Best TV Shows of the 1950s and 1960s Part Four: The Outer Limits

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The Outer Limits

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.” (http://www.tv.com/shows/the-outer-limits-1963)

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Enlightened TV Shows and Short Subjects

For this next installment of this series about what I consider to be the best television shows of the 1950s and 1960s, I will discuss The Outer Limits. This show, and I am not referring to its reboot in the 1990s, ran from 1963-1965. It was a series that was science fiction, horror, fantasy, and morality lessons rolled into one.

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One episode was “The Zanti Misfits,” in which a group of aliens from another planet, having difficulty knowing what to do with their criminals, decide that the best option is to send them to the planet with the species most noted for killing: earth and human beings. This society of aliens will not execute their own beings, but they see no moral issue with shipping them to another place to have the terrible work performed. The show parallels the issue of social irresponsibility with that of personal moral negligence in the form or a bank robber and his girlfriend who wander into the battle with the Zanti criminals.  You might recognize a very young Bruce Dern.

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I was a child when I saw this episode, and it was scared me badly. Today, I see the fairly unsophisticated special effects, but I also recognize the importance of the message of the script. And this is what gave this series such power: it combined the ability to frighten viewers with the capacity to explore and teach important lessons about life and our world.

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25 thoughts on “Best TV Shows of the 1950s and 1960s Part Four: The Outer Limits

      • They used to show re-runs late at night on PBS I think, after the original Star Trek. My sister and I got in trouble so many times for sneaking up late to watch those two shows, or around 0430 to watch the old episodes of Dr. Who. Good memories. I love this series!

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      • It was great, and I was lucky enough recently to be able to get the series on DVD! Star Trek, Dr. Who, and The Outer Limits–that was a wonderful education, and I am being serious about that.

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      • And I believe that they stand the test of time. Except for special affects, which are not really important anyway, these shows are a very useful group for youngsters to see today. Of course, age is always an issue. I would not let very young kids see The Outer Limits–it could be way too scary.

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      • Agreed. Even the new Doctor is often too scary for Ben yet. It’s tough because I want to share them with him SO BADLY. Soon. Just a few more years. I tried the LOTR movies, but the ring wraiths were too much. Patience. Patience.

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      • Very true. There will be plenty of time in the future, and he will have a plethora of good shows and movies to watch with you. I am always impressed by the hope, idealism, and humanism in these shows.

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      • Science fiction and fantasy are great at pointing to humanity as it should be. Whether it is the Doctor being compassionate and open to the “alien thing” or the concept of a Prime Directive – definitly ideas worth putting into use. Sadly, we seem to be going more toward 1984. *sigh*

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      • There will always be people who try to control others and impose their view of order, usually in the form of tyranny. I maintain hope, however, that they can be fought in many ways. Sometimes, a story or a show can help to give others the ideas that freedom and compassion and diversity are important and need to be championed. Always keep your optimism and idealism.

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  1. Every episode I too would say – “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. …” There is so much about this world we do not know about – anything can be out there – anything is possible….

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  2. Charles, you’ve tapped yet another great show from the 1960’s. The Outer Limits, like the Twilight Zone, always seemed to provide a thought provoking episode with an underlying moral issue confronting mankind. Usually issues with no easy answer. The episode you mentioned is one of those that always comes up whenever people talk about The Outer Limits. One episode I remember had a wonderfully humorous slant, but dealt with a serious subject, and starred Carrol O’Conner of Archie Bunker fame, and Barry Morse who chased David Jansen in The Fugitive. The episode called—Controlled Experiment—was about two martians trying to understand why humans commit murder. But like I said, the whole episode explored the subject of murder, from the two martians and their point of view, and how they couldn’t quite wrap their mind around the concept. Harry Lubin was one of the composers of the music for the show, but he also did the frightening music that accompanied the ending of another great series similar to the The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. It was called, One Step Beyond.

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  3. I liked the episodes I got to see of the Outer Limits. I have vague recollection of the series but liked it since that’s where I live. It’s sad to say that I fully and completely understand the human capacity to commit murder. That said, I could never inflict the pain others so willing dish out. I think that most of us learned some of our moral compass or had it reinforced by these shows. I’m not sure I can watch the scary parts but it would be interesting to see some of them again.

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