Imagine a television show, produced in the early 1970s–the darkest time for science fiction on television, with an amazing pedigree. Let’s say it boasted special effects and was produced by Douglas Trumbull, a veterarn of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Andromeda Strain” and “Silent Running.” Add in Keir Dullea, the star of “2001” as your lead actor. Wrap it all up with the fact that the show was created and written by the legendary Harlan Ellison, and it sounds like a surefire winner that would have changed the face of science fiction on television.
However, if you throw in some complications, it turns out a bit differently. In this case, the complications included the series being rejected by The BBC, and winding up, with a fraction of the budget, on Canadian TV. Other complications included a writer’s strike that kept Ellison from writing anything more than the show’s bible and story outlines, Trumbull’s failed attempt at creating a new special effects system, the Canadian government forcing producers to use Canadian writers to finish Ellison’s scripts, and finally, before even the pilot episode was completed, Ellison invoked a clause in his contract forcing the producers to use his alternative registered writer’s pen-name of “Cordwainer Bird” in the credits.
And that’s why hardly anyone remembers The Starlost, at least not fondly. This was a show that was broadcast in Canada and in the US in syndication in 1973, and rerun only a couple of times. You can find every episode on YouTube, or you can look them up on a Roku Channel devoted to airing the 16 episodes. To quote the Wikipedia description, “The show’s setting is a huge generational colony spacecraft called Earthship Ark, which has gone off course. Many of the descendants of the original crew and colonists are unaware, however, that they are aboard a ship. “
By the way, it’s not very good. That’s the first episode at the top of this post. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but the series went downhill after this one. It’s not so bad that it’s good, it’s simply bad enough to escape having any entertainment value.