This week marks the release of the Canadian SF series The Starlost on DVD. Initially conceived by Harlan Ellison, the show ran for one miserable season. With laughable sets, terrible dialogue, acting that was simply beyond the pale, and a strange Amish theme, The Starlost doesn't rate a purchase, but you will derive considerable pleasure out of watching the following video along with Ellison's savaging of the show's producers.Since we will soon have to abandon this country and relocate to New New York, it's only appropriate that Harlan Ellison's disastrous foray into television in 1973, The Starlost, was released on DVD this week. A Canadian series with big ideas and little in the way of any idea on how to execute them, the show came from an idea by Harlan Ellison, who related the disastrous transport of his idea to television in his classic essay, "Somehow, I Don't Think We're In Kansas, Toto." As you can see, it didn't go that well:
In the hands of the inept, the untalented, the venal, and the corrupt, The Starlost became a veritable Mt. Everest of cow flop, and, though I climbed that mountain, somehow I never lost sight of the dream, never lost the sense of smell, and when it got so rank I could stand it no longer, I descended hand-over-hand from the northern massif, leaving behind $93,000, the corrupters, and the eviscerated remains of my dream.
Producer Robert Kline wanted Ellison to do The Fugitive in space, but Ellison preferred to come up with his own idea. The basic gist was that a bunch of people leave Earth on an ark as it is being destroyed. The population of the ship is sealed off in biospheres and develops new societies over the next 500 years and forgets all about Earth. That's where the "drama" of the show starts. Ellison was in the middle of a writer's strike when Kline demanded ideas for artwork, because they needed to advertise the series:
It has always been one of the imponderables of the television industry to me, how the time is always now, when three days earlier no one had even heard of the idea. But I gave him some words and to my horror, saw the ad a week later: it showed a huge bullet-shaped thing I guess Kline thought was a spaceship, being smacked by a meteorite, a great hole being torn in the skin of the bullet, revealing many levels of living space within...all of them drawn the wrong direction. I covered my eyes.
g" width="171" height="246" class="right" />The Writers' Guild was still on strike, and Ellison wouldn't craft the show's backstory, despite being threatened multiple times by the producers. Ellison even tracked down a scab writer they hired and convinced him to stop writing! Since they needed Canadian writers for the show, and at the time there weren't many Canadian SF writers, Kline asked Ellison if he would simply train a group of young writers who'd never written episodic drama or science fiction. By the time the show was in production, it featured a simple title card with Ellison's pen name: CREATED BY CORDWAINER BIRD Ellison's constructive iinvolvement over the rest of the production was minimal, as sets were constructed for storylines that hadn't been written. Starring Keir Dullea, the final product is truly a clusterfrick on a level rarely seen in the genre. This is part of the first episode, which is titled "Voyage of Discovery":
To be fair, it was Ellison who proposed shooting the series on tape instead of film, making the final product look something like a high school theater production. Still, he can't be held responsible for this disaster - the bulk of the blame has to go to the producers (left). And it's not all bad - we got a great Ellison essay out of it, one that appears in the show's author-approved novelization, Phoenix Without Ashes. This isn't our favorite Ellison story. That honor goes to what happened when he went to work at Disney:
A few hours after arriving for his first day of work at Disney Studios, Ellison and several fellow writers headed off to the studio commissary for lunch. Once there, Ellison jokingly suggested they "do a Disney porn flick" and proceeded to act out the parts while imitating the voices of several animated Disney characters. Unbeknownst to him, Roy Disney and the other studio heads were sitting adjacent to his table. Ellison claims that he returned to his office to find a pink slip on his desk and the name on his parking space whited out.
Here's a bonus Harlan Ellison interview from 1976, three years after the debacle:
Images from the web's only destination for The Starlost.