Friday, August 9, 2013

The Secret Sun: Secret Star Trek, Part 7: Playground of the Elementals

The Secret Sun: Secret Star Trek, Part 7: Playground of the Elementals

The behind the scenes story of The Outer Limits (which Stephen King famously stated was "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV") and its spiderweb of connections to Star Trek is nearly as bizarre and inexplicable as the stories it presented every week. Largely forgotten now, The Outer Limits was in its first season was Star Trek was most definitely not; a major hit.

Over 30 million people tuned in every week and the show was shaping to be a licensing bonanza with a successful line of trading cards, comic books, toys and other merchandise. Yet for reasons never made clear, the ABC network began putting enormous pressure on its executive producer Leslie Stevens, even though he was delivering a successful product at a cut-rate budget.

It could very well be that ABC was facing outside pressures itself, since the program was subversive at a time when that word actually meant something (and carried with it actual consequences).

Coincidentally or not, The Outer Limits' stories closely paralleled real-life government programs such as MK-ULTRA ('Nightmare', 'Controlled Experiment'), Project Paperclip ('It Crawled In From the Woodwork'), NSA surveillance ('OBIT') and the NASA youth training program ('The Special One'), all of which were still very much classified.

Other stories dealt with nuclear accidents ('Production and Decay of Strange Particles'), secret societies within the military ('The Invisibles'), the assassination of an American President ('One Hundred Days of the Dragon') and any manner of alien abductions and human experimentations, again skirting the frontiers of the Top Secret world.

In other words, The Outer Limits was sticking its nose deep into the doings of the National Security State during a hotting-up period in the Cold War, namely the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK, and the growing escalation in Vietnam.

That deep resonance probably accounted for much of its initial success, but with a conservative Southerner in the White House and tensions growing over civil rights and other issues, it was no time for a monster show to be kicking up dust best left alone.
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