Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Birth of "Fantastic Television"

By Gary Gerani

A number of fans have asked about the “origin” of my trade paperback FANTASTIC TELEVISION, which was published back in 1977 by Harmony Books (a division of Crown Publishing).  The earliest inspiration for FT started a full ten years earlier.  Like most horror movie fans of the 1960s, I cherished Forry’s FAMOUS MONSTERS mag and the occasional issue of Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN; these commercial publications kept our interest in fantasy cinema going during the cold years and provided, on occasion, some worthwhile coverage and criticism.
 
But it wasn’t until 1967 and Carlos Clarens’ AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILMS that everything in this specialized field seemed to evolve.  This was the first honest-to-God BOOK about my favorite, mostly mistreated movie genre, putting the entire horror-science fiction-fantasy thing in perspective with intelligence and taste, while legitimatizing “cinefantastique” as a popular art form.  So there I was, sitting on the floor with my 19” portable b/w TV on the rolling cart behind me, nose buried in Clarens’ groundbreaking work (a hardcover edition, purchased at 34th street’s Bookmasters), held by his smart words and cool photos.  And sure enough, there was that life-changing statement staring right at me, in the foreword on page xv: “This rapport between spectator and spectacle is nonexistent in viewing television and, not gainsaying the relative excellence of THE OUTER LIMITS, THE ELEVENTH HOUR, or THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for this reason the mapping of that already considerable territory belongs elsewhere.”

Somehow, in some way, I knew then and there that I was destined to become “the mapper.”

In my late teens and early twenties, I wrote quite a bit for magazines, newspapers, fanzines, whatever venue happened to be available.  One of my regular haunts was THE MONSTER TIMES, a bi-weekly tabloid published by Brill and Waldstein, who had designed FM in its later years.  My first job for TMT was impersonating the Creature from the Black Lagoon in a fictional “autobiography” for their Issue #6 cover story.  When STAR TREK’s syndicated revival hit big, I proposed a “special TV sci-fi issue” that would enable them to jump on the TREK bandwagon without paying a cent to Paramount, since other shows would be overviewed as well.  First and foremost in my thoughts was THE OUTER LIMITS, which I felt was ready for a major pop cultural re-evaluation, the show being a darker, “thinking man’s” ST – and with outrageously photogenic creatures that appealed to profit-minded publishers.  “Yeah!  Yeah!  Space monsters!” I can remember Larry Brill wailing.  Yep, that’s what they were.  And they sure helped me sell a number of OL articles back in the day.


So, a rough – VERY rough – prototype of FANTASTIC TELEVISION was born in 1973:

A few years later I used the above publication to convince Crown I could deliver a quality book on the same subject.  I called it FANTASTIC TELEVISION, which was an outgrowth of an earlier title I’d been toying with, THE FANTASTIC ON TELEVISION.  Crown was also anxious to profit from STAR TREK’s syndie resurgence, and that photograph/artifact collection of mine was pretty darned impressive.  So, after a meeting arranged by my great friend Len Brown (who had just co-edited a Maxfield Parrish poster book for Harmony), we quickly made a deal.  Eureka!  Then again, as that tired old cliché goes, watch out what you wish for…  

In no time, I became totally overwhelmed by this massive, seemingly endless project.  Dealing with all the photos and a dozen or essays was bad enough, but those lousy episode guides!  It was murder getting all that information, a hell of my own making.  Sometimes I’d have to travel to obscure cities to pull credits off the screen during local telecasts.  Harmony eventually brought Paul H. Schulman in to help me get the project finished – Paul was a psychiatrist-in-training, which puts the entire experience in perspective.  I remember getting very, very annoyed when the promised color section was pulled at the last minute, and I was never nuts about designer Ken Sansone’s nonstop silhouetting.  Still, my original concept for the book was pretty much followed: I wanted a SCREEN WORLD-like approach to the episode listings, with at least three small photos within TV tube shapes across the upper portion of the page.  “Fine Tuning,” “The Full Picture,” the TV-movies and Kid Stuff sections, all were almost exactly as I planned them in a rough prototype I submitted on Day One.

Ultimately, FANTASTIC TELEVISION fared well for me at the bookstores and with most mainstream critics.  It did, of course, have the built-in advantage of being the first tome on this colorful subject, which at least made it novel.  Guess I’ll always be touched when a fan tells me how much he enjoyed tearing through a dog-eared copy way back when.  Lord, that’s exactly how I felt about Clarens’ book: a very special, uniquely personal relationship that’s kind of hard to explain.  Guess FT was mostly a case of me saying, “Stand up and be counted, true believers.  We love these fantastic shows, and they’ve been ignored and misjudged for far too long.  Let’s REVEL in all aspects of them, together!”

Yes, Virginia, there IS (or was) a hardcover edition of FANTASTIC TELEVISION.  They were pretty rare, but did get into the marketplace.
The book bounced around for a number of years, then resurfaced in England during the early ‘90s with this fanciful cover (front and back).  Pretty wild. 


Will FANTASTIC TELEVISION ever return?  A few years ago I would have said, “no way!,” but now…  My publishing company Fantastic Press (I’m partnered with IDW) was actually created to capture the original FT essence, but with a 21st Century edge, providing a series of brand new trade paperbacks dealing with films, television, and the popular arts.  Perhaps, coming full circle, I’ll re-visit the very specific genre that got me started in the book business 35 years ago.  TOP 100 FANTASTIC TELEVISION SHOWS?  Why the hell not!
Steve Chorney’s cover for TOP 100 SCI-FI MOVIES, from Fantastic Press, available in bookstores and on the web in late April/early May.

29 comments:

  1. Carlos Clarens' book had a big influence on me also. For years, after viewing a film on TV, I would mark it in Clarens' book with a grade.

    I also still have my copy of FANTASIC TELEVISION and I think Gary's idea of a book titled, TOP 100 FANTASTIC TELEVISION SHOWS is a great idea.

    Which brings me to TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES by Gerani, which I recently received in the mail. Amazon has it on sale heavily discounted from the $25 cover price. I paid only $16.47 with no tax and no shipping fee(you have to order $25 or more). This book just was published and the companion volume, TOP 100 SCI FI MOVIES, will soon be out also.

    Usually I find many choices that I disagree with in any list of 100 best movies. Not this time. Sure there are some I would not have picked but the vast majority of Gary's choices I agree with. The book is large sized, 8 1/2 by 11 and almost 200 slick pages. Most films get 2 pages of coverage, which consists of "Who Made It", "What It's About", and "Why It's Important", which I find to be the most interesting segment. 600 photos!

    I highly recommend this book and urge all OUTER LIMITS fans buy it. We have all read Gary's comments on this website and this book is more of the same interesting observations.

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  2. An updated version of FANTASTIC TELEVISION would be great for the new generations of fans, though a ton of work to compile.

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  3. I vividly recall seeing a TV commercial for Fantastic Television on channel 11 and going to the bookstore as soon as possible right after that. I think the ad was on NYC's channel 11 during The Odd Couple one weeknight. I had been devouring Don Rosa's episode guides in the RBCC and was thrilled to have a book of the guides. I read it so often that it eventually fell apart, but boy how I loved that book. Thanks Gary!

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  4. Thanks so much, Walker! Glad you enjoyed TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES. Yep, those are my picks, and I did my best to explain why I felt they were significant and worthy of inclusion. Actually, they are all cool movies, however you rank them. Revisiting some I hadn't seen in years (KWAIDAN, for instance) was a real pleasure. And I can't say enough about cover artist Steve Chorney's skills. Most publishers today insist that movie books have photos on the cover; but IDW (the outfit I'm partnered with) is a graphic novel/comics company, so they were more open to the idea of a beautiful rendering being front-and-center. Anyway... Thanks again for the kind comments, Walker, and take care!

    And Robert - yeah, a new FANTASTIC TELEVISION would be another avalanche of work. But all of these books are pretty demanding, so who knows?

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  5. Yes, there WAS a FANTASTIC TELEVISION commercial that ran in New York! I was living with my girlfriend Casey at the time, and we both watched it during a telecast of THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN on Channel 5's CREATURE FEATURES on a Saturday afternoon. Now that was a kick. I'm not surprised Ch. 11 ran it late-night during the week, especially since STAR TREK used to follow ODD COUPLE (if memory serves). And you're right... RBCC was the first place I saw a published episode guide for a TV series. Those guys were the true forerunners of the form...

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  6. While talking about Gary's book, TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES, I forgot to mention that this is not just the usual recent list of horror movies from the 1970-2010 years. For instance the book discusses 5 silent and 15 horror movies from the 1930's. In other words the coverage is comprehensive and knowledgable.

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  7. Good stuff, Gary. I had that issue of TMT and I still recall how bloody unique it was at the time. Amazing how influential the Clarens book was--still have mine.

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  8. Wonderful recounting of your yeoman's effort to bring FANTASTIC TELEVISION to fruition. I still manage to treat my copy delicately enough to keep the spine from cracking---no mean feat in that I refer to it quite often, even after all these years.

    Yes, Carlos Clarens' book seemed to legitimize our weird interests, didn't it? Serious scholarship about a field we'd been told we'd eventually be forced to snap out of! Always loved the choice of the CURSE/NIGHT OF THE DEMON creature on his cover.

    When you wrote for MONSTER TIMES, was my old friend Tony Isabella editing for them? It seems to me he did, for a stint, around that time. He's another writer---mainly comics---who hails from Cleveland (though now a longtime Akron resident).

    I must get your TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES (thanks, Walker, for the solid endorsement/reminder). The mere mention of the inclusion of KWAIDAN---a favorite I've had on laserdisc for years (is ANY horror film more beautifully photographed?)---certifies that you did your usual homework. Thanks in advance, Gary, for yet another splendid research-and-insight book!

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  9. Allow me to pile on to the recommendations for Gary's Top 100 Horror Movies (I've belatedly added ordering links for that and Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies to the bottom of the post).

    The minute I saw it in its full-color glory I knew I had to have a copy. And I still feel that way despite Night of the Living Dead failing to crack Gary's top 5. ;)

    I can only assume the Sci-Fi companion will be more of the same, so I'm anxious to receive my copy of that as well!

    I actually think Gary should start a blog going through his Top 100s day-by-day... can you imagine the kind of commentary that would elicit!

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  10. New Blog: THE BEST HORROR FILMS EVER MADE.

    Panel?

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  11. To this end I cannot recommend strongly enough Mark Morris' books CINEMA MACABRE (which I'm not in), and CINEMA FUTURA (which I am). Many of the writeups evoke the when-I-was-a-child first contact; some or trite or predictable; many more are deep and thoughtful.

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  12. Thanks again, guys. Yes, Tony Isabella was doing work for MONSTER TIMES in the early '70s, and I'm sure our paths must have crossed. Chuck McNaughton was the original editor, Allan Asherman lasted about a month, and Joe ("Phantom of the Movies") Kane settled in for the longest stretch, as I recall. I was elevated to "Associate Editor" status after writing TMT's monthly Godzilla column from the Big G's point of view -- truly ridiculous, but hey, money was money. Joe Brancatelli was also hovering about, frustrating DC and Marvel with his INSIDE COMICS publication, a TMT spinoff, which, among other things, functioned as a "watchdog" for the comics industry (Editor Paul Levitz getting caught 'faking' a letter in one of the DC books was big news, for those who cared). So THE MONSTER TIMES offices were indeed hoppin' back then...

    Yes, KWAIDAN is a remarkable film -- a true epic (183 minutes!), in full 'scope and Eastmancolor that looks like Technicolor. I tried to include as many different kinds of 'fright' movies as I could among the 100; some have questioned my inclusion of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, where the enigma of totally disappearing from the face of the earth is explored. To me, this is a deceptively quiet, amazingly disturbing brand of horror (TWILIGHT ZONE explored a similar theme in "And When the Sky Was Opened," featuring Rod Taylor, Charles Aidman and Jim Hutton). No monsters, no gore, no violence, but an inexplicable and absolutely horrifying 'disappearing act" scenario that still freaks me out.

    THE BEST HORROR FILMS EVER MADE blog? Count me in!

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  13. Would never question your inclusion of the brilliant PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Inexplicable vanishing is a truly chilling thing, both fictional and actual (what DID happen to those three lighthouse keepers?); definitely horror for me. So it follows that "And When the Sky Was Opened" is one of my favorite TZ episodes.

    My other favorite is "Mirror Image", and perhaps all of these come under the blanket heading of that ultimate nightmare: loss of identity.

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  14. I have the first edition -- I'm looking at it on my shelf right now -- and it was one of the earliest books to capture exactly what I was all about. If anything, I wanted more!

    Great stuff from Gary, who continues to keep us amazed.

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  15. I'll inscribe my endorsement next to PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, as well. "Disturbing" perfectly characterizes it, Gary. More lasting an impression, I think, than the more easily derived---and of thereby less valuable coinage---"shocking." Peter Weir has a way with that: witness (hah!) THE LAST WAVE.

    Ditto "And When the Sky Was Opened," and I'll reiterate an earlier comment I made about not understanding why Serling went on record as despising this episode. It's a favorite of mine. What more perfect expression of the oft-repeated theme of lost identity that seemed to thrive on TZ?

    You're rollin', Gary G! We've got enough heralds on board here to help sell you a generous pile of your worthy volumes, methinks!

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  16. Love this book, it inspired me to write about my favorite films and television series. Thanks for breaking the ice, Gary!

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  17. A million thanks, everyone! And it's funny about Serling, Ted... He also came to dislike "Walking Distance," one of TZ's most elegant episodes, after many of his hard-to-please Ithaca students complained that it was all an excuse for a twist ending. I was going to answer Serling's specific charges myself in the TZ commentary (he mistakes the old counterman's polite silence for an illogical, crazy response), but apparently Marc Zicree did just that. "And When the Sky was Opened" is a first-rate, fiercely acted, ultra-effective ZONE, drawing power from its unanswered questions. I wonder what RS thought was wrong with this one?

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  18. Like the others here Gary, I had Fantastic Television too. It was my only exposure to many of the less frequently shown shows like Thriller or One Step Beyond, and a fabulous guide to my favourites, like OL and ST, and so much more. I'm a stickler for keeping my books and other collectables in the best of shape, but somehow over the years, my copy of Fantastic Television (signed by Vincent Price while doing a one man stage show in Victoria) went missing. I hope to get it again. Your new books on the top 100 sci-fi and horror movies look great. Thanks for setting the standard with FT all those years ago, and for continuing to create great works!

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  19. GARY--

    "Fantastic Television" was (is) an iconic volume, one which was feasted upon by us legions of enthusiasts who had VERY LITTLE information on our favorite old shows at the time (you can't imagine how thrilling the "Thriller" chapter was to me!)

    I am now holding my original 1977 copy in my hands (and typing at the same time?); the cover is beat up, pages are falling out, and there are TONS of pencil notations, inscriptions, annotations, etc, especially in the "Thriller, TZ, One Step and TOL" episode guides. It was THE indispensable, go-to volume of its era. Again, a belated thanks for doing it.

    And the PHOTOS!-- How did you ever assemble this collection--at that time, when interest in these shows was comparatively low and video frame-grabs were still years in the future? Some of the photos are familiar to all, but many others I have never seen anywhere else (the close-up/half-view of the Ebonite on p. 62, for instance--and where's the rest of the face?). I imagine your still collection rivals all others.

    Anyway, I've enjoyed your copious contributions to WACT and Thriller-a-Day, and plan to check out 100 Top Horror Movies as soon as I can. It's been fun.

    Say hello to the Jelly Man if you see him walking along any Interstate you happen to be driving.

    Larry R

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  20. Of course "Fantastic Television" was a mainstay and now I'm looking over my bookshelf and I can't find my copy! It was an invaluable resource when I was at KTLA and Turner -- I wonder if somebody purloined it there when my back was turned? Bastards! :-) I also have that issue of Monster Times with Kirk and Spock on the cover, in my not-so-hermetically-sealed Trek boxes of junk which are currently residing in Nova Scotia. I need to touch these things again, soon! Thanks from a devoted fan to you for all your hard work, dedication and enthusiasm for keeping all of us informed!

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  21. Larry R---

    Imagine my elation, back in '77, when after producing the first TOLAIR---stretched so thin for still coverage that I had to prevail upon my artist friends to produce original representations---Gary entrusted me with a fabulous album of rare TOL 8x10s! (It was something between 100-200, I believe.) Probably one of the most comprehensive TOL collections anywhere, at the time.

    My copy of FANTASTIC TELEVISION is beginning to crack into individual signatures, so I've got to be careful. But you can still flip it open anywhere and read an entry---see a still---that makes you want to watch something you lament not having ready access to. Wonderful, pionering work.

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  22. Dear Gary

    Just wanted to take some time out to say - some 34 years late - a very big "THANK YOU" for "Fantastic Television". From the first time I saw a copy in my local library in Sheffield (UK), I fell in love with it, and my own edition is still one of my most treasured possessions all these years later. It was the work that inspired me to research and compile episode guides of my own (mainly related to UK series) which has in turn allowed me the delight of working as a freelance writer and researcher on archive television and radio for the last 25 years. And I owe so much of all the fun I've had and all the delight I've experienced in viewing all these amazing shows to "Fantastic Television".

    Your hard work, dedication and affection for this subject is *still* being appreciated now. So pleased I have this opportunity to say "thank you" at long last.

    All the best

    Andrew Pixley

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  23. Holy shit ... THE Andrew Pixley?

    The Andrew Pixley to whom I gave a shout-out in my VIDEO WATCHDOG article on DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (#120, June-July 2005), seeing as how I plundered the invaluable resource of his DVD booklet, and still marvel at his comprehensivity?

    THAT Andrew Pixley?

    A long overdue thank-you to you, too, sir.

    Cheers!

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  24. Hello David :)

    >>Holy shit ... THE Andrew Pixley?

    Well *an* Andrew Pixley. Not the one on the Falklands taskforce. Not the oceanologist. Not the one executed in Wyoming in 1965. Just the one who writes reams of dull text on rather wonderful TV series ...

    >>The Andrew Pixley to whom I gave a shout-out in my VIDEO WATCHDOG article on DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (#120, June-July 2005), seeing as how I plundered the invaluable resource of his DVD booklet, and still marvel at his comprehensivity?

    Ahhh. Yes. That one. Glad it was of use. It was terrific fun to do. Don't think that's one of the issues I picked up I'm afraid. Sorry ...

    Anyway, more to the point you're THAT David J Schow who wrote "The Outer Limits Companion" which *I* love and admire to this day. "Who could ask for more?" was the bottom line of my review for "Dreamwatch" back in 1993. So thank YOU sir for all your hard work and devotion and for such an utterly beautiful tome! Plus that gorgeous updated version. One of the benchmarks of documentation for TV shows to my mind.

    All the best

    Andrew

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  25. Hi Andrew -

    Can you contact me offline?

    blackleatherrequired AT earthlink.net

    Thanks!

    John

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  26. No problem John :)

    All the best

    Andrew

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  27. http://www.facebook.com/DrawbridgeOfTheCastle location of a facebook page for castle of frankenstein...

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  28. Gary, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. I was a huge sci-fi nut as a youngster, and FT was MUST-HAVE reading on the subject. I especially liked the inclusion of British sci-fi, as many of those shows were NOT available to the average American viewer until the advent of cable televison. So many so-called critical essays are condescending and/or dismissive of sci-fi, so it's really refreshing to discover a true champion of this worthy genre. Looking forward to your next project. a FAN

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  29. Didn't know if you were still monitoring ATAD, so......We got a lot of nice responses from around the industry when we complimented you-all on our website. Check-out question 461 at bobbrakemanmovies.com. We're working on a similar bit for this blog as well.

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