Ten Best Television Science Fiction Shows of the 1960s

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The 1960s produced a number of great science fiction television shows. The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Batman, Land of the Giants and The Jetsons are the best s

The turbulent 1960s produced some pretty fantastic television. Here are ten classic science fiction TV shows from the decade that no fan of the small screen should ever miss. "You're traveling through another dimension – a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop..."

The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959-64)

Creator Rod Serling (1924-1975) hosted this revered anthology series that often featured a science fiction/fantasy theme. The original The Twilight Zone produced 156 memorable episodes, including the pilot segment "Where Is Everybody?" (10/2/59) which starred Earl Holliman as an astronaut in training who imagines himself as the last man on Earth. And who could forget the chilling episode "To Serve Man" (3/2/62) in which aliens come to Earth promising peace and love. Finally, a linguist (Susan Cummings) successfully translates the extraterrestrials' principal tome just as true believer Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner) is boarding their spacecraft. "Mr. Chambers! Don't get on that ship! The rest of the book, 'To Serve Man', it's... it's a cookbook!" she calls out just a tad too late. Space exploration, aliens, time travel, super computers, fantastic inventions, even a Rip Van Winkle story – The Twilight Zone had it all, with the incomparable Rod Serling penning the lion's share of the show's crackling scripts.  

Roddy McDowall and Susan Oliver in The Twilight Zone episode "People Are Alike All Over" (3/25/60)

Star Trek (NBC, 1966-69)

Creator Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) brought the illustrious Star Trek to television on September 8, 1966. "Space, the final frontier..." William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk intoned at the start of each hour-long episode. Along with first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), ship's physician Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) and the rest of the USS Enterprise crew, Captain Kirk and company explored the vast reaches of space, seeking out "new life and new civilizations" in 80 mostly memorable episodes. Of special note was the segment "Space Seed" (2/16/67), with Ricardo Montalban guest starring as Khan, a genetically engineered "superman" from the 23rd century who with his reawakened followers try to commandeer the Enterprise. "Space Seed" later served as the basis for the feature-length film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Star Trek, which was saved from cancellation by its vocal fans following the show's second season, spawned one of the most successful entertainment franchises in history.

The Outer Limits (ABC, 1963-65)

Leslie Stevens (1924-1998) created this renowned science fiction/fantasy anthology series. The show's opening narration, voiced by actor Vic Perrin, immediately grabbed the viewer: "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission..." The Outer Limits generated 49 classic hour-long episodes featuring an impressive array of guest stars, including Cliff Robertson, David McCallum, Robert Culp, Martin Sheen, Carroll O'Connor, Martin Landau and Leonard Nimoy. Look for Robert Duvall in the episode "The Chameleon" (4/27/64) in which he plays Louis Mace, a sociopathic killer who is replicated as an alien in order to save Earth from invasion. A revived The Outer Limits later ran in syndication from 1995 to 2002.

Robert Culp in The Outer Limits episode "Demon with a Glass Hand" (10/17/64)

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (ABC, 1964-68)

Based on the 1961 film of the same name, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was created by Irwin Allen (1916-1991), Hollywood's celebrated "The Master of Disaster." Richard Basehart starred as Admiral Harriman Nelson, with David Hedison as Captain Lee Crane. During the show's 110 hour-long episodes, the American research submarine Seaview explored the mysteries of the deep, encountering a seemingly endless parade of monsters, aliens, maniacs and foreign agents amidst the radioactive climate of the Cold War. Look for James Darren as Peter Omir in the classic episode "The Mechanical Man" (3/13/66), in which he plays one remarkable android.

The Invaders (ABC, 1967-68)

Larry Cohen created this literate alien invasion series executively produced by Quinn Martin, which premiered on January 10, 1967. Roy Thinnes portrayed MIT graduate and architect David Vincent, who witnesses the landing of an alien spacecraft from another galaxy. The invaders, narrator Hank Simms informs the viewer, are "alien beings from a dying planet" whose purpose is to make Earth "their world." In 43 hour-long episodes, David Vincent tries to "convince a disbelieving world" that the invaders are here, masquerading as humans as they lay their plans for conquest. The Invaders featured a nice lineup of guest stars in its brief run on the small screen, including Roddy McDowall, Jack Lord, Peter Graves, James Whitmore, Michael Rennie, Lynda Day George, Wayne Rogers and Carol Lynley. The aliens had a unique way of dying on the show, turning a bright red and then disintegrating into a cloud of dust, often leaving only a burnt patch of real estate.   

Roy Thinnes in The Invaders, a Quinn Martin Production

Lost in Space (ABC, 1965-68)

Another Irwin Allen creation, Lost in Space followed the adventures of the Robinson family, who are sent into orbit in the year 1997 to colonize a planet near Alpha Centauri. Their spacecraft is thrown off course by a mysterious stowaway, with the family now cruising the universe hopelessly "lost in space." Astrophysicist Dr. John Robinson (Guy Williams), wife Maureen Robinson (June Lockhart), eldest daughter Judy (Marta Kristen), son Will (Billy Mumy), youngest daughter Penny (Angela Cartwright) and pilot Don West (Mark Goddard) comprised the original passengers. Also on hand were the stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) and of course the Robinson's snarky robot (Bob May), with the latter barking out lines like "Danger, Will Robinson!" and "Warning! Alien approaching!" Lost in Space, replete with papier mache boulders and cheap, phony looking sets, enjoyed a three-year run on the tube, producing 84 hour-long camp sci-fi episodes. The aliens are a real gas in this series, which MAD magazine spoofed as "Loused Up in Space" (#104, July 1966).

The Time Tunnel (ABC, 1966-67)

Irwin Allen was indeed a busy man during the 1960s, creating this fantastic series featuring physicists Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) as "two American scientists lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel." During the show's 30 hour-long episodes our intrepid time travelers visited past and future eras, with the premiere episode, "Rendezvous with Yesterday" (9/9/66), set aboard the doomed White Star ocean liner RMS Titanic. Featured back at Time Tunnel control center were Lt. General Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell), Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) and Dr. Ann MacGregor (Lee Meriwether). In order to save on production costs, The Time Tunnel employed scenes from a number of movies, including Titanic (1953), Destination Moon (1950) and Khartoum (1966).

James Darren and Robert Colbert in The Time Tunnel

Batman (ABC, 1966-68)

William Dozier (1908-1991) created the Batman television series from characters originated by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Adam West had the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, with Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin. In 120 half-hour episodes Batman proved to be one of the campiest science fiction/fantasy shows ever to grace the small screen. Especially popular were the show's many guest villains, which included The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Mad Hatter (David Wayne), King Tut (Victor Buono) and The Joker (Cesar Romero). The series employed cliff-hanger episodes, with the narrator intoning, "Tune in tomorrow — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!" Yes, Holy smokes, Batman!

Land of the Giants (ABC, 1968-70)

The prolific Irwin Allen created this series in which the Spindrift, a suborbital commercial flight bound from Los Angeles to London in 1983, encounters a violent storm and lands on an alternative version of Earth. Here a totalitarian regime reigns, with its inhabitants and plant life towering over the pint-sized visitors. On board the ill-fated Spindrift are Captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway), Mark Wilson (Don Matheson), Barry Lockridge (Stefan Arngrim), Dan Erickson (Don Marshall), Valerie Scott (Deanna Lund), Betty Hamilton (Heather Young) and Alexander B. Fitzhugh (Kurt Kasznar). The show's 51 hour-long episodes, made for a then-staggering $250,000 each, featured the Spindrift's crew and passengers struggling to survive in their new, hostile environment while trying to repair their ship and return home.

Cast of Land of the Giants

The Jetsons (ABC, 1962-63)

No list would be complete without this animated science fiction series from legendary Hanna-Barbera Productions. Debuting on Sunday night, September 23, 1962, the Jetsons followed the adventures of a futuristic 21st century family comprised of George Jetson (George O'Hanlon), wife Jane (Penny Singleton), teenage daughter Judy (Jane Waldo), son Elroy (Daws Butler) and family dog Astro (Don Messick). Viewed as a light-hearted Space Age counterpart to Hanna-Barbera's smash cartoon hit The Flintstones, The Jetsons featured fold-up flying cars, robots, extraterrestrials and an array of flashy inventions. Thrown in for good measure was George's tyrannical boss at Spacely Space Sprockets, the scheming Cosmo Spacely (Mel Blanc), proving that the workplace of the future doesn't hold much promise for working stiffs either. The Jetsons generated only 24 half-hour episodes during its original run, with 51 more segments later aired during the show's reincarnation in the mid-1980s. "Meet George Jetson/His boy Elroy..." the show's dynamite theme song began. And boy, after hearing that, you just knew you were in the 21st century...


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