anniversary Blu-Ray Edition will be released, chock of full of extra bonus features.
Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges

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