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.