After Apollo 11, the interest for space had waned, but what the public of Earth saw as the discovery of alien life on Mars, rekindled the spark for the unknown in many of them.
Now with the startling new discovery of NASA, people were looking into the sky with admiration again. Wondering if they were alone. Dreams of space resurfaced, but many knew that they could not make these dreams come true for themselves.
They needed a way to satisfy this dream at least for a short while. As a result, the demand for Science Fiction stories grew enormously.
The first ones to see this trend were the publishing houses as the sales for Science Fiction novels raised noticeably as young people bought existing novels again.
Interestingly one of the first and true winners of this trend was Ace Books, a company that specialized in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The sales increase saved the company from its steady decline since 1967 and made it one of the biggest publishing houses for science fiction in the coming decade.
Ace Books also gained Forrest J Ackerman as editor, after the ‘#1 Fan Personality’ had already cooperated with the company in several projects, among them the commercially successful translation of the German Science fiction serial ‘Perry Rhodan’. With the growing interest into Science Fiction that series was only getting more successful and Ace Books published multiple translated issues at a time until they reached parity with the German publisher in 1978.
NBC struck gold in early after they had started to broadcast ‘Star Trek’ reruns in early 1972. The series had a higher audience than during the first time it aired and produced a renewed interest into the series. Gene Roddenberry was more than willing to begin working on a second Star Trek series, describing a second 5 year journey of the USS Enterprise under Captain Kirk. During the initial talks many of the original cast showed interest to return to their old roles, save for Leonard Nimoy, who had issues with the marketing of his character Spock.
During the project, new characters were added, such as a full vulcan named Xon, Commander Will Decker, who was to replace Spock as first officer and the Deltan Lieutenant Ilia. Storywise it was showing the first instances of longer storylines spanning over multiple episodes and in some cases over an entire season.
Filming of ‘Star Trek: The Journey Continues’ began in 1975 and NBC aired the first episode ‘In Thy Image’ on March 11th, 1976. The reception of the renewed series was overwhelming and made the other networks envious.
The first to counter ‘Star Trek’ was PBS, who has just purchased the broadcasting rights for the serial ‘Dr. Who’ from BBC, bypassing the previous rights holder Time-Life Television. The broadcast of ‘Dr. Who’ on PBS started with Tom Baker and quickly became a close contender to being the most successful Science Fiction series in the United States.
PBS was relatively quickly followed by ABC, who worked with Universal to develop their own Science Fiction serial, ‘Ares’. The development of ‘Ares’ had started just after it became known that NBC was producing a new ‘Star Trek’ series.
Essentially ‘Ares’ was a modernized version, or rather a reinvention, of the old Buck Rogers serials of ABC and Universal. The show followed a central crew of characters, lead by Flight Commander Anthony ‘Buck’ Rogers, starring Lee Majors, who started out as the crew of a NASA Mars mission named Ares. Encountering a wormhole as plot device, the Ares and its crew was stranded in asteroid belt of the 25th century where they encountered a group of freedom fighters, fighting against the ‘Rus’ and the ‘Han’ which had taken over the Solar System. The crew of the Ares were forced to fight with them to survive this brave new world.
It would later turn out that the ‘Rus’ was the Soviet Union, who reached Mars before the United States and used Martian Weapons to conquer the Solar System, mirroring some political sentiments of the time. The ‘Han’ were the Chinese who had stolen Soviet designs and done their own conquering.
‘Ares’ was best known for its gripping, innovative plot, consistent characterizations and continuous use of an overarching storyline where one episode built up on the previous ones, even though it was possible to watch single episodes and still enjoy the show. The lack of an actual ending to its five season run was another point that made the series well known.
Compared to these three series, the CBS’ attempt to produce a science fiction series that had to entice the television audience failed miserably. Their attempt to reawaken ‘Flash Gordon’ resulted in a series that only ran for a single season and was considered to be one of the worst TV series of the 70s.
This made CBS decide to follow the example of PBS and buy the broadcasting rights for a Science Fiction series that was already successful in the United Kingdom, ‘Space: 1999’ of Gerry Anderson. The success of the series in the United States allowed Anderson to direct four seasons of ‘Space: 1999’ in total, with a spinoff ‘Maya’, centered on the character of the same name, running for three seasons.
That the rise of Science Fiction was not passing by Hollywood was first seen as Universals ‘Silent Running’ ran at the top box office places during its entire run in US cinemas and was followed a string of big budget science fiction themed movies, but also a whole host of B-grade movies.
The most successful movie of the time was ‘Star Wars’ directed by George Lucas in 1977. It won six Academy Awards, one of them for the best visual effects, possible only with the work of Industrial Light and Magic, founded by George Lucas especially for ‘Star Wars’ and headed by Derek Meddings, best known for his work on ‘Supermarionation’ together with Gerry Anderson.
Industrial Light and Magic had developed new forms of special effects for ‘Star Wars’, based on Meddings work. ILM was generally seen as the founder for a new generation of special effects that were still used even during the raise of Computer Generated Images.
‘Star Wars’ also made Universal approach George Lucas with the idea to produce a TV series based in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. Lucas, who was still surprised about his success, took the chance and developed ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ for Universal.
The first episode of ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ was the first program of the new cable channel ‘Sci-Fi Channel’, on May 4, 1980, running five seasons, before George Lucas begins to work on ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’, which is released on April 3, 1986.
‘Star Wars’ was followed by Ridley Scotts ‘Alien’ in 1979, which created a massive hype, as it displayed an extinct alien race and what later was interpreted as biological weapon. Fears that the ruins of Honore City could hide similar monsters came apparent, kicking off a number of B-grade movies describing Mars missions that had to fight similar monsters.
One of the saddest tries to get in on the Science Fiction Hype was the 1979 James Bond movie ‘Moonraker’, featuring James Bond stopping SMERGE to sabotage a Joint British-US Mars mission. It is generally seen as the worst James Bond movie since ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.
With the direct competition of the Sci-Fi Channel, and the successful run of the first season of ‘Star War: The Clone Wars’, the major networks felt the need to renew their own Science Fiction series. PBS on the other hand still ran ‘Dr. Who’ as a very successful programming.
Gene Roddenberry was already playing with the thought for another ‘Star Trek’ series, this time set a hundred years after the Kirk era. The new series would be produced for NBC and named ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and would eventually run for six seasons.
ABC had lost some of its credibility for creating ‘Ares’, with the series ‘Battlestar Galactica’ in 1978, but was on its way to recover most of it after they managed to get the original cast of ‘Ares’ together again and produced a follow up series, named ‘Athena’, continuing where the first series had left viewers. ‘Athena’ slowly turned towards using the knowledge of Vietnam veteran ‘Buck’ Rogers to take the fight back to the ‘Rus’ and the ‘Han’, ending with a major battle in Earth orbit in the final episode of season four over Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’. The Fandom was generally seen ‘Athena’ as being weaker than ‘Ares’ for having lost its originality, but still being strong.
Meanwhile the attempts of Forry Ackerman to see the German serial ‘Perry Rhodan’ being turned into a Science Fiction TV series started to bear fruit as CBS was also looking for a competitor to ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’. With the help of several of the original authors of the serial and director Steven Spielberg, who was revealed to be an avid reader of ‘Perry Rhodan’, it became possible to realize the series, which would run for eight seasons, giving birth to 3 spin off series in the same universe.