Now Playing: BEYOND WESTWORLD
If you think QUARK was a shortlived science fiction series, you should know about BEYOND WESTWORLD. This CBS sequel to MGM’s hit film WESTWORLD lasted just three episodes before it was cancelled in March 1980. Only five hour-long episodes were filmed; I’m don‘t believe the other two have ever been seen publicly.
The 1973 film WESTWORLD was based on a novel by its director, Michael Crichton. Still a well-known author with books like JURASSIC PARK and CONGO under his belt, in the early 1970’s, Crichton gained awareness among film fans when THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, based on one of his books, became a hit movie. Crichton was not particularly pleased with the way Hollywood treated his work, so he demanded a chance to direct. His directorial debut was a made-for-television offering called PURSUIT (1972), a thriller based on a novel he penned under the name “John Lange”, which starred Ben Gazzara as a government agent who has only a few hours to find a homemade nerve gas bomb built by paranoiac E.G. Marshall and dismantle it in time.
MGM must have liked PURSUIT, because they then allowed Crichton to adapt his WESTWORLD for the screen. A forerunner to JURASSIC PARK, WESTWORLD is also about an amusement park gone berserk. In Westworld, visitors dress up in costumes and live out their western fantasies with incredibly realistic robot gunfighters, bartenders, prostitutes, etc. The robots are designed to serve the customer's every whim, but a black-clad robot gunfighter (Yul Brynner) goes haywire and attempts to kill city boys James Brolin and Richard Benjamin for real. The budget was low, but the level of imagination was high, and WESTWORLD was successful enough at the box office to warrant a 1976 sequel titled FUTUREWORLD. Crichton had nothing to do with this American International Pictures release, which starred Peter Fonda as a nosy reporter investigating a plot by evil scientist John P. Ryan (IT’S ALIVE) to use robot duplicates of prominent officials to conquer the world.
BEYOND WESTWORLD’s pilot opens mere hours after the climax of WESTWORLD. Even though the events of FUTUREWORLD are ignored in the series, its premise of a madman using the robots as doubles in an effort to rule the world was recycled by series creator and executive producer Lou Shaw (QUINCY, M.E.). In “Westworld Destroyed”, the Delos Corporation, the conglomerate that built Westworld, calls in its security chief, John Moore (Jim McMullan), to investigate the mechanical catastrophe with the gunfighter and other robots that led to several deaths. McMullan was a reasonably familiar TV leading man who had starred as a helicopter cop with Dirk Benedict in the shortlived 1974 series CHOPPER ONE.
His nemesis in BEYOND WESTWORLD was portrayed by James Wainwright, another TV actor who had played the lead in a detective series, JIGSAW, but specialized in playing rough-around-the-edges heavies. Simon Quaid (Wainwright) is the genius who created Westworld’s robots, but when he discovered Delos was using his creations as expensive theme-park toys, he caused the western ‘bots to malfunction and stole hundreds of them to use as loyal assistants in his bid to make the Earth a better place by destroying it. In the pilot, he even builds a robot rattlesnake (!) that he uses in a clever attempt to destroy Moore.
This scene illustrates one of BEYOND WESTWORLD’s biggest flaws: the robots are too easy to kill. Director Ted Post does a pretty nice job with the scene, which is set in an isolated desert cabin where Quaid has taken the captured Moore to find out how much he knows about Quaid’s operation. He leaves Moore alone with the mechanical reptile, which is loaded with venom and is many times stronger and faster than a real snake. Moore manages to dodge it a few times, but one strike is so forceful that it smashes partially through the cabin wall, where Moore is able to grab it and shove it into a light bulb socket, causing the robot snake to electrocute itself. Even though the robots are supposed to be much stronger and heavier than humans, Moore routinely beats them up and pushes them off great heights.
In “My Brother’s Keeper”, the second episode (which may also be the show’s best), lovely Connie Sellecca joins the regular cast as Pamela Williams, Moore’s sidekick. Sellecca was just coming off a shortlived (there’s that word again) CBS series called FLYING HIGH, where she, Kathryn Witt and Pat Klous played stewardesses who got into all kinds of wild adventures. It’s good for her that BEYOND WESTWORLD was also a failure, as a year later she was co-starring with William Katt and Robert Culp in THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, likely the show she’s best known for today. William Jordan, who starred in the unusual Jack Webb series PROJECT UFO, was another regular, playing Dr. Oppenheimer, Quaid’s partner in creating the Delos robots.
The series never did nail down one other regular role, that of Quaid’s chief assistant. Three different characters and actors played this role in the five episodes, and it was never explained what happened to each of them. Stewart Moss, who starred in THE BAT PEOPLE, a bad horror film produced by Lou Shaw, played Quaid’s number-one guy in the pilot, but Second City veteran Severn Darden showed up in “My Brother’s Keeper” and the last show to be telecast, “Sound of Terror”. It was cool to see Russell Johnson--the beloved Professor from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND--by Wainwright’s side in the final two episodes; unfortunately, CBS cancelled the series before they could air.
With STAR TREK alumni Fred Freiberger and John Meredyth Lucas wearing producer hats on BEYOND WESTWORLD, you might expect it to live up to that SF classic, but it never does. Thankfully, it does boast CBS’ typically high production values with plenty of location shooting, sharp cinematography, decent special effects and guest stars from TV’s A-list. Actors appearing in the five shows include Denny Miller, Christopher Connelly, Jack Carter, Rene Auberjonois, Ronee Blakely, Monte Markham, Hari Rhodes, Judy Pace, Martin Kove, Julie Sommars, Christine Belford, Michael Pataki, Robert Alda, George Takei and Michael Cole. That’s a helluva lot of talent for a television series with scripts that weren’t up to the level of its actors. In just the second episode, Shaw and director Rod Holcomb had Sellecca both dressed as a cheerleader and meeting her evil robot twin, two tried-and-true TV cliches. “Sound of Terror”, the last to air, found Moore and Pamela digging into which member of a hit rock band (which, of course, sounded lousy) was a robot double planning to blow up a nuclear power plant. “The Lion” put Moore behind the wheel of a racecar after his NASCAR legend buddy (THE MOD SQUAD’s Michael Cole) became paralyzed in a crash caused by one of Quaid’s robots. The formula was already getting stale by the fifth show, “Takeover”, which starred Monte Markham as a police lieutenant who is given a robot chip during a cranial operation and is brainwashed into becoming an assassin for Quaid.
CBS cancelled the series so quickly that, obviously, no finale was produced. That means Simon Quaid and his robots are still out there, orchestrating the takedown of society for Quaid’s own selfish purposes. Let’s hope Delos and John Moore are still interfering.