Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes

When Jim and I finished our rewatch of the Wild, Wild West, we discussed doing a rewatch of another series and possibly bringing on another commentor. We never got around to doing that, but I've decided to move ahead with Jim's suggestion, The Planet of the Apes, and adding the other commentor we had discussed, Jason Sholtis, rpg-writer and one of the four cohosts of our Bronze Age Book Club podcast.

After the success of the first three Apes films on TV, CBS greenlit a series. It was to be developed by writers Art Wallace and Anthony Wilson, but they were aided by story consultants Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who I'm sure you've heard of.

The writers opted for a move away from the pessimism and social commentary of the films in favor of action and drama, with harried heroes and a problem of the week like The Fugitive or the later Incredible Hulk series. 

CBS ordered 14 episodes of Planet of the Apes to be produced. The series was filmed for the most part on location at the 20th Century Fox Movie Ranch (what is now Malibu Creek State Park) where the original film had been shot as well as the M*A*S*H TV show, with a budget of about $250,000 for each episode.

The series aired in the U.S. from September 13 to December 20, 1974. It was canceled after half a season due to poor ratings, at least in part attributable to it being placed up against NBC's Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man

In 1980, ten episodes of the series were edited into five made-for-television movies for syndication. I saw some of these a few years later when they were aired on WGN. They would periodically have an "Ape Week" and air some of the films and some of these tv movies.

Trey: Jason, when did you first encounter the series?

Jason: I was a very young kid when the show aired, so I think it's most likely I saw one of the 1980 TV movies during my early adolescence. I think! It's a hazy memory.

I do recall that my impression of it at the time was far from favorable, possibly because it was on the local monster movie show in lieu of Godzilla vs. King Kong (the media ape of my preference) or some other, more spectacular, SciFi classic. 

Trey: That's a disappointment I can understand! Well, what insights do you hope to glean from this watching?

Jason: I'm going into this with an open mind, my interest in the series piqued by a recent viewing of a documentary called Making Apes, an appreciation of the special makeup artists who created the practical effects for the films and TV show, which I found unexpectedly fascinating. I'm curious as to what degree the dark, apocalyptic tone of the films was altered to suit television audiences of the 1970s. Will it be a kid's show about the end of the world?

What about you, Trey? I gather this isn't your first viewing of the series. Anything you will be looking out for on a re-watch?

Trey: I haven't seen the entire series ever, I don't think. Though I do own it on DVD, so I have no excuse. I'm sort of interested in how they develop this world. What will the films tell us about ape and human society that might add to or be different from the films? Also, how "classic TV" formulaic is it going to be? It was interesting with WWW picking out the episode "types" we had seen in numerous action/adventure shows of the era.

And so, we're off the episode one!

Jason: Tune in next week.

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