1 9 6 6 – 1 9 6 7 (USA)
30 x 50 minute episodes
Two young scientists, Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) are working on a secret government project (“Project Tic Toc”) miles beneath the surface of the Arizona desert.
Their mammoth goal is to harness the time curve and build a tunnel to launch mankind into the past and the future.
Forced to demonstrate the untested tunnel to the Senator who is holding their purse strings, Tony Newman finds himself successfully sent back in time. Unfortunately, the machine is not able to bring him back home to 1968.
His colleague Doug Phillips jumps into the tunnel to help him, leaving both of them trapped onboard the Titanic just before that fateful date with the iceberg.
The two scientists are doomed to travel from one historic hotspot to another, always knowing the horrible outcome of the events they are witnessing but powerless to alter anything while their colleagues – Dr Ann Macgregor (Lee Meriwether), Dr Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) and Lt General Heywood Kirk (Whit Bissell) – struggle to bring them back in the nick of time.
You name it, they witness it: The wild west, the French revolution, Custer’s last stand, The Trojan War, World War I and Pearl Harbor. Occasionally they are even thrown into the future – so that director Irwin Allen could re-use his Lost in Space sets and costumes.
The tunnel itself was a nine-foot drum covered in cellophane and Christmas tinsel. When filmed through a wide-angle lens, the drum became a kaleidoscope of “time fragments” flying through the shaft. The actors were suspended by wires in front of a blue screen and added in later.
Despite all their adventures, Tony and Doug never had a hair out of place or a suit or polo neck sweater even slightly ruffled.
Historical accuracy flew out the window early on, and an obligatory fistfight or two had to be written into each episode, it seems.
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 attracted some big-name guests such as Michael Rennie, John Saxon, Robert Walker, Victor Jory, Michael Ansara, Carroll O’Connor, Jim Davis and Ellen Burstyn.
Dennis Hopper initially appeared as a cowardly businessman in the Titanic episode “Rendezvous with Yesterday” but his role was cut from the final print because he couldn’t master a British accent. Respected actor Dan O’Herlihy walked off the set after only one day of playing Merlin the Magician. He was replaced by Christopher Cary.
The Time Tunnel was very successful in reaching the 6 to 18-year-olds and the series was critically acclaimed. But it did not deliver the general, national audiences necessary for it to continue. Out of 110 TV shows in the 1966-67 season, The Time Tunnel finished in a disappointing 76th place and ABC decided to cancel the show.
But 60,000 letters of viewer protest, and the success of the summer reruns which clobbered the competition, convinced ABC President Tom Moore to bring the series back in the 1968-69 season, giving Irwin Allen a year to unpack the Tunnel sets from storage and “re-tool” a new season with story ideas.
But when Moore was suddenly replaced as President of ABC in early 1968, the planned revival was scrapped by the new network management and the series slipped into television history on 1 September 1967.
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?!
Dr Tony Newman
Dr Doug Phillips
Dr Ann Macgregor
Dr Raymond Swain
Lt General Heywood Kirk
Rendezvous With Yesterday | One Way To The Moon | End Of The World | The Day The Sky Fell Down | The Last Patrol | The Crack Of Doom| Revenge Of The Gods | Massacre | Devil’s Island | Reign of Terror | Secret Weapon | The Death Trap | The Alamo | The Night of the Long Knives | Invasion Robin Hood | Kill Two By Two | Visitors From Beyond The Stars | The Ghost of Nero | The Walls of Jericho | Idol of Death | Billy the Kid | Pirates of Deadman’s Island | Chase Through Time | The Death Merchant | Attack of the Barbarians | Merlin the Magician | The Kidnappers | Raiders from Outer Space | Town of Terror