We Are Controlling Transmission: The Outer Limits

Made possible by the John H. Mitchell Television Programming Endowment
Saturday, Mar 18, 2023 - 7:30pm to 10:00pm
Billy Wilder Theater
woman in long coat and short hair facing alien creatures

In-person: authors Joanne Morreale, David J. Schow, Marc Scott Zicree.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Free tickets must be obtained on a first come, first served basis at the box office, where seating will be assigned.

60th anniversary screening—original 16mm and 35mm network prints!

On September 16, 1963, primetime viewers tuned to ABC were confronted by one of the most jarring title sequences ever conceived for television. As an oscilloscope scrambled the screen, an authoritative "control voice" (Vic Perrin) grimly intoned, "there is nothing wrong with your television set," while simultaneously seemingly taking over the receiver. Interrupting the sedate network flow with the urgency of an Emergency Broadcast System alert, the sequence broke the unspoken contract viewers had with television that the tranquil medium would lull them into a passive state in exchange for a few commercials. Instead, the series would dare to challenge Nielsen families across TV land to contemplate bleak, existential atomic-era scenarios in order to "experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to The Outer Limits."

While it shared thematic DNA with fellow anthology series The Twilight Zone (1959-64), Leslie Stevens' original creation The Outer Limits (1963-65) brought forth a literate hybrid of gothic horror and science fiction previously unseen on the small screen. As further imagined by Stevens’ partner, series producer Joseph Stefano (screenwriter of Hitchcock's Psycho), The Outer Limits consistently tapped into the deep well of Kennedy-era anxieties surrounding the Cold War and a rapidly developing Space Age of incomprehensible dimensions. Among the series' most memorable episodes, including "The Galaxy Being'' and "The Bellero Shield," the genuine frights generated by the physical dangers inherent in runaway technological advances are eclipsed only by the profoundly dark realization that humanity's primitive moral capacities cannot keep pace. In The Outer Limits, when juxtaposed against a universe of horrific aliens and electronic apparitions, humans are often revealed to be the scariest creature of all. That grounding core, supercharged by haunting scores (Dominic Frontiere), expressionist cinematography (Conrad Hall), and innovative special effects (Wah Ming Chang), has brought evergreen cult-classic status to the unique series, despite its surviving only two seasons in the vast wasteland before cancellation.

Join the Archive for a special screening and panel discussion commemorating the 60th anniversary of The Outer Limits. In person: Joanne Morreale, author, The Outer Limits (TV Milestones Series), David J. Schow, author, The Outer Limits Companion, and Marc Scott Zicree, author, The Twilight Zone Companion.

Program notes by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.
 

The Outer Limits: “Please Stand By” (a.k.a. “The Galaxy Being”)

U.S., 9/16/1963

Original 35mm network pilot print! Written and directed by series creator Leslie Stevens (Private Property), this brilliant pilot was originally to air under the title Please Stand By, which was rejected by ABC as too frightening, evoking recent memories of grim news bulletins during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Academy Award-winner Cliff Robertson (Charly) stars as an intellectually-curious radio engineer whose electronic experiments make contact with a powerful being from another galaxy. Stevens’ humanist script upends science function tropes with unexpected layers of pathos and profundity while the drama's highly innovative creature special effects remain startling 60 years later.

35mm, b&w, 60 min. ABC. Production: Villa di Stefano production in association with Daystar Productions. Executive Producer: Leslie Stevens. Producer: Joseph Stefano. Director: Leslie Stevens. Writer: Leslie Stevens. With: Cliff Robertson, Jacqueline Scott, Burt Metcalfe.
 

The Outer Limits: “The Bellero Shield”

U.S., 2/10/1964

16mm print with original commercials! Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) inform this gothic horror and science-fiction mash-up co-written by series co-mastermind Joseph Stefano (Psycho). In a tour de force, Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) stars as a woman trapped by indescribable terror when her scientist husband’s (Martin Landau) invention summons an alien with Earth-altering abilities. Historian Jeffery Sconce describes the chilling drama as “a rich and conflicted text in what it says about the relationship of marriage, gendered ambition, and domestic asylum in the early 60s.” Co-starring Tony Award-winner Chita Rivera and featuring the expressionist cinematography of Academy Award-winner Conrad Hall.

16mm, b&w, 60 min. ABC. Production: Daystar-Villa di Stefano production for United Artists Television. Executive Producer: Leslie Stevens. Producer: Joseph Stefano. Director: John Brahm. Writers: Joseph Stefano Lou Morheim. With: Sally Kellerman, Chita Rivera, Martin Landau.
 

Part of: Archive Television Treasures

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