Apes producer Arthur P Jacobs sold the rights to the TV series after the unremarkable box office of the final Ape film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Jacobs died shortly after handing over the rights. But after his passing, Fox tried to push the Apes franchise in a new direction.
To reawaken interest in the series, Fox built a campaign called GO APE and asked fans to relive the Planet of the Apes franchise through a five film marathon. Since home video was in its infancy, the series became a nation wide hit. Fans clamored to relive great Ape moments.
This new interest in the franchise pushed Fox into looking at turning the franchise into a TV show. Roddy McDowell returned and Fox thought they had a hit on their hands.
The studio approached Planet of the Apes screenwriter Rod Serling to return and write the pilot and first episode for the series. Serling had huge success with Twilight Zone so the studio thought it would be a perfect match. Serling’s vision for the series was almost a direct sequel to his vision of the original film. The series seems to take place between Taylor’s arrival and Brent’s.
The series opens with the episode “Escape from Tomorrow” which has a new astronaut ship crashing in a forest and the astronauts saved by a hermit before they are found by ape sentries. Astronauts Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Blake (James Naughton) awaken in the hermit’s home. These TV series humans can talk and the terrain is less desert like and more lush.
When we first meet Roddy McDowell’s new ape persona Galen, he is being questioned by Zaius and Urko (Mark Lenard) who tell him of another spaceship that crashed near their city. This is direct reference to the first feature film and Heston’s Taylor. McDowell’s Galen becomes sympathetic to the humans and their struggle so he teams up the with astronauts.
The series lasted just 14 episodes and ran from September 1974 to December 1974. The adventures had the three stars wander the ape world as fugitives to the Ape Empire and trying to find a way home. They get in many situations kind of like “The Fugitive” or “Incredible Hulk”. It is interesting to note that famed animated writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears acted as story consultants on the show.
What was nice about the show was that it showed a bigger side of the Apes world. We got to see a lot more of what was going on in the Ape world and how different sections acted.
You have strong performances from the series three leads. McDowell outshines himself as Galen and seems to once more revel in this character more than anything he did in ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’.
Ron Harper plays the more rugged of the two astronauts while James Naughton, of ‘American Werewolf in London’ fame, embodies the thinker of the two astronauts.
I have to give the TV show credit. It is better than two of the worst Apes feature films and is definitely the better than it should be. It is simple but engaging and very reminiscent of other classic 70s sci-fi TV shows.
There were six extra scripts written for the series so there was intention to keep the series going. I really think if the series would have been released around the same time as Conquest it would have had a longer TV run.
If you want to read these scripts or Rod Serling’s infamous Apes TV series pilot. You can read them HERE. Serling’s script are always interesting to read and his vision of the series is quite intriguing.
Before the show debuted and through its run, the apes publicity machine was in hyper-drive and Apes appeared on everything.
From 1973 to 1975, Apes merchandise flooded the market. The action figures and playsets by Mego were the cream of the crop for Apes fans and this explosion in marketing lead to other film franchises expanding into merchandise. You can think of Apes merchandise as a prequel to the Star Wars explosion in the 1980s.
3 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer