Welcome to For the Love of… a periodic interview series about everything we geek out about. For this episode, I welcome author-writer-director-producer Marc Cushman, author of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space: the authorized biography of a classic sci fi series.
We begin with some of Marc’s background. His experience in entertainment includes screenwriting, teaching, directing, and producing. In particular he enjoys the creative aspects of bringing a script to life as a writer and director. He was inspired to write by the TV and movies of his childhood. Sadly, by the time he was an established television script writer the shows he wanted to write for were off the air.
Now as an established nonfiction author he writes about those same shows beginning with 1965’s I Spy. I Spy was a “buddy-cop” comedy series and the first TV show featuring a black actor(Bill Cosby) on equal footing with his white co star(Robert Culp). The show broke boundaries socially and technologically, reducing production cost and paving the way for early Sci Fi TV.
His most successful work so far, These are the Voyages, is a three volume series detailing the behind the scenes events of Star Trek The Original Series. Working initially with series creator, Gene Roddenberry, he collected notes, memos, letters, files, and correspondence chronicling the events and struggles to create each episode of the show. Marc went as far as licensing the ratings data directly from the Nielsen Media Research, disproving the story that Star Trek was canceled due to poor ratings.
Marc’s Latest book is Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space. Irwin Allen, creator of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, is a significant figure in Sci Fi TV. As producer of these shows Irwin proved that quality Sci Fi could be produced consistently on a TV budget.
Marc initially started writing Non Fiction because it is what he enjoys reading. With so much experience creating fiction stories as a screenwriter, Marc doesn’t find a challenge in the field anymore. Pairing his interest in non fiction with his love of entertainment he began his work in creating biographies of a TV show. His goal is to take the reader back in time and sit them in the writers room with the creators of Star Trek and Lost in Space.
As an example Marc elaborates on the Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”. The episode is considered by most fans to be a flop, a misstep that was too silly and absurd. However, in his research Marc found that the intent of the episode was far more cerebral. It was inspired by the world’s first heart transplant surgery. At the time there was a great deal of controversy about the procedure with some claiming doctors were playing god. The creators wanted to comment on the event in their own way but the network didn’t like the idea.
Marc and I are both immense Star Trek fans and we spend a few moments on a heavy Trek Tangent.
We get back on topic as I ask Marc about his interest In Irwin Allen. Marc is old enough to remember watching shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Star Trek live on TV. He has many fond memories of watching those shows and their influence on his imagination and creativity. Irwin Allen’s early career is significant because without him Sci Fi TV as we know it wouldn’t exist.
Irwin Allen was a filmmaker with 20th Century Fox. He produced many notable films with the studio including The Lost World and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The Studio fell on bad times after dual financial hits of Marylin Monroe’s death and the monumental production cost of Cleopatra. With the film studio effectively shut down Irwin approached ABC’s TV division and pitched a TV adaptation of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
The studio was not enthusiastic at first. To them, the work needed to create a futuristic sci fi series on a TV budget was impossible. Irwin insisted that it was possible and practical thanks to his collection of props, costumes, sets, and stock footage from his film. The studio reluctantly agreed and the series premiered in the fall of 1964 to good ratings, high acclaim, and on budget delivery.
With the successful reception of Voyage other Networks become interested in creating their own Sci Fi series including CBS. He pitched them Swiss Family Robinson in Space. CBS accepts and Lost in Space is born, debuting in September 1965. The success of both of these shows opened the door for Science fiction on TV, proving that they can be produced within a limited budget on schedule.
All was not sunshine and rainbows for the show and there were many obstacles for the show to overcome. Lost in Space was slotted for the Family Hour, 7-8pm. As such the Network censors were very sensitive to the material aired at that time. There were many things the censors would not allow on air that conflicted with the original tone of the show. As such the series has to make dramatic changes in order to survive. The villainous Dr Smith became more of a mischief maker than an evil scientist and the show focused more and more on the children in the cast.
These changes ended up benefiting the show. The more comedic it became the more popular it was. The network was happy with the ratings and the series carried on. But the changes never sat well with Irwin especially as his competition debuted in 1966 with Star Trek.
Its easy to see how a compelling story can be told from the perspective of a TV show. Mark elaborates on his methods in writing these books from the perspective of the show itself. All story is based on conflict and there is a lot of conflict in the creation of a show. Using the show itself as a protagonist, he pits it against the antagonists in the Studio who threatens to cancel, the Censors who tell you what you can’t do, and the budget who tells you what you can’t afford. Each episode is a struggle with its share of victory, defeat, and compromise.
Volume one of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space is available now from Marc’s site and at local bookstores. Feedback from the book has been overwhelmingly positive with four and five star reviews from several noteworthy reviewers. Many readers compare this book to Marc’s previous books on Star Trek, saying that are surprisingly just as good. Most readers did not expect the story to be as compelling because the show was less important to them.
What they didn’t realize is that Star Trek took the lessons learned from Lost in Space to improve their own production. In fact, Irwin Allen payed close attention to Star Trek, its reviews, its ratings, and its impact. In many of those reviews Gene’s show was compared to his as the superior show. “Lost in Space is for the Kids, Star Trek is for the Adults,” one magazine said. Naturally he was envious.
Marc relates his experience researching his books and the great wealth of information he uncovers. Initially, the Lost in Space biography was meant to be a single volume. However, the amount of information he found was too great and a second volume was authorized. Even split as it is there is too much relevant information to contain. The manuscript alone is 700 pages thick and a third volume is likely, much to the publisher’s chagrin.
Moving forward Marc is planning to continue writing about Star Trek, bridging the gap between the end of The Original Series and the launch of The Next Generation. It will feature The Animated Series, the rise of the conventions and fandom, and the first two movies. In particular he will cover the rise of Star Trek as the reruns reached syndication. Marc teases information he discovered about the creation of The Next Generation that is not publicly known. Following that He plans to continue the saga of Trek into The Next Generation’s first season and beyond.
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