Friday, June 24, 2016

Planet Of The Apes - The TV Series!


The Planet of the Apes TV series followed quickly after the final Apes movie Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Supposedly while a decision to end the film series had already been made there was thought that a TV show might gain some footing. The series debuted on CBS and went head to head with popular shows Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man. It was in the final analysis a fail as only thirteen episodes made the air with a fourteenth produced.


Living in the wilds of Kentucky with only aerial antennas to get reception of the three big networks a decision had to be made whether to bet NBC and ABC or CBS by itself since all three were never readily available from the same direction. We were an NBC family so much of what showed up on CBS was missed by yours truly as a kid. This show was no different. But now I've rectified that gap in my complete understanding of the PotA universe at long last.

The show was frankly better than I expected. The premise doesn't wander far from the movies as we once again find a couple of astronauts from Earth's present (or slight future) stranded far in the future among a society dominated by intelligent Apes. How it fits into the larger time scale of the movies is beyond me and frankly I don't see how it can be jiggered, but whatever.


The astronauts named Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) are stranded after their ship crashes and their shipmate is killed. Apes find the ship but not before a lone human being rescues them and hides them in his bunker which was left from previous eras. The humans of this Ape planet are more intelligent than the feral lot that Taylor discovered in the first movie, these are humble characters able to speak and do most everything save make decisions for themselves. They are ruled by Apes and are a definite second class in a world which little values their lives.


Virdon and Burke decide to take steps to return home, however unlikely that seems and so helped by a chimpanzee named Galen (played by Roddy McDowall) they investigate this new world they are trapped upon. They are pursued by the always upset General Urko (Mark Lenard) who serves with reluctance the orders of Zaius (Booth Colman). In most episodes Urko is hot on their heels but in others not so much.

In fact the series seems to begin with the definite sense that Virdon and Burke with Galen's help are looking only for a the means to return home. But after several episodes of this mission they seem to forget about it and take to helping the humans who often take care of them. The trio become defacto Robin Hoods, helping in spite of the fact that they themselves are outlaws. Weirdly they often walk right into the teeth of the authorities, but are always nimble enough to escape eventually.


The show does lack the focus and the dour outlook of the movies, as most episodes end on upbeat notes with most humans finding their lot improved thanks to the astronauts. But sometimes you have to wonder what they are doing, since it often seems that they are just tempting fate. One episode has the astronauts help a farm family improve their lot with new techniques and attitudes and another explores a human village where sacrifices are routinely captured to fend off Gorilla attacks. Lots of moral questions are raised and in the best stories the answers are not necessarily easy, though TV couldn't really deal with the complexities the best movies touch on.

The series is in retrospect hobbled by the necessities of episodic television of the time, requiring too many concessions which undermine the theme. Today of course a more elaborate story line would be developed allowing for a richer experience, and I'd love to see what someone could do. 

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11 comments:

  1. The POTA TV show was broadcast on British TV just four weeks after its' American debut which was incredibly fast - by contrast Star Trek took three years to arrive here. I'd never heard of Planet Of The Apes before and I was blown away by episode 1 of the TV show...talking apes, wow !! Only six days later Marvel UK's POTA weekly was launched and that was my introduction to the world of Marvel comics. By the way, on British TV all 14 episodes were broadcast from October 1974 to January 1975.

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    1. U can see how this show could be the right thing at the right time for fans like us. I don't know really why I never got the PotA magazine here, but I only ever picked up a few issues.

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  2. Thanks for the retrospective, Rip. I'd love to see this series again, as I was a faithful watcher all those decades ago. I'd have been 8 years old then, and wide-eyed for all things Ape. I have few memories of the individual shows, save the episode where one of the good guys is trapped in a scene reminiscent of the underground NYC of Beneath. As I recall, he happens to be trapped with Urko, so there was quite a bit of tension as the two try to set aside their difference in order to make an effort to escape.

    Doug

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    1. The episode you're thinking of is "The Trap" and you can watch it here...
      Urko and Burke are trapped in San Francisco's subway system, establishing the show's on the West Coast as opposed to the first two movies' East Coast location.
      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2mqqg2
      Both the live-action TV series and the animated show are available as complete box sets on DVD

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    2. I rather liked "The Trap". It was early and above average when they were still trying to get off planet. Mark Lenard's Urko was almost always a hoot.

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  3. How come Dr. Who never visited the Planet of the Apes? Now there’s a cross-over…

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    1. I can Zira as a most worthy companion for the Doctor. She fits the bill nicely.

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  4. Near the end of its' run, Marvel's PotA magazine ran a couple of articles attempting to tie the various tv/movie/comic incarnations (including Marvel's original stories like "Terror on the Planet of the Apes" and Kingdom on an Island of the Apes") into one cohesive continuity.

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    1. I deeply regret not having the PotA mags in my collection. When I've thought about gathering them up, the prices are always more than I want to deal with. My back issue days are about behind me. This stuff desperately needs to collected.

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  5. I was eight or nine when this came on and I was depressed because it came on Friday nights, which in Mississipoi is High School Football night. Not a big deal for most 8-9 year olds, but my dad was a football coach so negotiations were off the table.

    Fortunately, the CBS station in my area saw fit to replay them on Saturday nights, so I guess one of the programming people must have had a kid my age at home in the same predicament. I was able to see them all and was sad to see it get cancelled.

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    1. We take so much for granted these days with DVRs and online access for the material we like. Once upon a time it required significant effort to keep up with the few sci-fi series that were out there, but these days DVD collections and such have made me lazy. Sometimes being able to watch it when you want means never having to actually watch it now. Back in the day, all you had was the precious "now".

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