I love walking down memory lane and writing about classic television series from the 1960's to the 1980's. Come along with me and explore!
Aliens, time travel, futuristic cops all add up to '80s TV science fiction fun!
Science fiction television series are plentiful and it's easy to see why Hollywood loves this genre; space aliens, time travel, robots, futuristic gadgets, ordinary folks being empowered with extraordinary abilities have made up the plot lines of many shows, some made it to hit status, others missed but not for lack of trying.
In this article we take a look back at 10 television science fiction series that aired on American television during the 1980's. Offering up photos, vintage TV Guide ads, basic plot line, trivia and more to help us with this walk down memory lane for some or a journey of new discoveries for others.
Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories
Amazing Stories was an 45-episode (2 seasons) anthology series that aired on NBC from September 1985 to February 1987. It was a nice blending of genres like science fiction, fantasy, drama and even horror. It was created by legendary director Steven Spielberg and was his first visit back to television since his very successful directing venture for the now classic 1971 ABC Movie of the Week, Duel, starring Dennis Weaver.
The series was a way for Spielberg to make use of the many small nuggets of ideas he had that were simply too thin and not able to sustain a full length feature films. The cost per episode ran between $800,0000 to 1,000,000 to produce and it boasted several episodes directed by Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Danny DeVito and Robert Zemeckis.
The show didn't fare well in the ratings, ending its first season in 35th place, but then it was going up against a well established ratings winner on CBS, Murder, She Wrote. Critics weren't very impressed with the series, either, saying that the only thing wrong with the show was its title as none of the episodes were really all that amazing, instead they were filled with "cliches, sentimentality and ordinary hokum".
Even though NBC realized that it had tremendous kid appeal they wanted to move it away from the silly factor and bring in more human comedy. The network shifted it around on its schedule and finally canceled it in May of 1987.
Automan was a science fiction and comedy series that aired on ABC from December 15, 1983 to April 2, 1984. Thirteen episodes were filmed, but only twelve aired during its inital run on ABC.
Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz, Jr) always wanted to be a street cop, but his superiors, Lieutenant Jack Curtis (Robert Lansing) and Captain of Detectives E. G. Boyd (Gerald S. O'Loughlin) felt he was better suited to use his skills as a computer programmer.
Walter created computer games in his spare time and when a computer glitch caused one of his creations, Automan, to come off the computer screen and appear in real life via hologram technology, Walter's career as a crime fighter began.
Of course, just about every super hero or super crime fighter has his weakness and Automan was no different, most of the crime fighting had to be done at night as Automan required a lot of energy to materialize that was not readily available in the day time.
The series has been released onto DVD.
The Highwayman Opening Theme
This series aired on NBC from March 4, 1988 to May 6, 1988 and starred Sam Jones (remember him as the 1980's Flash Gordon) as a highwayman, a leather-clad, futuristic federal marshal who was empowered to right the wrongs that ordinary police officers couldn't.
Partnered with Jetto (Jacko, a big Australian dude who, for a while, advertised batteries on American TV, setting one on his shoulder and daring you to knock it off), the Highwayman and his partner roamed the the countryside in their big high tech 18 wheeler that was heavily armed and shaped like a hot dog. I kid you not.
William Conrad, the actor best known for his work as the 70's television detective Cannon, did the opening narration.
Manimal aired on NBC from September 30, 1983 to December 31, 1983 and starred handsome Simon MacCorkindale as Professor Jonathan Chase who inherited from his late father, the ability to transform himself into animals.
To the unsuspecting population he was a cultured college professor who taught animal behavioral sciences at a New York university. To the police he was a valued consultant in the use of animals in police work. The transformations were at will as he had total control over what he transformed into. Only two other humans knew of his secret. Tye Earle (Michael D. Roberts) his friend whom he served with in Vietnam and Brooke McKenzie, a police detective who discovered his ability by accident.
The series was ranked by TV Guide as one of worst TV shows of all time, getting the number 15 slot out of 50 shows and John Javna author of The Best of Science Fiction TV included the show on his Worst Science Fiction Shows of All Time listing.
Sadly, handsome Simon died October 14, 2010 from cancer, he was only 58 years old.
The Misfits of Science
This fun filled adventure fantasy series aired on NBC from October 4, 1985 to February 21, 1986 and followed the exploits of teens who found themselves possessing bizarre physical abilities. They were being studied by the Los Angeles Humanidyne Institute headed by Dr. Billy Hayes (Dean Paul Martin) and his co worker Elvin "El" Lincoln (Kevin Peter Hall) a 7-foot 4 inch man who had the ability to shrink down to six inches high.
The teens, Johnny B. (Mark Thomas Miller) was a rock musician who once zapped himself with 20,000 volts while onstage. Instead of dying he was now capable of shooting electricity from his fingers. Gloria (Courteney Cox) was a reformed delinquent who had telekinetic powers and could levitate objects. Of course, with folks who had abilities like these, it seemed only natural that they would be crime fighting super heroes of sorts, right?
Also co-starred Max Wright, Jennifer Holmes,Diane Civita and Mickey Jones (only in the pilot episode).
Arnold "Beef"/"Ice Man"Beifneiter, the character portrayed by actor Mickey Jones in the pilot episode had the ability to freeze anything he touched. Marvel comics objected to this character as they had a member of the X-Men team with the same super power.
Handsome Dean Paul Martin (son of legendary actor and crooner Dean Martin) would die in a military plane crash March 21, 1987 at age 35 and gentle giant, Kevin Peter Hall would die April 10, 1991 at age 35 of AIDS-related pneumonia. He had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.
This series aired on CBS from December 28, 1986 to May 30, 1987 and is what you get when you blend together the ideas of time travel,a Western and a detective drama. The Outlaws started out in 1899 when Sheriff John Grail (Rod Taylor) of Texas was leading a posse after a gang of bank robbers lead by Harland Pike (William Lucking) a gang that he had, at one time, been a member of before deciding to go straight and become a lawman.
Caught in a strange electrical storm in a Native American burial ground, Grail and the Pike gang find themselves going through time to end up in modern day Texas. Not knowing what else to do, and trying hard to fit into their new surroundings, Gail is able to talk the men into buying a ranch. They name it the Double Eagle Ranch and then they open a detective agency called The Double Eagle Detective Agency. These men then bring back old fashioned justice to this new era. They wore new outfits that were replicas of their old clothes, they used their own old weapons, and always got their man.
Lt. Maggie Randall (Christina Belford) befriended the gang, tried her best to keep them out of trouble, and she also had a little bit of a soft spot for Grail.
Also starred Charles Napier as Wolfson "Wolf" Lucus, Patrick Houser as Billy Pike, Richard Roundtree as Isaiah "Ice" McAdams.
This series was very short-lived and aired on ABC from March 19, 1982 to April 16, 1982.
Judson Scott was Bennu of the Golden Light, an advanced being who came to Earth as a "gift". He was had been entombed in a sarcophagus in the Andes mountains and had been found and released by modern day scientists.
He was unsure of what his mission was, that information having been destroyed when the scientists removed him from his slumber. He knew that he came from a dying civilization and showed that he had advanced powers (levitation, telepathy, telekinesis) which he was able to access via a necklace he wore that was powered by the sun.
Bennu began his search for his partner, Mira, who had also come to Earth and who was entombed somewhere in a burial ground in North America. Bennu's mission was to find her, discover their joint mission and to keep one step ahead of Justin Preminger (Richard Lynch) who was hired to capture him by the government.
ABC did very little to promote the series, but it did receive many fan letters and the TV movie did well in the ratings despite ABC's lack of effort. Sadly, the series was placed on ABC's schedule and it went up against the much loved and well established CBS series Dallas.
The Powers of Matthew Star
Classified by TV Guide as one of the worst TV shows of all time, this science fiction series ran on NBC from September 17, 1982 to September 11, 1983.
Matthew Star (Peter Barton) may have looked like your typical teenage high school student, but he was really the crown prince of the planet Quandris. His father, the king, had been over thrown by tyrants, but was able to help Matthew escape to Earth so that his powers of telepathy and telekinesis could develop. When the time was right, Matthew was to return home and take back the throne. Meanwhile, he and his guardian, Walt Shephard (Louis Gossett, Jr) spent their time working through the typical teenage issues as well as hiding from and fighting the occasional agent from Quandris determined to prevent Matthew from ever returning home.
This series was supposed to have premiered in 1981, but was delayed because of Peter Barton's on- set accident where he was badly burned by some pyrotechnics. Barton spent several months in the hospital recovering.
Something is Out There!
Something Is Out There began its life as a highly successful, ratings-wise, mini series on NBC. Jack Breslin (Joe Cortese), a Los Angeles cop who had to figure out who or what was killing humans and removing their organs. He met lovely space alien Tara (Maryam d'Abo) who was a medical officer on the space ship where the killer, a horrible space monster, was kept, but who managed to escape to earth. It was up to the duo to stop it and save the earth, which they did.
The series, airing from October 21, 1988 to December 9, 1988, went on to focus on the relationship between Jack and Tara (she posed as his cousin) and it strayed from it's science fiction theme going into a more supernatural aspect with many of the cases to follow dealing with things like psychics and telepathy.
The show went up against the very popular CBS series Dallas and fared horribly in the ratings, it was then scheduled against Beauty and the Beast and did even worse in the ratings, if that was possible. The series garnered consistently low ratings, which prompted one critic to surmised the reason as being the story lines that featured violent and gory deaths which turned of the viewing audience. It's amazing how just 20 years later, these kinds of television shows are the norm and very popular.
Starman was a science fiction adventure show that aired on ABC from September 19, 1956 to September 4, 1987 with a total of 22 episodes.
This series was a continuation of the 1984 feature film of the same name. Taking place fourteen years later, we find Starman returning to earth to help raise the son he fathered years earlier. Since he had no corporeal body of his own, he assumed the body of Paul Forrester (Robert Hayes) a photojournalist who died in a plane crash in the wilderness.
He finds his son Scott (D.B. Barnes) in an orphanage and the two then set out to find Scott's mother, Jenny, who had disappeared years earlier. Scott, at first, doesn't believe Paul's story about being of alien origin, but his mind begins to change when he witnesses Paul's unusual abilities like levitation, opening locked doors without needing a key and what truly convinces Scott, is his discovery of his own supernatural abilities beginning to appear.
Their search for Jenny takes them on many adventures and it it through these encounters that Paul (Starman) learns about life as a human. As they travel they interact with different people and become embroiled in all kinds of drama, but, they can never stay in one place for too long as a government agent, George Fox (Michael Cavanaugh) is seeking to capture Paul and take him into custody so he can be tested and studied and have all of his secrets discovered.
This is one series that actually had a happy ending as the Paul and Scott find Jenny (Erin Gray) which was meant to pave the way for a second season that never materialized.
Your Favorite 80s Forgotten or Short-lived Science Fiction Series
Well, you have made it to the end of the list and I thank you for your visit.
There are other shows that would fit on this list, but I decided to pick the 10 shows that I am most familiar with. If you have a favorite (or even not so favorite) 1980's science fiction television series that isn't on this list, please feel free to use the guest book below to tell us all about it.
© 2015 Glory Miller
Ten Easily Forgotten 1980s Science Fiction TV Series Guestbook
Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on October 11, 2018:
Corny! Corny! Corny! But, I LOVED 70s and 80s Sci Fi.. LOL!
RED paksenarrion from Friendship, Wisconsin on March 30, 2018:
I like most of these yah some were corny but it was a adventure unusually with a teen or preteen in there who could do cool stuff. what was there not to like.