The GODS of Cult TV

Selected from Cult Times Special #15

Who are the Top 40 most influential people of all time in the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television? In this issue, Cult Times counts down a hand-picked Top 40 that includes such diverse figures as Sydney Newman, Stephen Spielberg, South Park's Parker & Stone, David Lynch, Red Dwarf's Grant/Naylor and Irwin Allen.

We're not revealing the rankings here, except to say that Sam Raimi, Rod Serling and Gerry Anderson are all within the Top Ten. As for Gene Roddenberry, Chris Carter and Joss Whedon... well, that would be telling.

Feature by John Binns

 

SAM RAIMI

 

Co-executive producer of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994), Xena: Warrior Princess (1995), Jack of All Trades and Cleopatra 2525 (both 2000)

Forget comparing Stargate and Star Trek: Sam Raimi’s family of series for Renaissance Films is the closest we’ve got to a new Trek-style franchise (albeit on a far smaller scale). Since Hercules broke the shackles of his five TV movies we’ve had five seasons of him, five and counting of spin-off Xena, and animated movies of both. ‘Amazon High’ was an aborted series idea (though footage of it was used in Xena episode Lifeblood). Instead we got amiable Bruce Campbell vehicle Jack of All Trades and the not-so-amiable, indeed aggressively sexy Cleopatra 2525.

With a Little Help from
Fellow executive producer Rob Tapert – incidentally husband of the warrior princess herself, Lucy Lawless.

Also Responsible for
The seminal Evil Dead films, which made the name of Jack of All Trades star Bruce Campbell. Raimi was also the executive producer of American Gothic, created by Shaun Cassidy, and he co-created short-lived superhero series MANTIS (with Sam Hamm, developed by Bryce Zabel) in 1994.

Xena - brought to you in part by Sam Raimi

Originality **
Both Hercules and Xena borrow from mythology and more modern genres, but inventively shake up the pieces and put them back in a different order.

Influence ***
When Sci-Fi was in danger of taking itself too seriously, Raimi’s series arguably encouraged others to have a bit more of a laugh with their ideas.

Breadth of Appeal ***
Xena in particular took on well with the general public, especially those taken with the stirring image of Lucy Lawless in a basque.

God-like Status **½
Half God, half mortal.

 

ROD SERLING

 

Creator of The Twilight Zone (1959)

Though there are one or two British names in our top 40 who predate him, Serling has the honour of being the earliest American creator on the list – which may go some way towards explaining why he’s considered so influential over there.

Over here, despite being shown relentlessly on Sci-Fi, the original Twilight Zone is lucky to get a terrestrial showing outside of an ITV region’s graveyard shift, which is a crying shame. In terms of sheer storytelling flair, almost all of them are excellent plays.

Part of their genius, and their secret, is the fact that (until the last season) they had to be told in under 25 minutes – enough time to set up a premise, give it a little twist, and turn metaphorically to the audience to say, “Aah! Do you see?” Which is, surely, a lot harder than it sounds.

With a Little Help from
Fellow script-writers Charles Beaumount and Richard Matheson. Between the three of them, they wrote the vast majority of the series’ five-year run.

Also Responsible for
Conceiving, hosting and writing plenty of episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in the early Seventies, an anthology series that focused mainly on Horror and the supernatural.

The Twilight Zone, and in the Nick of Time too!

Originality *****
Serling actually dared to tell us that we had neglected to notice a fifth dimension – “a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind”. Creating a whole dimension surely deserves some credit...

Influence ****
In the US, it’s a sign of good breeding for a script-writer to cite The Twilight Zone as an influence. In the UK, it’s more likely to be a sign that they stay up late.

Breadth of Appeal ***½
In 1998 mainstream US magazine Entertainment Weekly named The Twilight Zone as the most important SF film/TV creation of all time, which shows at least that their editorial team liked it.

God-like Status ***½
Supreme being of the Fifth Dimension.

 

GERRY ANDERSON

 

Creator of the Supermarionation series, including Supercar (1960), Fireball XL5 (1962), Stingray (1963), Thunderbirds (1964), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967), Joe 90 (1968); plus UFO (1969), Space: 1999 (1975), and Space Precinct (1994)

Anderson’s puppet series succeeded mainly by combining a few winning elements: amazing gadgets, super-villains, gimmicky-named organizations, square-jawed heroes, glamorous women, and geeky geniuses. By 1970 Anderson had shaken most of those obsessions and substituted some crazy ideas, like the Moon breaking out of Earth’s orbit and travelling the Galaxy.

With a Little Help from
His then-wife Sylvia Anderson, who is often credited as co-creator. She also provided voices, including Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds.

Also Responsible for
The Secret Service, a misguided attempt to mix puppetry, live action and Professor Stanley Unwin in 1969; and Terrahawks, a no-strings-attached return to puppetry in 1983.

Steve Zodiac and Venus from Fireball XL5

Originality ****
Anderson coined the term Supermarionation in 1961. The idea was so good he used it again and again.

Influence ****
Kick-started the boys’ SF adventure stories genre, picked up by the likes of Irwin Allen and Glen A Larson.

Breadth of Appeal ***½
Repeats proved the shows still attract young audiences.

God-like Status ****½
The World’s Puppeteer.