Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Time Has Just Begun

Ever wondered where ABC swiped the concept for its hit TV series LOST? It just had to go back to its own fall schedule, 35 years earlier. Meet THE NEW PEOPLE.

In the fall of 1969, ABC attempted a bold experiment. Breaking away from the normal block of 30- and 60-minute series, ABC scheduled two 45-minute shows to air back-to-back on Monday nights: THE MUSIC SCENE and THE NEW PEOPLE. Neither show lasted the whole season, but were valiant attempts to program directly at the youth audience. Unfortunately for ABC, those viewers were watching ROWAN & MARTIN'S LAUGH-IN on NBC.

THE MUSIC SCENE is on DVD, and you can check it out if you like. It consisted of the week's top pop songs performed on stage or in video clips, and it was hosted by several hip young hosts, including Lily Tomlin and David Steinberg. The hosts could occasionally be downright nasty concerning songs they didn't like--The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" received several raspberries, and guest star Tom Smothers was downright rude to Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee". Only Steinberg lasted the entire run anyway, but the music was frequently great.

On the other hand, THE NEW PEOPLE is practically a lost show. Its 45-minute (with commercials) length made it impossible to rerun, and only the pilot seems to be available in bootleg form. Aaron Spelling was the executive producer, and THE NEW PEOPLE was created by Rod Serling, who penned the pilot episode using the name "John Phillips", which likely means it was futzed with by either Spelling or ABC.

A disparate group of American college students, on their way home from a tumultuous tour of Asia, is caught in a violent storm, and their plane crashlands on a remote island in the South Pacific. The only adult survivor is Hannicek (Richard Kiley), the State Department liaison. Luckily for the castaways, the island is not completely deserted. While exploring, the kids discover an empty city that closely resembles a Hollywood backlot (enabling ABC to shoot on an actual backlot, rather than going on location every week). It turns out they have landed on Bonamo, an abandoned U.S. atomic test site, which the government left loaded with food, water, shelter, weapons, even dune buggies. But no radio.

At first, the students turn to alcohol and partying to alleviate their stress at being stranded on an island, which turns bad when a redneck football player gets drunk and destroys their signal fire just as an airplane flies overhead, just to spite one of the black students. Hannicek, aided by ex-Marine George Potter (Peter Ratray), just about the only level-headed youth on the island, manages to quell a lynch mob before dying of the wounds he sustained in the crash. At the pilot's end, it appears as though Hannicek's passing has sobered up the group enough to realize that they're on Bonamo for the long haul, and it's time to start their new civilization.

Although several dozen youths survived the crash, like LOST, it appears as though the show would have focused on just a few, including Potter, icy rich blonde Susan Bradley (Tiffany Bolling), angry black Gene Washington (David Moses), bigoted Southerner Bob Lee (Zooey Hall) and Ginny Loomis (Jill Jaress). Also like LOST (and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, for that matter), being stranded on a deserted island didn't stop guest stars from stopping by.

While the pilot suffers a bit from Serling's preachy writing and unlikable characters (appealing to the youth audience is difficult when the U.S. government authority figure is the smartest and most sensible character, though that may be my age talking...), THE NEW PEOPLE is obviously a great premise that allows for the examination of a myriad of social issues, including race, war, feminism, gun control, classism--undoubtedly all of which became sources of episodes. Competition was too strong, however, and THE NEW PEOPLE barely made it into 1970, getting canceled after sixteen episodes.

For all of LOST's success, it is still inferior to THE NEW PEOPLE in one regard, in that the '60s series attempted to be about something in a way in which no modern television drama can match.

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