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Foundation genre shows

October 16, 2012

While posting to a thread on the British Invaders Facebook page I was reminded about my idea of foundation genre tv shows.  What do I mean by foundation show?  To me, a foundation series is one that has left a noticeable impact on genre television.  In addition to having a huge following and maybe having a bunch of spin-off movies or books, the series is one that you can trace a logical path of later series that were clearly inspired by and/or attempted to copy the format of that series.  Originally I thought of only six series in this light but, after a recent set of email conversations with my friend Kevin Bachelder I added a couple of more and then added one more afterwards that I can’t believe we both had missed.  As a side note, Kevin is a long time podcaster whose current shows include the Saturday B Movie Reel podcast, where he talks about the latest SyFy original movie, and he is also one third of the Tuning Into SciFi TV podcast.  Both of these can be found at:  http://tuningintoscifitv.com.  So, what are these nine series?  I’m going to cover them below in chronological order since that seems to be how my brain stores them.

 

1) The Quartermass series:  These are a group of four series that are really the foundation of foundation series as far as I am concerned.  The first serial called The Quatermass Experiment ran as a live six part series in 1953.  Tragically, we only have the first two parts due to the BBC’s inability to record media at the time.  It was a huge success and was followed by three more series, Quatermass II in 1955, Quatermass and the Pit in 1958 and Quatermass 1979.  Quatermass was instrumental in demonstrating that serious genre dramas could appeal to adults enough to draw a substantial audience. 

 

2) The Twilight Zone:  This 1959 anthology series did in the US what Quatermass had done in Britain.  There was a strong trend in the US for genre television, as well as film, to not be accepted as a format for serious story telling and/or to be largely targeted at children.  Rod Serling wanted to show that not only could science fiction be used to tell serious stories but, it could actually tackle sometimes blatantly political topics that couldn’t be covered by regular dramas.  The series success also demonstrated that genre television was a marketable product to the US main steam audience.

 

3) The Outer Limits:  Beginning its short run in 1963 concurrently with the Twilight Zone, much of what was said about that series applies to this one as well.  In addition, it would be the proving ground for a young up and coming producer named Gene Roddenberry.

 

4) Doctor Who:  There is not much to say about this series that hasn’t already been said.  If you are a new genre series, you really want to grow up to be as successful as Doctor Who.  In the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered if the Star Trek back door pilot Assignment: Earth was inspired by Roddenberry’s viewing of this show.

 

5) Star Trek:  Another show that there is not much more to say about.  Watch the Outer Limits if you want to see where many of the building blocks of this series came from.  It would also sort of establish the precedent of US genre shows tending to focus on the future and/or space exploration as a major theme. 

 

6) Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  This one season 1974 series was and, I feel, is still  largely ignored for the impact it has had on genre tv that followed.  Chris Carter attributes it as his major inspiration for the X-Files and I wonder how much different Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have looked without it.

 

7) Blake’s 7:  Inspired by Star Trek itself, as well as a number of other non-genre sources, this show established the concepts that a) the future does not necessarily need to be optimistic and b) all of your characters don’t necessarily have to like each other.  Ultimately, these are concepts that shows like Farscape, Firefly and even the reinvented Battlestar Galactica would run with.

 

8) Star Trek: the Next Generation:  While I am nowhere near as fond of this series as my wife Diane, I do have to acknowledge that without the success of this syndicated genre show we would not have had the explosion of genre syndicated and cable series that followed in the 90s.  It’s success spawned a truly insane number of new series that we never would have seen had this series failed.

 

9) The X-Files:  Inspired by Kolchak, this series cemented the idea that you could do a successful genre show rooted in a present day setting as opposed to outer space.  Also, being on a network, even though it was a fledgling one, it was instrumental in getting networks to begin experimenting with genre shows, which they had largely abandoned.

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5 Comments
  1. Excellent list! I’ve watched all of these with the one key exception being Quartermass. I’ve only watched “Quartermass and the Pit” but I really loved it. I’m currently watching “The Twilight Zone” on a regular basis (sidelined during my annual crazy batch of horror movies for October) and, at a much slower rate, “The Outer Limits”. I’m also gradually working my way through all of Doctor Who again, currently up to the Pertwee era. Loving my horror movies in October but anxious to get back to these shows.

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