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Lost in Space: The 60s TV Series

Updated on February 15, 2020
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The Lost in Space cast on the opening season.The cast of Lost in Space - 1967.
The Lost in Space cast on the opening season.
The Lost in Space cast on the opening season. | Source
The cast of Lost in Space - 1967.
The cast of Lost in Space - 1967. | Source

A Rocky Liftoff

In 1965 there was an unaired pilot for “Lost in Space”. Mark Goddard didn’t want to act in the pilot. His agent explained there was no chance it would be picked up as a series and no one would ever see the pilot. Goddard’s agent advised him to play the role and take the money.[i] Mark Goddard played the role of Dr. John West. CBS, known as the “Tiffany Network” at the time, picked up Lost in Space. The series ran for three years. The series spawned a movie in 1998 and a Netflix series in 2018.

The premise was a family is sent into outer space and crash lands on an uncharted planet. The family was the Robinsons. It was an apparent reference to Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe”. Producer Irwin Allen wanted to get the help of NASA. NASA also wanted to assist with the production until they spoke with Irwin Allen. NASA concluded Allen wasn’t interested in scientific accuracy so NASA lost interest in the project.[ii] In 1965 a New York Daily News critic bashed the show, and many other TV shows that began that season. The critic pointed out it had childish science fiction. William Paley, CBS Chairman, hated the show because it didn’t fit the CBS brand of quality programming. He instructed the executives to cancel the show as soon as its ratings dropped.[iii] This article has spoilers for some of the episodes.

[i] Lost in Space 25th Anniversary Tribute, Hollywood House Video, 1991.

[ii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058824/trivia, last accessed 1/28/20.

[iii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058824/trivia, last accessed 1/28/20.

Cast and Characters

Guy Williams, who played the title character in the TV Series “Zorro” (1957-61), played Professor John Robinson. June Lockhart, who played Ruth Martin on the TV Series “Lassie” (1958-64), played John Robinson’s spouse Maureen. Marta Kristen, who had 14 TV guest star appearances and two movie credits[i], played the John and Maureen’s adult daughter Judy. By coincidence or design the daughter in the animated science fiction comedy “The Jetsons” (1962-63) was named Judy. Angela Cartwright, who played Brigitta in “The Sound of Music” and played Linda Williams in “The Danny Thomas Show” (1957-64), played the tween daughter Penny. Bill Mumy[ii], had many TV appearance including three appearances on “The Twilight Zone”. The most memorable appearance was on “The Twilight Zone” episode “It’s a Good Life”. In that episode he played an evil child who had godlike powers. He played Will Robinson, the tween son, and youngest child.

In 1965 the average family in America had 3.2 children. The Robinsons had a typical American family structure. The Robinsons were an ideal family. The parents and children were all highly intelligent and the children were well behaved.

Mark Goddard played Major Don West, the ship’s pilot. Goddard had previously played Cully in the TV Series “Johnny Ringo”, Detective Sergeant Chris Ballard in the TV Series “The Detectives”, and Bob Randall in “Many Happy Returns”. Don West, Maureen and John Robinson were billed in the pilot with the honorarium “Doctor”.

Dick Tufeld was the narrator and the voice of the Robot and Bob May wore the costume.

Jonathan Harris played Dr. Zachary Smith. Harris was Mr. Phillips in the TV Series “The Bill Dana Show” and Bradford Webster in the TV series “The Third Man”. Harris invented the idea of having a regular on a TV Series billed as a “special guest star” in his negotiations for acting in “Lost in Space”. [iii] Dr. Smith evolved from a nemesis to a nuisance.


[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0471549/?ref_=tt_rv_t3, last accessed 1/28/20.

[ii] He was billed as Billy Mumy in the “Lost in Space” credits.

[iii] Lost in Space 25th Anniversary Tribute, Hollywood House Video, 1991.

The Episodes, Development, Life and Times

The series setting begins on Earth at Alpha Control on October 16, 1997. The Robinson Family and Major Don West are going on a mission to colonize Alpha Centauri. They are to be in suspended animation for the 5½ year journey. A newscaster, gives some technical details of the mission and points out the mission is part of a plan to deal with the Earth’s overpopulation. The newscaster points out there were other countries in this space race. Sabotage by these enemy counties is a possibility.

The ship has an environmental control robot. Air Force Colonel (Dr.) Zachary Smith programs the Robot to destroy the space ship, the Jupiter 2, 8 hours after liftoff. Dr. Smith kills a security guard with a karate chop. His timing is off and the Jupiter 2 is secured before he could get out. Dr. Smith’s motive is greed.

Dr. Smith’s weight causes the Jupiter 2 to go off course and into a meteor storm. To fix the navigation system they have to turn off the gravity control. At the time meteor storms and temporary weightlessness was a staple for space movies. The Robot attempts to destroy the Jupiter 2 on schedule. The Robot had an external powerpack that is easily removed. Major West incapacitates the Robot with John Robinson’s assistance.[i] John goes on a spacewalk to make a repair. His tether line snaps. When Dr. Smith refuses to attempt a rescue, Maureen suits up and goes out to rescue her husband. The episode ends as a cliffhanger. Every episode in the first 2 seasons ended as a cliffhanger. In almost all of them the cliffhanger was a snapshot like preview of the next episode.

In the second episode, “The Derelict”, a giant space ship opens up and captures the Jupiter 2. The capture was similar to what happened in the 1967 James Bond movie, “You Only Live Twice”. Inside the large space ship Will and Dr. Smith find a bubble-like being. Will tries to communicate with the creature but Dr. Smith shoots it with a laser pistol. The Jupiter 2 and its occupants make a quick escape from the large space ship.

Episode 3, “Island in the Sky”, Professor Robinson is pulled down to a planet while he’s on a spacewalk. Dr. Smith uses the Robot to threaten the rest of the crew to abandon Professor Robinson and return to Earth. Major West grabs Dr. Smith and forced Dr. Smith to have the Robot return to its compartment. The Jupiter 2 crashes on the planet. Dr. Smith gives instructions to the Robot to kill any of the Robinsons the Robot finds alone. The episode ends with the Robot attacking Will.

Episodes 4 and 5 used much of the footage from the series pilot, “No Place to Hide”. Dr. Smith and the Robot weren’t in the pilot so Episode 5, “The Hungry Sea”, involved Major West and the Robinsons going south in an amphibious vehicle called, “The Chariot”. Dr. Smith refused to go and stayed on the Jupiter 2 with the Robot.

Johnathan Harris was concerned Dr Smith was too evil a character to remain on the show for long. Dr. Smith’s demise would mean unemployment for Johnathan Harris. Harris decided his only chance was if Dr. Smith was a comedic villain. He inserted comedic bits into his performances.[ii] Irwin Allen liked what Harris was doing with the character and encouraged Harris to add more comedy to the character.

“Lost in Space” being a family show with children as a target audience meant the romance between Major West and Judy Robinson never went anywhere. Judy Robinson was an underutilized character in the show. Dr. Smith and the Robot were the only characters that had episodes with flirtations.

With Episode 6, “Welcome Stranger”, the series became like a “Gilligan’s Island”[iii] in space. Guest entities would come to them or they would find an entity within walking distance of the Jupiter 2. Some characters were good others were up to no good. None of the characters took them to Earth or let Earth know the Jupiter 2’s status or whereabouts. There were also the household tasks that were performed with high tech appliances. The most amusing was the washing machine. All Maureen had to do was dump the clothes in the machine and moments later take them out. The clothes would come out clean, dry, folded, and wrapped in plastic.

The Robot character evolved from an automaton to a character that would make wise cracks, usually at Dr. Smith’s expense, was capable of jealousy and other emotions, and could often explain a new entity to the others, and by extension the audience.

With children being the target audience, most of the shows revolved around Will and Penny. Episode 7, “My Friend, Mr. Nobody”, revolved around Penny’s invisible friend. In Episode 8, “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension”, aliens wanted to use Will’s brain, as Dr. Smith suggested, as a computer. “Star Trek” used a similar premise in the 1968 episode “Spock’s Brain”.

Since the target audience was children some stories were based on children’s stories. The first of these was “Wish Upon a Star”, based on the Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish. A hat enabled the wearer to get whatever they wished for. Only one wish a day was granted. This caused problems between Penny and Will. Similar problems with a “gift” occurred in the 1980 movie, “The Gods Must be Crazy”.[iv]

Dr. Smith evolved into a character who was incompetent to lead, unwilling to follow, and too stupid to get out of the way. In Episode 13, “One of Our Dogs Is Missing”, Major West, John and Will Robinson are away. Dr. Smith, decides he is in charge and wants to clean the weapons. He talks apart the entire arsenal but has no idea how to put them back together. The Dr. Smith character eventually morphed into a character afraid of firearms.

In the episode “War of the Robots” the series coined the phrase “robotoid”. The logic is a robot follows specific instructions while a “robotoid” follows general principals. Robbie the Robot, the most used robot character, played the Robotoid. The series didn’t use “Robotoid” again and the tern wasn’t used in other science fiction genres. In the episode the humans, except for Will, liked the robotoid and the robot suffered by comparison. This premise is similar to “The Simpsons” episode “The Canine Mutiny”.

In season 2 “Lost in Space” was in color. In the season opener, “Blast Off Into Space”. the Jupiter 2 took off right before the planet exploded. The Jupiter 2 was space borne for two more episodes then it crash-landed on another planet. The crash was the same footage used for the pilot and first season crash. The Jupiter 2 didn’t fly for the rest of the season. The stories became zanier. The series became a science fiction comedy. The series revolved mostly around Dr. Smith, Will, the Robot, and to a lesser extent Penny.

For the third season there was a change in the opening and closing. The opening title sequence had a countdown and the music was more up-tempo. The closing had previews instead of a cliffhanger. The Jupiter 2 had to make an emergency takeoff on the first episode of season 3, “Condemned of Space”. The main plot revolved around them finding a prison ship rather than escaping from the planet in a space ship that had been disabled. The prisoners were in suspended animation. Keeping prisoners in suspended is a premise in the 1993 movie “Demolition Man”.

In the third, and final, season the Jupiter 2 was spaceborne. This was similar to the “Star Trek” format of landing on a different planet or meeting another spacecraft each episode. The Jupiter 2 has a landing module. This has a likeness to the Apollo’s Lunar Module. Dr. Smith, Will, and the Robot are still the main characters but other characters get more of a role. In the series last episode, “Junkyard in Space”, the Jupiter 2 had a weapon system, rockets.

[i] Dr. Smith pointed out the powerpack should be removed. Maureen, Judy, and Penny were just hanging on during the struggle. Will was on the lower deck.

[ii] Lost in Space 25th Anniversary Tribute, Hollywood House Video, 1991.

[iii] “Gilligan’s Island” (1964-1967) was a TV situation comedy about 7 people shipwrecked on an island. Its episodes usually revolved around people or things that come, or are found, on the island.

[iv] In “The Gods Must be Crazy” a discarded soda bottle had many uses for a native family. The catch was only one family member could use the bottle at a time.

Episode
Children's Story
Wish Upon A Star
Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
The Magic Mirror
Alice in Wonderland
All That Glitters
The Midas Touch
The Lost Civilization
Sleeping Beauty
Princess of Space
Princess and the Pea

Familar Plots

Episode
Plot
Familiar Subplot
The Space Creature
Ten Little Indians
 
The Space Croppers
Gothic Character
 
West of Mars
Dopleganger
Wild West Setting
The Hungry Sea
Camping Trip
 
Visit to a Hostile Planet
Time Travel
 
A Visit to Hades
Afterlife
 
The Deadly Game of Gamma 6
Gladitorial Combat
 
Curse of Cousin Smith
Visiting Relative
 
Fugitives in Space
In Prison
 
Space Circus
The Circus
 
Space Beauty
Beauty Contest
Character Cross Dressing
The Anti-matter Man
Doppleganger
 
Attack of the Monster
Doppleganger
 
The Promised Planet
Hippies
 
Collision of the Planets
Hippies
 
Time Merchant
Time Travel
 

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, I'm getting in a lot of television time for a couple of reasons. The SyFy channel has been doing marathons.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      One thing about this pandemic, which is keeping a majority of us at home these days, we can catch up on movies or television series we might have missed when they were first aired. Thanks for giving us the info. about this series.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      15 months ago

      You're welcome. I know I saw some movies I wouldn't have normally seen on airplane flights. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      15 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      I didn't get to watch the serieswhen it first aired, but have seen many of them since.

      The movie brings back memories as it was the movie showing on the plane when we flew to NZ!

      Thank you for the memory.

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      15 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. One thing I like about HubPages is there are many articles that give a good walk down memory lane.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      15 months ago from Wales

      Thank you for this great read Robert. I vaguely remember this series and was great to be reminded. Looking forward to many more hubs by you.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      15 months ago

      Thanks for the information. In the U.S. one could mark the eras by the mix of genres. It would be interested to map out the TV lineups in the 3 network days.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks for your detailed explanation Robert, greatly appreciated. I don’t think it’s that different in the UK from what you describe e.g. ratings are important and Sci-Fi’s do tend to be more popular with men, especially productions like Red Dwarf (which many women consider immature).

      However, the one big difference is that ratings and money isn’t as important in the UK, and I think that is largely due to Government ‘intervention’. These days, with cable (Virgin Media) & satellite (Sky) TV, not to mention Freeview (terrestrial) and ‘streaming video’ (Internet), there are 100’s of TV channels (licensed to broadcast) to choose from. But 4 of them (the original 4), BBC, ITV, C4 & C5 are either government owned and operate under a Charter (BBC & C4) or under franchise from the Government (ITV & C5).

      With BBC, ITV & C5 the Government stipulates strict conditions to provide a balanced mix of genre to meet all viewing tastes. And C4, who are prohibited from making their own productions, have to commission work by injecting funding into the ‘arts’, the small and independent arts and leisure industries who normally struggle to get funding.

      So the end result is that although ratings are important, they are not the most important thing in the UK e.g. if a TV Series on BBC proves popular they can move it to prime time viewing on BBC1 (to compete with ITV), and if it loses popularity shift it to a less popular viewing time, or move it to BBC2.

      Yep, the trip to ‘The Village’ was a real treat. If you didn’t know, in real life its real name is Portmeirion. Portmeriion, used as the set in ‘The Prisoner’, was designed and built in North Wales by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village, and is now a tourist village.

      Portmeirion, north Wales (the setting for ‘The Prisoner’): https://youtu.be/g2GlKI95f94

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      15 months ago

      That trip to "The Village" must have been real exciting for you. The original "Battlestar Galactica" is an interesting case in point. It had a big budget. Science fiction wasn't popular with women so they went out of their way to give women important roles in the series. When season 1 ended its ratings were such that the network could have gone either way. What convinced them to cancel was that the movie wasn't doing well with women. Reality was most of the buying was done by women so a show popular with women was worth more to the sponsors. In the 1960s flops usually got one year. Three years was a respectable run. A decade later it was really rough. A lot of shows got canceled after 4 episodes. A couple of ratings points more or less means millions.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 

      16 months ago from England

      Thanks for your feedback Robert. Yes, for something that has a storyline (rather than just a soap, chat or reality programme etc.) in the UK, the BBC & ITV do expect a full outline of the scripts for the whole Series at the outset; so they can fully budget for it. The BBC & ITV are then more committed to ‘ring-fence’ the budget than American TV Producers; and will see the current Series through to the end, even if it’s a flop. So in the UK it is very rare for a storyline with an ending to be left in mid-air (cliff-hanger) at the end of a last Series.

      Our attraction to ‘Lost in Space’ is the humour generated by Dr. Smith’s bunglings (without him we would find it a dull Series). It’s not just ‘Lost in Space’, the original 1980’s sci-fi TV Series ‘V’ was axed prematurely, as was Josh Whedon’s Firefly Series (2002), although fortunately for Josh Whedon he was able to persuade Universal to buy the rights for Firefly from Fox and then conclude the ‘Story Ending’ in film format ‘Serenity’ (film 2005).

      Yep, I bought my son up on Si-fi from an early age; so he’s as much of a fan of Cult Series as I am e.g. Star Trek, V, Battlestar Galactica, Twin Peaks, Red Dwarf, The Prisoner (by Patrick McGoohan) etc. In fact, just last October (while on a week’s holiday in Snowdonia, North Wales) my wife treated us to a day trip to the village where ‘The Prisoner’ was filmed.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      16 months ago

      Thank you all for reading and commenting.

      Arthur Russ - Lost in Space did better in the third year than it did in the second, albeit marginally. Apparently they were mulling over whether to go for a 4th season but decided against it. As I understand it in the UK before they start a series they have in mind the beginning, development, and end. In the U.S., especially at that time, they just "pull the plug". The first series to have a real final ending that closed the series was "The Fugitive" (1963-1967). I'm impressed your son liked the show.

      Readmikenow - The series seemed to have the aim of having boys wanting to be in Will's space boots. They succeeded.

      FlourishAnyway - Glad you enjoyed the read.

      Liz Westwood - Glad to have given you a rundown of a classic '60s U.S. TV show.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      16 months ago from UK

      I have a vague recollection of having come across this series at some stage. You have put together a good and useful resume of it.

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 

      16 months ago

      Excellent article. I was a kid in the 1960s and Lost in Space was one of my favorite television shows. I always dreamed of being the young boy Will. Enjoyed reading this.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      16 months ago from USA

      I think I’ve seen this series (at least a couple episodes) but it’s been forever. I did not recall the premise so thanks fore the rundown here. Much enjoyed!

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 

      16 months ago from England

      I saw it on TV when it was first aired; and a couple of years ago I bought the box set for me and my son to watch, as he had never seen any of the episodes before, and he loves that sort of thing too.

      A brilliant 1960's Si-fi, but it's a shame the final Series was cut short (presumably because of a drop in 'ratings') which happens all too often in the USA. Something that almost never is done in the UK e.g. both BBC and ITV are usually committed to finishing the whole Series, even if the ratings do drop off part way through. Only once (to my knowledge) has the BBC ever cut a Series mid production.

      Nevertheless, Lost in Space is a great Series, and one my son and I thoroughly enjoyed watching from beginning to end. I even found the original un-aired pilot on YouTube, which we found interesting to watch, but it wasn't as good as the actual Series.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      16 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Science fiction wasn't popular with girls in the 1960s. In the 1970s the series "Battlestar Galactica" was canceled after 1 season because, despite efforts to get women interested, the show wasn't popular with women. "Lost in Space" had much better ratings than "Star Trek". "Lost in Space" did better in the ratings in its final season than it did in the second season. The franchise history seems as odd as the original series episodes.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      16 months ago from Houston, Texas

      This is a series that I never saw, but I enjoyed your review of them.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      16 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked the review.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      16 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I watched this show with my boys some of the time. This was a good review of this series.

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