May 24th, 1949- Rookie Los Angeles Police officer Eugene Wesley Roddenberry, LAPD badge number 6089, tries to break up a fight between two men outside a bar in West Los Angeles. One of the men has pulled a knife and Roddenberry attempting to wrest it away from him, is stabbed in the heart. He dies nearly instantly. (The man is later identified and arrested; he serves 19 years in San Quentin on a manslaughter charge). Roddenberry's widow, Eileen Rexroat Roddenberry and two year old daughter Darlene are given a traditional LAPD officer's funeral.
1962- Shimon Wincelberg, head writer for the Western TV series "Have Gun Will Travel", creates a new series for Desilu Studios for NBC called "Largo and Levin" about a cowboy and a rabbi in the old West. It proves a success and lets Wincelberg get to develop more series.
1965- "Lost In Space" begins on ABC. NBC gets pitched a "space opera" from Wincelberg about astronauts in the year 2100 AD, who patrol the space lanes between Earth, the Moon, Mars, and the distant planet Nioz ("Zion" spelled backwards). The captain, "Bartholomew 'Bart' Stone", has a Niozian First Mate named "Yimon" (named for a Jewish actor Wincelberg had met a few times...again backwards). NBC produced a pilot, with Gary Lockwood as "Stone". Then asked for a re-shoot after the pilot, which dealt with an alien race's attempt to 'purify the Niozians' was considered 'too cerebral' and too much influenced by the Holocaust.
A second pilot was commissioned, but by that time Lockwood had dropped out. Several other actors were considered for the role of "Capt. Bart Stone", including a Canadian actor named William Shatner, who had done many TV series as well as movie roles in films like "Judgment at Nuremberg". The part instead went to Anthony Eisley, a relatively known 40 year old TV actor. The second pilot was shot, keeping only the character of "Yimon", and previewed to NBC execs. They passed. Wincelberg took it in stride and pitched another western, featuring an eccentric inventor who helped out a mercenary cowboy (much like "Have Gun Will Travel"). They approved a pilot and the show was picked up for the 1966 season. "Lightning Bulbs" proved a fair success, lasting 3 1/2 seasons, ending with much of the Western TV series in the 1969-1970 season. It is still shown on some cable outlets.
1967- As "Lost In Space" becomes more campy, early enthusiasm for science fiction TV fades, despite the still-ongoing Space Race and approaching landing on the Moon. CBS attempts one in 1967, called "Stars and Beyond" (featuring a science team from Earth who went week-to-week to far-off distant planets). It was primarily aimed at kids and before its 3rd episode had degenerated into the same campiness of "Lost In Space" and "Batman". It was dropped after its 13 episode run. Actors DeForest Kelley and James Doohan had guest roles on the same episode of "Stars and Beyond" as "Centaurian pirates".
1971- Writer Harlan Ellison pitches an idea for a science fiction TV series called "The Starlost" about refugees onboard a massive generational starship. It gains some interest and ABC commissions a pilot. But personality conflicts with Ellison ruin the deal. CTV in Canada shows interest, but ABC holds the rights to the pilot and it can't be made.
1973- With the success of the "Planet of the Apes" movie franchise, a TV series based on the films is put into production by CBS. Diverting from the original premise slightly, it proves a huge success in its first season. Public interest in science fiction seems to return slightly, despite the recent end of the Apollo Program. NBC comes up with a similar "chase series" called "Rifts", about a group of travellers who cross "inter-dimensional breaks" to appear on strange worlds (all looking a great deal like southern California, naturally). The star is Leonard Nimoy, finishing his role on "Mission Impossible", as "physicist and dimensional expert David Daniels". The show is not successful and is cancelled after many time-slot shifts and 10 episodes.
1975- British science fiction series "Space:1999" comes to America as a syndicated series. It is moderately successful, but interest dies after the second season is broadcast. It remains popular in the UK, and spawns a sequel called "Starship Phoenix". This is almost identical to the premise of OTL's "Star Trek", with an interstellar starship, commanded by a mixed race and mixed species crew, working for a "Union of Worlds" that followed the foundation of the "UOW" by the survivors of Moonbase Alpha. Reruns of the show appear on PBS in the early-to-mid 1980s, along with "Doctor Who", and gather some following. "Starship Phoenix" is cancelled in 1980.
1976- George Lucas, fresh off his success with "American Graffiti", finishs his third draft screenplay for "The Star Wars", a story of a young farmer "Luke Starkiller", who becomes a "Jedi-Bendu Knight" and destroys the Death Star of the evil Galactic Empire. A year later, the film is released and becomes one of the most popular franchises in film history. That same year, the Rockwell Corporation rolls out the first non-space worthy Space Shuttle, named the "Constitution". It will be used for in-atmospheric and mock-up testing, as it is built with no engines or heat shield.
1978-1981- With the huge success of "The Star Wars" (and its sequal "The Luke Starkiller Sagas: The Revenge of the Empire"...often just known as "Revenge of the Empire"), several studios attempt knock-offs. "Battle Beyond The Planets" starring Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" fame is the most obvious. Also was the ABC TV series "Adama's Ark" from producer Glen A. Larson. Several others were attempted.
1980- Billy Mumy, of "Lost In Space", pitchs a remake of the show as a TV series or film. CBS, the original producer, declines, but Paramount Pictures, seeking some means of joining 20th Century Fox in the success of "space movies" agrees to read some draft screenplays. Mumy, along with friends, comes up with a screenplay. Many of the original "LIS" stars are signed, except for Guy Williams who played "John Robinson". Williams, who had moved to Argentina, loathed the show by its finale and refused to even associate himself with it. Mumy even flies to Buenos Aires to try to convince him to do a small cameo, but Williams refuses, instead embracing his former character and success as "Zorro". In the drafts and final screenplay, "John Robinson" has died saving the family as they escape the planet they were marooned on. A double portrays him briefly in a flashback.
In November 1980, production begins with acclaimed director Robert Wise overseeing the film. Playing down the camp, actor Jonathan Harris returns his "Dr. Smith" role to one of more evil and less clownishness, preparing to sell out the Robinson Family ("Maureen" again played by June Lockhart, "Judy" Marta Kristen now married to "Don West" Mark Goddard, with a teenage son "Jack" played by Chris Rabello, "Penny" Angela Cartwright, and Mumy as "Will") to an alien empire for passage back to Earth. The plot progresses with the crew of the "Jupiter-II" (now re-vamped into a more ovoid, "plated" starship) aiding rebels against the aliens. In the end, destroying the aliens, cuts off a wormhole back to Earth, again leaving the Robinson Family "lost in space". Very little humor is in the film and it seems to strike a rather ponderous tone at some points, with Wise slightly criticized for over-using the new "post-Star Wars" special effects.
The final production finishs in May of 1981 and the film is released in July 1981. It proves a modest success. Paramount makes a decent profit and immediately plans are put into place for a sequel.
1983- "Lost In Space II: Revenge of Quano" is released. Starring Kurt Russell, along with the rest of the "LIS" cast, it is a sequel to an episode of the old series called "The Challenge" (starring a young Russell). In the film, Quano has tracked down the Robinsons, plotting revenge for humiliation he suffered at the hands of Will Robinson. Michael Ansara, who also starred in the TV episode, has a cameo in the film. This film directed by Nicholas Meyer, is an even bigger success than the first. It is most notable for a death scene, in which "Dr. Smith" (Harris) believes he is dying, and begs forgiveness from Will for his previous maliciousness and greed. Jonathan Harris' performance is striking in that it diverts from the image of "Smith" from the campy series, and some even think it Oscar worthy.
1984 - A possible "Stars and Beyond" film is pitched, but given the series short run, fades quickly. Also, Irwin Allen, creator of the original "Lost In Space" attempts to produce a film version of his series "The Time Tunnel". Its lack of true "cult" status as well as Allen's declining health never see it get off the ground.
Meanwhile production of a third "Lost In Space" film begins, but snags develop.
By now with the success of the first two films and the praise of his performance in the 2nd film, Jonathan Harris' infamous tempremental nature begins to emerge. He insists on top billing in the third film and a percentage of the gross domestic profits. Paramount agrees, but diretor Nick Castle was quietly informed that either "Dr. Smith" dies in the next film or the franchise would end with "LIS-III".
Quickly, script changes are made and the film becomes "Lost In Space-III: The Return Home", where the Jupiter-II finally returns back to Earth after battling invaders bent on its conquest. The final scene has the Robinsons and Smith emerging from hyperspace in Earth orbit and the ship cruising to a landing at the Kennedy Space Center with cheering throngs carrying "Welcome Home" banners.
1985- "The Return Home" hits the screens in May of 1985 and proves a modest, but decidedly smaller success than the second film. Grosses are good, especially overseas, but it becomes obviously that the "LIS" franchise has played itself out on film. At the same time though, rumors pop up that CBS and Paramount are considering a revival of a television version of the show.
1987- CBS announces their fall schedule. It includes "Lost In Space: The Mayflower Mission". Essentially a continuation of the original show's plotline, it is set in the year 2055 and features a massive (250 feet long) starship, carrying some 20 families to Alpha Centauri on a colonization mission. Incorporating a prototype hyperdrive called "warp drive", the "Mayflower" is sabotaged by radical Luddites posing as one of the colonizing families and becomes, naturally, "lost in space".
Billy Mumy and Angela Cartwright make cameos in the pilot episode, as elderly versions of their "Will" and "Penny" characters, wishing the departing "Mayflower" families good luck.
Each week, they attempt to use their warp drive to get back to Earth (or Alpha Centauri) and instead end up visiting various planets and encountering aliens and even lost Earth ships. Early episodes target a younger demographic, with "Mayflower" captain Jack Standish's son, Alan (played by Jerry O'Connell), a twelve year old boy genius, often saving the ship from disaster. Dislike of the character and returning focus to the adult characters end those story-lines.
The show is an immediate success. Though expensive to produce, CBS secures its Wednesday night time slot, both with "Lost In Space" and with "The Equializer" as follow up. From 1987 to 1992, despite two time-slot moves, "LIS" maintains its position in the Top 15.
1990- The first "Mayflower: Lost In Space" film is released. The plot surrounds the Malvern Family (the antagonist sabateurs from the series) and an attempt to divert a "temperal shock wave" to Earth, to revert the planet back to the Stone Age. Billy Mumy again appears in a flashback sequence, showing how the Jupiter-II originally encountered the temporal shock wave. The film is a good success, making $16 million at the box office and assuring a sequel.
1993- "Mayflower: Save the Future" is released, where the Mayflower colonists go back to the 1960s to make sure that the Apollo-11 moon mission is a success. (Naturally, the Malverns try to sabotage the mission...attempting to kidnap Armstrong and Aldrin at one point). It's more successful than the first film and another sequel is planned. Actor Jerry O'Connell's character of "Alan Standish" has been written out; he later becomes a "Lostie" (LIS fan) favorite for his self-deprecating humor and "understanding as to why so many people hated Alan Standish!"
1996- "Mayflower: Revenge of the Kronons" is released. This film, concerning an evil race introduced in the TV series, is only moderately successful. Though profitable, it under-performs and Paramount announces no further "Lost In Space" movies will be made.
2007- Over ten years later, however, it is announced that TV producer J.J. Abrams will make a new "Lost In Space" film, essentially a "re-boot" of the series, with new younger actors.