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Updated: October 09, 2023

The most expensive television show on the air in 1966 was The Time Tunnel, an Irwin Allen production that debuted Friday night, September 6th. This high-profile ABC failure lasted only one season.

'The Time Tunnel' was the story of Dr. Tony Newman ( James Darren ) and Dr. Doug Phillips ( Robert Colbert ), two research scientists who developed the top secret Time Tunnel - only to become lost, tumbling among the infinite corridors of time. Manning The Time Tunnel are ( Whit Bissell ) as General Heywood Kirk, ( John Zaremba ) as Dr. Raymond Swaim, Wesley Lau as security officer Jiggs, and ( Lee Meriwether ) as Dr. Ann McGregor.

The Time Tunnel was unique in the fact that the regular supporting characters almost never got to work with the two lead actors, and consequently they had little to do but yell "Tony!" and "Doug!" at the tunnel while they push the buttons and turn the dials on the surplus NASA computers that made up most of the set.

Several times the men had to push poor Ann out of the way so that they could turn the dials and push the buttons - often while she had a panic attack. No wonder she was so stressed - just like all of Irwin Allen's inventions, The Time Tunnel explodes every time you use it. Allen's long time special-effects supervisor Bill Abbott won an Emmy award for this incredible contribution to the show. The premise was strong enough that the show remains a favorite to scores of kids that grew up on Irwin Allen's idea of science fiction. Allen's shows were popular fare during the 60's, you had to just forget the lapses in logic and enjoy the ride.

There was an Irwin Allen produced series on the air every year for most of the decade, and in 1966 he had three series running on two networks. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ( ABC, 1964-1968 ), Lost in Space ( CBS, 1965-1968 ), and The Time Tunnel ( ABC, 1966 ). The mostly dreadful Land of the Giants replaced Voyage on Sunday nights in 1968 and lasted two years.

Maybe one reason The Time Tunnel is so fondly remembered is the subliminally sexual quick-cut sequence that comes every time there's a Time Tunnel emergency. First you see the pulsating power-core of the complex, then the deep inner corridor, a close-up of the power core, and then the camera rests on the tunnel itself, spitting sparks and smoking profusely. Hello!!

The pilot episode, which had Tony and Doug aboard the Titanic hours before it strikes an iceberg, has a strong script and is directed by producer Irwin Allen, so the pacing is exciting throughout. This may be the best hour of science-fiction television ever produced in the Sixties, the time travel special effects are colorful and hypnotic, the characters are all likeable and guest-star Michael Rennie is excellent as the doomed ship's captain.

Unfortunately, this series suffers from the Irwin Allen curse, strong first episodes followed up by scripts that get weaker and weaker as the season drags on. It happened with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space, and this would continue to be the case in Allen's later series work.

The Time Tunnel was able to take full advantage of the large stock footage library at 20th Century Fox to provide blue screen and cut away shots, but too often it was obvious that the plodding scripts were written around some old film clip of marauding medieval hoardes or a meteor in the sky.

Historical accuracy flew out the window early on, and an obligatory fist fight or two had to be written into each episode, it seems. The Time Tunnel series writer Robert Duncan once commented about the show: "We approached one of the leads with the idea of providing more substantial material, only to have him ask us to keep his speeches short. He wanted simple lines like "Let's go!" or "We have to get out of here!" so we did."

The Time Tunnel slipped into history on September 1, 1967.

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