Lost In Space dealt with the adventures of the Robinson family and a few hangers-on who got - well - lost. In space. The basic premise revolved around the launching in 1997 of a spaceship, the Jupiter 2, on a mission to colonize Alpha Centauri. The mission was sabotaged, for whatever reason, and the saboteur - a certain Dr. Smith - reluctantly found himself on board the craft when it launched. As a result of the faulty ship controls, the Robinsons and pilot Major Don West, Dr. Smith, and The Robot found themselves careening from one adventure to another each week.
Lost In Space was a production of Irwin Allen, who was fresh off a respectable television hit, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and who would have later hits with Land of the Giants and Time Tunnel, each an exciting blend of science fiction and family-friendly action. All of Allen's productions received decent budgets for television series of the time, and today are remembered for their campiness, their garish colors and vivid mid-60's imagery, and for their innocent sense of playful adventure. Allen would later make another name for himself creating dramatic films about people dealing with large-scale disasters, such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, and a few TV-movies such as Flood! and Fire!
After the viewing of a well-made (and terribly expensive) pilot episode, NBC decided to give the new series the backing it deserved, starting with putting it on the schedule on Wednesday nights at 7:30pm. The cast was carefully chosen, including such (at the time) well- known stars as Mark Goddard (from Zorro), June Lockhart (from Lassie), Angela Cartwright (from The Sound of Music), and Billy Mumy (who had made numerous TV appearances, notably in the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life"). The show also enjoyed a healthy special effects budget, especially for its miniatures; L.B. Abbott and Robert Kinoshita, who had worked on the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, were hired. The show launched in autumn of 1965 and did well in the ratings as well as with critics.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from that point, despite the fact that the second and third seasons would be in color, while the first had only been in black and white. The show found itself up against Batman, an instant hit with kids because of its superheroics, as well as adults because of its zany humor and frequent guest-stars. It also faced off against the newcomer Star Trek, which took the same basic theme as LIS, but did it with a more polished production as well as a more careful attitude toward the science involved - two aspects which were terribly important to science fiction fans of the time. Although LIS regularly clobbered Trek in the ratings, the latter would gain the more long-lasting support of a perhaps smaller but more loyal fanbase.
In a response to these ratings challenges, Allen (or perhaps the powers-that-were at the network, as is often the case) decided the show needed a bit of a change. Since Batman was opposite them in their time slot, Lost In Space went in a less serious, campier direction - so abrupt was the shift that to some viewers it seemed like an entirely new program. Critics hated the change, and many viewers were alienated; nevertheless, the ratings stayed respectable and the show was renewed for a third season. The show was as popular in its third season as it had ever been; and even though the cast members might have felt a bit ridiculous now and then giving impassioned speeches to space hippies or sentient vegetables, they gritted their teeth and remembered those nice, fat CBS paychecks.
The third season would be the last, however; reportedly, the massive failure of the 20th Century Fox's film Cleopatra caused the company to cut corners all over within its various film and television divisions. CBS being part of the conglomerate, the more expensive-to-produce series would have to see their budgets cut. Apparently Irwin Allen refused to be part of that scene, and bailed.
Lost In Space remains a vital piece of pop culture, mainly due to its frequent showings in syndication, and the fact that it still remains a fun program to watch. Imitations of the Robot ("Danger, Will Robinson!") and Dr. Smith, the mincing villain of the piece ("What do you mean it doesn't compute, you ninny?!!") can be heard from people who barely even remember the series. As a kid, I always used to watch LIS on Sunday mornings at 10:00; however, the family would always leave quickly to attend church services at 11:00 so I always missed the conclusion of each episode. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Lost In Space is one more reason to hate organized religion.
Lost In Space
Aired: Wednesday evenings 7:30-8:00 pm
September 15, 1965 - March 6, 1968
Prof. John Robinson - Guy Williams
Dr. Maureen Robinson - June Lockhart
Maj. Don West - Mark Goddard
Judy Robinson - Marta Kristen
Penny Robinson - Angela Cartwright
Will Robinson - Bill Mumy
Dr. Zachary Smith - Jonathan Harris