Gerry Anderson has a track record that would make any self-respecting TV producer shake in his boots: 17 television programs, virtually all of which now rate as cult successesfrom the lavishly produced space adventure Space: 1999 and the cult favorite UFO to the "Supermarionation" of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Today we offer the final part of our exclusive interview with this legend of genre TV.
While UFO was initially a spectacular ratings success in syndication and Anderson's company had already begun planning a second year for the show, a slight drop in ratings during the second syndication run caused the cancellation of orders for year two.
"We started Space: 1999. I won't mention the name because I don't want to be sued, but one of the people from the New York office phoned me and said, 'Gerry, when you made UFO, you made one of the episodes which took place not only in an Earth environment, but it was not a science fiction environment.' This was the story in which Straker's son was killed ["A Matter of Priorities"ed.]. I really thought it was good. He said to me, 'I don't want any story that is not science fiction, I don't want any story that takes place on Earth as we know it.' I asked why and he said he didn't need to explain why. He said if I did that he would not greenlight the show, end of conversation. I said okay, we won't do any Earth stories. He said, 'No, no, nothat's not good enough. I want you to tell me why, with the show the way it is, it will be impossible for you to do a story set on Earth.' So I phoned him a few days later and said, 'How about if we blow the moon out of Earth's orbit with all the people onboard?' And he said I had a greenlight."
Space: 1999 marked a departure from Anderson's previous shows: it featured two international stars (husband and wife team Martin Landau and Barbara Bain) and where the earlier Anderson shows featured splashy color and glamorous costumes, Space: 1999 took Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as a visual inspiration, with a look that was utilitarian and largely bleached of colorand deglamorizing "unisex" costumes designed by Rudi Gernreich (which were redesigned by Anderson's staff). Anderson says that the Space: 1999 production was the result of a mature attitude about color and television production.
"Up until Stingray we had shot everything in black and white because we had no color," he says. "On Stingray Eastman Kodak had brought out Kodachrome film, which was a single strip process instead of three-strip Technicolor, which we could not afford. I sent my key people over to the States at NBC because they'd been filming in color long before we had, and they came back and we repainted all our sets because we thought some colors would be unsuitable for the new process. But the attitude was, 'Wow! We have color!' So we splashed color everywhere. When we came to Space: 1999 we were getting used to the idea of color, we were thinking in terms of a slightly cold environment because they were on the moon and it was an artificial environment, and I guess all of those factors came together."
Anderson's next project, which he hopes to announce shortly, will be a revival of one of his earlier television programs, using CGI instead of live action puppetry. After decades of the hands-on experience of building real miniature sets, vehicles and puppets, Anderson is excited about the possibilities of working in a medium in which nothing is real.
"I'm in Final Fantasy, and as a technical achievement I thought it was brilliant. As a piece of entertainment unfortunately it was not that great. As a result of Final Fantasy we're up against people saying, 'Why do you want to use CGI when you can use real actors?' In our case we can't do that because our actors are puppets that are known by hundreds of millions of people and we don't want to do anything other than recreate them exactly the way they were, except that they'll hop, skip, jump and have facial expressions we can control. I think CGI is wonderful. I was directing commercials when CGI was really formed, and we were having to store all our stuff in batteries of Winchester hard disks that were huge, and now you have hundred gigabyte disks that are tiny. We made a test that gets standing ovations when we show it and I think it'll be the first CGI movie to be made in the U.K., and we're building a studio we hope will be a European Pixar."
Gerry Anderson Filmography
Many of Gerry Anderson's shows are available on DVD and video from A&E Home Video at http://store.aetv.com/html/h01.jhtml.