50 years ago: a golden time in geeky TV
We are in a terrific time for geeky TV. From bright and light superheroes, to dark and dangerous ones, from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones, from Black Mirror to Orphan Black’s clones, with Emmy recognition, Golden Globes, and top rated shows, geeks rule the screens.
However, fifty years ago, in a world of three TV networks and no home recording, a magical year happened which still impacts the pop culture landscape today.
It is the year 1966 in America.
Certainly, geeky TV already existed…people were being called “Space Cadets” a decade earlier, Twilight Zone had its original run, and Lost in Space debuted the year before.
Still, we can start an era in 1966…let’s take a look at some of the series which debuted that year:
Star Trek (the original series) (September 8)
All fandom is compared to Star Trek fandom, and with good reason (it had the original “Save Our Show” campaign). It was recognized with 13 Primetime Emmy nominations…and Hugo nominations. It spawned conventions, canonical original novels, fanfic (fan fiction), bumper stickers (“Beam me up, Scotty”), catchphrases, parodies, a classic Saturday Night Live sketch (“Get a life!”)…and, of course, many follow-on media productions, including TV series (both live action and animated), movies, and internet series. There will be official US postage stamps this year. It would be hard to argue that any geeky TV series (or, possibly any TV series), has been more influential. Still alive? Yes, with a new movie coming out this year.
Batman (January 12)
Yes, Batman had been on the big screen, but this was something new which created a giant craze in the USA. Frank Gorshin’s manic portrayal of The Riddler in the first episode was nominated for an Emmy…and set the standard for batvillains throughout the series. Actors campaigned to be on the show. Pow! Bang! Holy headline news! Allan Sherman even mentioned it in a song…to show the importance of “The Rebel”, he sings, “They even took Batman off the TV screen!” It’s safe to say we wouldn’t have the Batman movies we do now if this series hadn’t been so successful (even if it did flame out, perhaps from overexposure). Based on that, still alive? Yes, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will open huge this year.
Mission: Impossible (September 17)
We decided to accept the mission. While MI was very different in the first season (Peter Graves wasn’t the initial head of the Force), it was nominated for a Writers Guild Award in 1966…and would go on to Emmy and Golden Globe recognition. Still alive? Yes, with 2015’s Rogue Nation being one of the most successful movies in the series, and another in development.
Dark Shadows (June 27)
It was like a soap opera…with fangs. It had a broader appeal than some geeky series, and spawned a top 20 Billboard song (Quentin’s theme). The novels were also embraced by fans. Still alive? While some may think that the Tim Burton version was an unintentional stake to the heart, Barnabas is not dispatched easily. We’ll call this one undead.
The Monkees (September 12)
Is this a geek series? Yes! Not only did they encounter vampires and such, they became superheroes as the Monkee Men! Still alive? Well, it doesn’t see likely that we’ll see a new Monkees TV series or movie, but the Monkees still perform and fandom is still strong.
Here are some other geek series which debuted in 1966:
- The Time Tunnel: it started out with some straight forward adventure with an historical bent…and pretty quickly got into Irwin Allen silliness with ghosts and silver-faced aliens. I re-recently rewatched the whole series
- The Green Hornet: more serious than Batman, but with a crossover…a bit like the Arrow and the Flash now. Oh, and…Bruce Lee!
- It’s About Time: a different kind of American 1960s time travel, which was an intentionally silly sitcom, including Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coco
- Tarzan (with Ron Ely): an articulate version of Lord Greystoke
- The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.: yes, she was a girl and they were men, but a female lead on an adventure show was unusual
- Space Ghost: Spaaaaaaace Ghoooooost! (later a talk show host)
- Marvel superhero cartoons (Captain America/Iron Man…): catchy theme songs, limited animation
- Ultraman: I still love Ultraman! One of the most unusual superhero origins (and that’s saying a lot), he basically got run over by a powerful being coming to Earth who then shared its life with him…from roadkill to Kaiju fighter! I raise my beta capsule!
- Adam Adamant Lives!: it seemed like the clear inspiration for Austin Powers to me, with an Edwardian “spy” dealing with the 1960s, instead of one from the 1960s dealing with the 1990s
- Raumpatrouille Orion: trust me, if you were a geek in West Germany in 1966, you’d know it 😉
- Mystery and Imagination: British anthology based on classic geek lit horror stories
- New Adventures of Superman: animated, with Bud Collyer (the voice of Superman on the radio show)
- King Kong: animated (“You know the name of…”)
- Rocket Robin Hood
- Go Go Gophers: animated
- The Lone Ranger: animated
- Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles: animated (a robot Frankenstein’s monster and superheroes disguise as a rock band…you know, the usual)
- Camberwick Green: British animation
- Cool McCool: animated James Bond parody
- The Super 6: animated, and voices include both Paul Frees and Daws Butler
- The Space Kidettes: animated
- The Beagles: animated Beatles satire…with dogs
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