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Reaching the Limit

Highlights from THE OUTER LIMITS' Sixth and Final Season

By Frank Garcia     June 19, 2000

With over half of its sixth and final season now broadcast on Showtime at the end of June, The Outer Limits will continue unveiling its remaining 10 episodes before reaching its final 132nd episode. The special two-hour final episode titled 'Final Analysis' stars Amanda Plummer and Charlton Heston, with a cast that includes veteran actors Robert Loggia, Cicely Tyson, Swoosie Kurtz, Kelly McGillis, Michael Moriarty and Wallace Langham. In the story, Dr. Theresa Givens from 'A Stitch in Time' is put on trial in the year 2070 for her time-travelling crimes against humanity. The episode will air in August on Showtime and will premiere in syndication next year.

Already recognized as the longest running sci-fi anthology in television history, MGM/UA's , The Outer Limits has finally reached the end of its run. As series executive producer and writer Sam Egan explains, 'Every show has its momentum and runs its own course. Even the best of series run their course.' Specific reasons for the series' conclusion, says Egan, include 'a combination of distribution on the Showtime side, the studio [and] financing.' Creatively, Egan says they feel they could continue for many years to come, but that the time to move on has arrived.

As co-executive producer and writer Grant Rosenberg likes to explain it, 'My thought is that Showtime, who's the primary engine behind it, doesn't need a solid show that provides you with singles and doubles. They need a show like The Sopranos that will attract new subscribers. If they have a show today that was doing high-teens and low-twenties in shares, which is a good solid show, they would be pleased to keep this. But Showtime needs to keep introducing new programming to attract people with $20 a month for subscriber services. The Outer Limits doesn't do that. What they're looking for in their programming, which is very smart, is break-out programming.

'Also, because it's gone so long, the show is so successful in other outlets that I don't need Showtime to watch The Outer Limits. I can get it on other programming in syndication [or on The Sci-Fi Channel].'

As with every season of the series, the stories are a varied blend of science fiction, suspense and dark nightmares. Among the themes explored this season are tales of time travel, futuristic sociology, genetic engineering, UFO believers and ghostly aliens. Another of the series' trademarks also continues: Strong 'name' actors are cast for each stunning episode. This year Molly Ringwald, Stacy Keach, John DeLancie, Christina Cox, Michael Shanks, Gary Busey, Joel Grey, Sean Patrick Flanery, Meatloaf and Bruce Boxleitner are providing performances.

Both Egan and Rosenberg readily acknowledge that today's headlines have served as springboards for many of the season's stories. 'We comb through the science magazines and things like that,' says Rosenberg. '[We'll find] a story from the headlines or history books--whatever we can find for inspiration.'

A 'ripped-from-the-headlines' story was a source of creative inspiration for Egan when he wrote 'The Gun' starring Stacy Keach and John DeLancie. 'I wanted to attack this controversial subject that's on the mind of so many people today in North America about the proliferation of guns,' says Egan. 'You can't pick up a newspaper or television news story without finding more examples of abuse of guns, especially in the United States. We took on a very specific real world issue, and not just gun violence, but in general the new laws having to do with gun shows that are now being debated in the United States Congress. We dramatized that loophole and set it in a very far-flung sci-fi premise.'

In 'The Gun,' an alien in human guise (DeLancie) sells a very unique--but very alien--gun to Matthew Logan (Christian Bocher). Just released from prison, Logan heads straight to a gun show, eager to purchase a weapon to get revenge on his wife, who's been living with his daughter. But each time the newly obtained alien gun is used, it physically fuses with the shooter. Every gunshot worsens the condition and takes over the shooter's mind and body. When the authorities realize that Logan has killed his wife, Sandra, her father, Cord Vanowen (Keach), assembles a manhunt for Logan, who's disappeared into the woods. And when Vanowen meets the mysterious stranger, he's also given a very strange gun.

'What I liked about it was that it was a balancing act between the very real world and an identifiable, provocative and exotic story premise that was very much sci-fi,' says Egan.

Another season highlight, says Rosenberg, was a story inspired from a sci-fi topic that is increasingly becoming reality: genetic engineering. With the Human Genome Project nearing the end of its cataloging of the complex human DNA, it is a topic ripe for treatment in The Outer Limits.

In a story that he calls 'The Inner Child'--and inspired by the fact that he has a pair of twin daughters--Rosenberg thought, 'What if one of a pair of siamese twins survived a difficult birth, and yet, the personality of the other one day becomes 'activated' and surfaces within the survivor?'

'Laura Leighton, who's a terrific actress, plays a kind of tough, young career woman and she gets into a car accident and the accident triggers something inside of her body,' explains Rosenberg. 'Basically, what it does is it brings forward a latent parts of a siamese twin that she was born with. The twin starts taking over her body. It's a great role for her because she gets to play two people trapped within the same body.

'When she was conceived, her mother was in an experimental procedure at the time to void one of the siamese twins and to give the surviving twin a better chance to live a normal life. And in voiding that twin, some portions of that twin was absorbed into the surviving twin. We're creating a little science for ourselves, but of course that's what sci-fi is all about! That was very much on the cusp of possibility and reality.'

Yet another example of borrowing from today's headlines is 'Seeds of Destruction,' which explores the dark consequences of genetically engineered foods.

'This year, more than other years, we're looking at contemporary reference points to explore stories,' nods Egan. 'I always like to say that The Outer Limits is extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. If you can ground it in a recognizable premise, or a situation that people can immediately identify with, then you have a leg up in drawing them into the storytelling. It's an evolutionary process. I'd love to be able to tell you there was this absolutely completely thought out overview, this master plan for the whole season, but in fact, it comes out of the cogitation of a lot of writers sitting in a room and it comes on a story-by-story basis. Whatever excites our imagination.'

Notes Rosenberg, 'Alan Katz has written some of the more provocative and very humorous far-out characters this year and Sam has a tendency to write brilliant episodes that are issues oriented like 'The Gun.' We make a good team. We have a good mix of people who are interested in taking various aspects of sci-fi and telling good stories from them.'

Some more of those 'good stories' this season include an upcoming tale titled 'Gettysburg.' Egan says this is an unofficial sequel to one of last season's best stories: 'Tribunal.' 'It has a continuity character, a mysterious man in black from 'Tribunal,' and he makes an appearance here. It's an epic Civil War drama. The time traveler attempts to right a terrible wrong. He takes two young men from a re-enactment of the battle of Gettysburg from July 2000 and transports them to July 1863, the actual battle of Gettysburg.' Starring pop singer Meatloaf, 'Gettysburg' is directed by Mario Azzopardi, The Outer Limits' most prolific director. This episode marks his 19th episode.

'Another extraordinary highlight is 'Simon Says,' which is the second episode that Joel Grey has done for us,' continues Egan. 'It's a very eerie and compelling hour directed by Helen Shaver. It's got an absolutely extraordinary animatronic robot. I'm very proud of it.'

Creative cinematography was a strong highlight in the season's fourth episode, 'Manifest Destiny,' which was helmed by veteran Limits director Brad Turner and featured Stargate SG-1's Michael Shanks. The entire adventure aboard a futuristic battleship was documented from the point of view of an audio/video 'helmet cam' worn by one of the officers investigating the strange disappearance of the crew aboard the ship. What's so creative about that? No camera cuts. For each act of the story we, the viewers, witnessed approximately eight to 11 minutes of unbroken intense drama and action. This very difficult style of filmmaking first surfaced in Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1948 murder mystery film Rope starring James Stewart. Most recently, we saw Chris Carter attempt a similar take on 'single camera POV filming' in the recent The X-Files episode 'Triangle.' Time Code, a new independent feature now in theaters, employs similar techniques.

Because there are no camera cuts, that means every action and line of dialogue by the actors must be meticulously rehearsed and filmed in 'one take' to a level of perfection acceptable by the director. 'It was extraordinary because we began every day with the last shot of the day. One shot per day!' chuckles Egan. 'It put extraordinary demands on the actors because if you blow a line, you've ruined the whole shot! It also put a lot of demands on the steadicam operator, who had to get everything perfect. The actors who had to get the blocking is critical. It was an experiment to see if we could pull it off. It was written by one of our executive producers, Mark Stern.'

Responding to a question on why The Outer Limits succeeded where many other shows have failed, Rosenberg theorized, 'The audience is ready for this kind of stuff. There's been such a plethora of sci-fi shows in the last six or seven years. It certainly has run the gamut, but I think you'll find that the audience has said, 'Okay, we're looking for our next thing.' There's always going to be a core sci-fi audience.

'What's happened in the last several years is the audience has expanded past that corner, which is good for all of us because the core sci-fi audience has grown a bit. The audience, with The X-Files and things like that, has expanded and [because of] all the sci-fi shows that were out there, we rolled with that. One of the reasons this show has been successful, is because its been an anthology. It's something new they can tune in each week. Each episode is a new show and as long as they like the basic genre, they can tune in next week and see a show that's totally different.

'Series television is about falling in love with ongoing characters that you want to invite into your home for dinner. You watch Fraiser week after week because you want to be in the same room as the Crane brothers. That's why anthologies tend to be more of a roll of the dice. Our genre breeds loyalty, as opposed to our characters breeding loyalty.'

With the final episode 'in the can,' The Outer Limits' control over our television sets will be permanently unplugged in August. Conveying the staffers' emotions about the series' impending conclusion, Egan says, 'There's two predominant feelings: one is pride. We're proud of our work. And the other is a simple wistfulness that it's all over. It's bittersweet. No one can take that away from us. We'll take our place in science fiction television history as one of the important shows. It's sad, but all good things must come to an end.'

If there's one certainty, it's that The Outer Limits will continue to be seen in television re-runs and videotapes. The signals of all 132 episodes have been transmitted into space and it is there, in the unknown depths of infinity where it belongs. Perhaps one day intelligent life forms will catch the signals and, they too, will be amazed by the wondrous boundaries of our imagination.

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