White Jumpsuits, Catsuited Babes, Pornstaches and Other Joys of ‘70s Sci-Fi Television

From PopMatters

As the idealism of the ‘60s congealed into the malaise of the ‘70s, TV offered us small bands of forlorn humans in tight suits, roaming the stars. These are the “the starlost shows”.

The ‘70s were no golden-age-of-television, and that includes sci-fi: from the cancellation of Star Trek (1969) to the debut of Quantum Leap and Alien Nation (both 1989), US TV was a sci-fi graveyard. The only hits starred crime-fighting superheroes: The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk. (Note that these high-concept shows have defied revival: 2007’s short-lived Bionic Woman draws as much from Joss Whedon and Alias as from the original ABC series, while the Hulk movies are based on the comic books, not the 1978-1982 CBS series.)

By the ‘70s, most Americans owned TV sets and began to anticipate their nightly fix. Since few people owned VCRs or (home) video games, regular TV watchers were a captive audience. In turn, the industry took a shotgun approach: big and broad. If you’re unfamiliar, you can get a feel for ‘70s-‘80s TV via such spoofs as The Naked Gun films, Anchorman, and Starsky and Hutch (also the web-only Heat Vision and Jack).

In this environment, sci-fi programming posed particular problems. TV executives of the time didn’t know about or respect the genre, and instead of appealing to readers of the self-touted “literature of ideas”, they assumed futuristic series had to appeal to families, including young children. Also, TV dramas avoided serialized stories, but if sci-fi isn’t about change, what’s the point? (Star Trek dodged this problem by visiting a different planet every week.)

As the idealism of the ‘60s congealed into the malaise of the ‘70s, TV offered us small bands of forlorn humans roaming the stars. We’ll call these “the starlost shows”. Battlestar Galactica (1978-1980) retains the best profile, for various reasons; most importantly, it led to the redemption of the starlost subgenre in the form of the cable re-visioning of 2004-2009.

The Battlestar Galactica remake is to the original series as Shakespeare’s history plays are to his source material, Holinshed’s Chronicles: it capitalizes on the many implied themes and plot threads of the original. The cable Galactica also completes the long-interrupted quest for the lost, 13th tribe of mankind and “a shining planet known as Earth.”


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