My favorite show of all time was the 1965-1968 Irwin Allen space-drama, Lost in Space. It premiered exactly 30 years before I was born and was a fierce competitor with the original Star Trek and Adam West’s Batman.
Now, I’m sitting with many tabs open on radio and the history of radio broadcasting in the good ol’ US of A and I can’t think of a better time to type out a brief synopsis on why I love this show and why it didn’t deserve to be forgotten.
The first episode of Lost in Space was an hour long pilot that left out many of the elements that would make the show successful enough to make Billy Mumy able to compete with William Shatner and Adam West.
The episode was about the first family being sent to Alpha Centuari; the Robinsons. In the pilot, they get on to their spacecraft, the Gemini XII, and get thrown off course. This results in the Robinsons getting hopelessly lost in space (Ha-HA) and the series was about the family’s quest to get home.
Irwin Allen was a master story-teller and it showed. The show was picked up, but there had to be some changes and those changes resulted in the first few episodes of Lost in Space retelling and reshooting scenes that were seen in the pilot, which was the most expensive pilot ever produced at the time. Guy Williams, TV’s Zorro, and June Lockhart, the Mom on Lassie, were the parents of Penny, Judy and Will Robinson. The ship was piloted by Mark Goddard’s Major Don West (my Mom had the BIGGEST crush on him and still does. She actually chats with him on occasion on Facebook, where the Lost in Space fandom still thrives). Also, in probably the most interesting little factoid of the show, the music was composed by Johnny Williams (as he is credited) who went on to compose a few movies for a couple of directors (Star Wars, Jaws, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Exra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Jurassic Park, Superman, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, aaand you pretty much get the point. He’s arguably the most famous modern conductor of all time.).
Now, three interesting changes were made to the show when it was picked up and all were seen in the second first episode. The smallest one was that the Gemini XII was renamed the Jupiter II presumably because it was easier to say. The other two were additions that became the base of what made the show able to stand against the other greats of the time; Dr. Zachary Smith and Robot B-9. Dr. Smith was played by TV’s first Special Guest Star, Jonathan Harris, who was praised for his slimy yet camp portrayal as a double agent that ultimately gets stuck on the Jupiter II when it takes off and his weight is what throws it off course, dooming the crew. Robot B-9 (just called “The Robot” in the show) was a suit designed by Robert Kinoshita (the man who created Robby the Robot, a very famous ‘face’ around Hollywood who actually appeared in two episodes of Lost in Space and an episode of Columbo which I will talk about later) that was worn by Bob May and voiced by the show’s announcer, Dick Tufeld. The Robot was, as some merchandise put, a General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot that would determine the safety of a planet’s atmosphere for the Robinsons.
He also happens to be my favorite fictional character ever and has had a profound effect on how I view things…no, really. You see, the Robot simultaneously became Dr. Smith’s henchman because he couldn’t refuse orders, the Robinson family’s protector from hostile inhabitants of the planets they landed on because of his defense system (these kickass claws would shoot lightning out of them), and became friends with the youngest of the Robinsons and was a protector. Over time he developed a personality and when the Robot was endangered, the Robinsons eventually fought to keep him safe, as he was now a member of the family. This is important because, initially, it was considered to dump the Robot so the weight of the Jupiter II would be manageable for an easy take-off, but he had become invaluably so they mined more of the planet to get the proper fuel for everyone, including Dr. Smith, to come along. Growing up, I saw this as a symbol. The Robinsons, Major West, and Dr. Smith were all straight and white and American. The Robot was none of these things. The Robot was a blank slate that filled in for everyone else in my mind and if the Robinsons could show love, understanding, and care for someone different from them, so could I. The Robot was my personal symbol to fight sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and all the other nasty things in the world. That is why it is my favorite show.
Eventually the show was cancelled and nowadays people don’t know it like they know Star Trek or Batman, but I will never forget this show and neither should you.
Join me in the not-too-distant future for a look at another show that melded my, Mystery Science Theater 3000.