Television has always had its share of what-ifs. Just this season, pilots of Wonder Woman and Locke & Key went unsold. Stargate Universe and Eureka were canceled to much hue and cry. In years past, what would have happened if Star Trek or Firefly had been renewed? Sometimes, as in these latter two cases, movies and comic books extend their runs. But usually, TV shows just die with a whimper, never to be heard of again.
The reasons that series are rejected, or canceled before their time, are many. Sometimes a show does well with audiences, but is too expensive to produce. Sometimes when there’s a management change, the new regime unilaterally axes everything they weren’t involved in developing.
Recently, IDW Publishing resurrected two failed TV shows from the 1970s and 1990s as comic book series, presumably to try to continue their stories.
The Starlost was created by Harlan Ellison. Sixteen episodes were produced in 1973 by a Canadian company and syndicated in the U.S. The series starred Keir Dullea, best known for his role in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ellison has chronicled the many troubles the series had. Perhaps his biggest complaint was that the producers completely changed the premise of the show. In the original treatment, the purpose was to search for the central computer on a generation-starship to avert the ship from crashing into a star. The producers had the characters find the computer in the first episode. Ellison was so disgusted with the final product that he put his alias, Cordwainer Bird, on the credits (metaphorically flipping the bird to the producers). For a viewer unaware of this back-story, the series was actually not horrible for its time and production budget, but it certainly wasn’t great, either. The series suffered low ratings and was canceled.
In 1975, Ellison’s buddy Ed Bryant wrote a novelization of Ellison’s pilot script. The paperback original was entitled, Phoenix Without Ashes. Now, almost 40 years later, IDW has published a comic adaptation of Bryant’s book, calling it Harlan Ellison’s Phoenix Without Ashes. Nowhere in the comic does it reveal its TV origins, though. The hardcover trade edition of the first four issues of the comic was published in February 2011.
The credits attribute the writing to Ellison, but I have a hard time believing he actually wrote the comic script. Nevertheless, it is well told. The artwork by Alan Robinson is simple, yet bold. Like the fabled phoenix, Ellison’s creation is rising from the ashes of obscurity, and I hope sales warrant continued comic books in the series.
Before he became famous for A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin was a TV writer and producer on such shows as the 1980’s version of The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. He pitched a series called Doors which had to do with the concept of alternate universes, an idea that had not been done much in TV before. He got the green light from ABC to produce a pilot renamed Doorways, which, due to scheduling delays, was finished in the summer of 1992, too late to picked up for that year’s fall schedule. A change of management at ABC the following year all but doomed the series to oblivion.
Martin screened the 90-minute pilot at ConFrancisco in 1993 (if I remember correctly). I can say that it was a well-produced, intelligent show. It starred future big names such as Robert Knepper and Carrie Ann Moss. And there’s absolutely no evidence to support the theory that it influenced the creation of Sliders on Fox two years later!
The hardcover trade edition of the first four issues of George R. R. Martin’s Doorways was published in May 2011 (the copyright page shows it as May 2001!). The writing is attributed to Martin, but again, I seriously doubt he actually wrote the script. Artist Stefano Martino created his own character designs, adding an air of alieness that could not be achieved by a TV production. The story is fast-paced with lots of action. I hope this series continues, as it has tremendous potential.