BREAKING NEWS: Patrick Duffy is 60; "Man From Atlantis" still not coming back for belated 2nd season

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Yesterday I saw this in The Onion:

>>>Tomorrow is acting legend Patrick Duffy’s 60th birthday. What do you think?

Greg Asaro, Systems Analyst
"Oh, that’s when you celebrate it? Interesting, back home in Canada we observe it on the third Monday of March."

Emily Saunders, Food Technologist
“Patrick Duffy's going to be 60?! Sh_t, that must make me, like, 25, because I don't know who the f__k Patrick Duffy is.”

Jon Goplen,Bookkeeper
“He’s actually 59. Remember, there was that one year that was just a dream.” <<<

This of course had me in stitches, but it also got me to thinking about "The Man From Atlantis" and the generally sad state of 1970s Science Fiction in general. Of course the genre waxes and wanes on TV and in Movies. In the sixties, there were a couple dozen dedicated Science Fiction shows, including four running simultaneously from Irwin Allen. There were also dozens of other shows that dipped at least occasionally into SF (Such as pretty much every spy program ever, or "Spy-Fi" as the kids today call it) Admittedly most of these were pretty terrible. ("Land of the Giants," anyone?) but at least quantity made up occasionally for the lack of quality, and there's an undeniable 60s Production Value charm to even the worst of these shows, taken in moderation.

In the 70s, however, SF all-but-evaporated, and such shows as we had were generally cancelled in a season or less. Curiously, the only *popular* SF show of the 70s on American TV was "The Six Million Dollar Man," which, along with it's pretty good but still vastly less successful spinoff, "The Bionic Woman," represented a very odd admixture of sixties genre SF and Spy Fi.

One of the many quickly-dead-and-mostly-forgotten shows of the period was "The Man From Atlantis." Here's the opening credits for the series:

Pretty goofy, huh? I was rather surprised that Herb Solow was in charge of this whole shindig, given that he was one of the three guys who created Star Trek in the 60s (But he wasn't the one guy who took credit for it). This actually explains a lot about my memories of the show, since it quickly became essentially an underwater version of star trek - even the sub's control room was similar to the one on the Enterprise - and much like Fred Friberger's attempts to turn Space:1999 and the 2nd season of Buck Rogers in to Star Trek, it appears that all these guys really only had one trick in their pony.

The only really interesting difference in "Atlantis" is that they'd swapped the characters of Kirk and Spock: "Mark Harris" (Patrick Duffy) was essentially the spock character *and* was the commander of the sub and the hero of the show, while his first officer and science officer was a blandly pretty human woman who pushed buttons and said stuff. I dunno. It's been thirty-two years, it all gets rather vague after that ammount of time.

How bad was the show? The teenaged girls in my neighborhood wouldn't even watch it, despite every one of them having a very public crush on the frequently-shirtless Mr. Duffy.

It didn't start out awful, though. As was the custom of the time, the show started out as a series of TV movies. The first of these involved the Bladly Pretty woman discovering a John Doe with gills on the beach, and nursing him back to health. This got boffo ratings, and it felt like a slightly more insightful early version of "The Six Million Dollar Man." I remember even my preacher at the time being kind of interested in the show. Subsequent TV movies (They made 4 in as many months, still a record to this day!) were less as moving, perhaps playing the "Fish out of water" metaphor (I'm sorry) a bit too hard. I recal "The Killer Spores" being the best of these, though in retrospect it was largely a knockoff of "The Andromeda Strain." The novelization wasn't bad, either. I read it at Marco Island the next summer. In the final one of these, we discover that "Mark"/Duffy was actually an alien, and part of a team of aliens who'd been sent to survey Earth for their homeworld. Somehow (Details escape me) he'd lost his memory and the rest of his team had been killed, but when his own kind came for him, he elected to remain on Earth.

Someone has put the entire first movie on Youtube. You can watch it here

After the 4 TV movies had proven to be a moderate success, the TV series was pressed in to production in a rush. I suppose they'd figured they'd already produced 360 minutes of TV in four months - the equivalent of about seven episodes - so how hard could a series be?

Answer: very. This kind of thing never works out well as we'll see when I get around to talking about the sad behind-the-scenes way the ORIGINAL Galactica was done wrong just a year later.

In any event, the TV Movies hit the air in the spring of '77, and the series hit the air in the Fall of '77, which is pretty remarkable turnaround time, but even so it took its toll in production values. When it became a weekly series, the format changed from a fairly sprawling series of adventures involving Mark and company, and became - as I've said - Underwater Trek.

Looking at the listing of the episodes, I find I can't really recognize any of them. I suspect the first episode may have been about arch-nemesis Mister Schubert (Victor Buono) attempting to flood the world, but I'm not sure. I know they used that plot in at least one of the movies, so for all my fuzzy memories recall, it could have been a nuclear disaster averted. That was trendy at the time. I also remember my favorite episode involved a killer robot running amuk and Mark having to shut it down. By contrast, my least-favorite episode - and the only one I can remember by title - is "The Naked Montague" - in which Mark goes to a paralell world (Or maybe just a really big cave) and gets involved in a (literally) hilbilly retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Bad, bad, bad, embarasingly bad. I remember cringing through the whole thing even as a ten-year-old.

That episode presented what was the real problem of the show: it insisted on doing a planet-of-the-week format, same as Trek, same as Logan's Run, same as Starlost, you name it. Of course there were slight variations (Call it "Island of the week" or "Lost civilization of the week"), but the fact is that there's only a very limited number of things you can realistically do with a submarine, and pretty much it's hard not to do *most* of those in the course of a single season, as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" found out a decade earlier. After that, it's all monsters of the week and aliens.

Trek got around this by visiting a different thinly-defined planet every week, which had a comedically-monolithic civilization in which to tell your contrived morality/adventure tale (My favorite bad example of this being the "Planet of the Swingers" from the Jack The Ripper episode starring Mr. Peterson from the Bob Newhart Show). You can do that in space because no one really knows shinola about it, but everyone knows there aren't any huge world-spanning civilizations under the sea.

Or perhaps there's only one or two.

My point being that while you can get away with "Atlantis" in the Atlantis and maybe throw in "Mu" in the Pacific so people in California won't feel left out, you realistically can't pull off the planet/island of the week format in a submarine show. ("Voyage to the bottom of the sea" got around this occasionally by doing International Intrigue stories where Bananna Republics were substituted for planets). Thus they just made up the most ludicrous crap, like "Hey, how 'bout we drop Mark Harris in one of Shakespear's tragedies? And how 'bout we make 'em Southern for no reason whatsoever? People love that President Jimmy Carter, after all. What? They don't? 'History's Greatest Monster?' Oh well, no matter, we already hired the actors..." Once the paralell worlds (Accessible only by submarine) began to mount up, any lingering shards of dignity from the various TV movies was lost, and the whole thing crashed and burned rather quickly.

They only made 13 episodes before cancellation.

What's curious about this that from start to finish -from the first TV Movie to the last episode airing - took *Much* less than a year! The entire series and the attendent fanfare (There was a lot of hype during the first couple movies) came and went inside the confines of 1977. That's just crazy, even by 1970s standards.

Some Trivia:

* The cool webbed hand prosthesis that "Mark" wore (Which really did look pretty cool and surprisingly realistic) was done by the same makeup guy who did Spock's ears.

* In 1980, the show became the first American program ever to run on Communist Chinese televison, and as such Mr. Duffy is disproportionately popular there. Allegedly whenever he goes to China - which he does a fair ammount, since he's a Buddhist - he gets thronged by people who want to talk to him about "Mark Harris" but know nothing of Dallas.

Here's some links if you're interested:

* The typical Wiki overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_from_Atlantis
* The short-lived Comic Book: http://comicbookdb.com/title.php?ID=7221 I never read it, but you can click on the links to see the covers and stuff. I'm sure it was terrible.
* Here's some long-forgotten proposals for toys that were never made based on the show: http://www.plaidstallions.com/manfromatlantis.html
* The questionably-legal DVD "Release" of the series: http://www.timesforgottendvd.com/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=320

You know, I'm *almost* but not quite tempted to try this out again. I know it'll be terrible, but I admittedly have some nostalgia for this show, given it's really the one significant touchstone of 70s SF culture that hasn't been strip-mined and rebooted.

Place your votes: should I do it or not? Should I watch the seires, or get on with my life like a big boy?

Happy St. Patrick Duffy's Day.

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