The Outer Limits (1963 TV series)

The Outer Limits (1963 TV series)
The Outer Limits (1963)
Opening titles – 1960s
Opening title screen
Genre Science fiction
Format Anthology series
Created by Leslie Stevens
Narrated by Vic Perrin (Control Voice)
Opening theme Dominic Frontiere (1963-64)
Harry Lubin (1964-65)
Composer(s) Dominic Frontiere (1963-64)
Harry Lubin (1964-65)
Country of origin  United States
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 49 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Leslie Stevens
Producer(s) Joseph Stefano (1963-64)
Ben Brady (1964-65)
Cinematography Conrad Hall, John M. Nickolaus, Kenneth Peach
Running time 51 min.
Production company(s) Daystar Productions
Villa DiStefano
United Artists Television
Original channel ABC
Picture format Black-and-white 4:3
Audio format Mono
Original run September 16, 1963 – January 16, 1965

The Outer Limits is an American television series that aired on ABC from 1963 to 1965. The series is similar in style to the earlier The Twilight Zone, but with a greater emphasis on science fiction, rather than fantasy stories. The Outer Limits is an anthology of discrete story episodes, sometimes with a plot twist at the end.

The series was revived in 1995, airing on Showtime from 1995–1999, then on Sci-Fi Channel from 1999 until its cancellation in 2002. In 1997, the episode "The Zanti Misfits" was ranked #98 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[1]

All 49 episodes of the original series are available on Hulu.


Series overview


Each show would begin with either a cold open or a preview clip, followed by a "Control Voice" narration that was played over visuals of an oscilloscope. The earlier and longer version of the narration ran as follows.

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.
 — Opening narration  – The Control Voice  – 1960s

Later episodes used one of two shortened versions of this introduction. The first few episodes began simply with the title screen followed by the narration and no cold open or preview clip.

Production information

The Outer Limits originally was broadcast from 1963 to 1965 on the U.S. television broadcasting network ABC; in total, 49 episodes. It was one of many series influenced by The Twilight Zone and Science Fiction Theatre, though it ultimately proved influential in its own right. In the un-aired pilot, the series was called Please Stand By, but ABC rejected that title. Series creator Leslie Stevens retitled it The Outer Limits. With a few changes, the pilot aired as the premiere episode, "The Galaxy Being".

Writers for The Outer Limits included creator Stevens and Joseph Stefano (screenwriter of Hitchcock's Psycho), who was the series' first-season producer and creative guiding force. Stefano wrote more episodes than any other writer for the show. Future Oscar winning screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) would write "The Chameleon", which was also the final episode filmed for the first season. Two especially notable second-season episodes "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier" were written by Harlan Ellison, with the latter episode winning a Writers' Guild Award. The former was for several years the only episode of The Outer Limits available on laser-disc.

The first season combined science-fiction and horror, while the second season was more focused on 'hard' science-fiction stories, dropping the recurring "scary monster" motif of the first season. Each show in the first season was to have a monster or creature as a critical part of the story line. First-season writer and producer Joseph Stefano believed that this element was necessary to provide fear, suspense, or at least a center for plot development. This kind of story element became known as "the bear". This device was, however, mostly dropped in the second season when Stefano left. (Two first-season episodes without a 'bear' are "Forms of Things Unknown" and "Controlled Experiment" the first of which was shot in a dual format as SF for The Outer Limits and as a Thriller for a pilot for an unmade series The Unknown. Actor Barry Morse who starred in "Controlled Experiment" states that this episode also was made as a pilot for an unrealized science-fiction comedy series.[2] It is the only comic episode of The Outer Limits. Earlier Season 1 episodes with no 'bear' were "The Hundred Days of the Dragon" and "The Borderland" made before the 'bear' convention was established. Second season episodes with a 'bear' are "Keeper of the Purple Twilight", "The Duplicate Man", and "The Probe". Bears appear near the conclusion of second season episodes "Counterweight", "The Invisible Enemy", and "Cold Hands, Warm Heart".)

The 'bear' in "The Architects of Fear", the monstrously-altered Alan Leighton, was judged by some of ABC's local affiliate stations to be so frightening that they broadcast a black screen during the 'Thetan's' appearances, which in effect censored most of the shows last act. In other parts of the US the 'thetan' footage was tape delayed until after the 11 o'clock news. In still others, it was not shown at all. (Unlike today where all film series are transferred to VT for transmission, from the 1950s to about the mid-1980s all film series were broadcast directly off the film print via telecine.)

The show's first season had distinctive music by Dominic Frontiere, who doubled as Production Executive; the second season featured music by Harry Lubin, with a variation of his Fear theme for One Step Beyond being heard over the end titles.

Comparison to The Twilight Zone

Like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits had an opening and closing narration in almost every episode, by the "Control Voice" (Vic Perrin). Both shows were unusually philosophical for science-fiction anthology series, but differed in style. The Twilight Zone stories were often like parables, employing whimsy (such as the Buster Keaton time-travel episode "Once Upon a Time") or irony, or extraordinary problem-solving situations (such as the episode "The Arrival"). The Outer Limits was usually a straight action-and-suspense show which often had the human spirit in confrontation with dark existential forces from within or without, such as in the alien abduction episode "A Feasibility Study" or the alien possession story "The Invisibles". As well, The Outer Limits was known for its moody, textured look in many episodes (especially those directed by Byron Haskin or Gerd Oswald, or photographed by Conrad Hall) whereas The Twilight Zone tended to be shot more conventionally—although there are, of course, notable exceptions to these rules of thumb on both series.

However, there is some common ground between certain episodes of the two shows. As Schow & Frentzen, the authors of The Outer Limits: The Official Companion, have noted, several Outer Limits episodes are often misremembered by casual fans as having been Twilight Zone episodes, notably such "problem solving" episodes as "Fun and Games" or "The Premonition".[3]


The program sometimes made use of techniques (lighting, camerawork, even make-up) associated with film noir or German Expressionism (see for example, "Corpus Earthling"), and a number of episodes were noteworthy for their sheer eeriness. Credit for this is often given to the cinematographer Conrad Hall, who went on to win three Academy Awards (and many more nominations) for his work in motion pictures. However, Hall worked only on alternate episodes of this TV series during the first two-thirds of the first season. The programs's other cinematographers included John M. Nickolaus and Kenneth Peach.

Special effects

The various monsters and creatures from the first season and most props were developed by a loose-knit group organized under the name Project Unlimited. Members of the group included Wah Chang, Gene Warren and Jim Danforth. Makeup was executed by Fred B. Phillips along with John Chambers.

Characters and Models

Many creatures that appeared on 1960s Outer Limits episodes have in the 1990s or 2000s been sold as models or action figures, a large variety in limited editions as model kits to be assembled and painted by the purchaser issued by Dimensional Designs, and a smaller set of out-of-the-box action figures sold in larger quantity by Sideshow Toys. The former produced a model kit of The Megasoid from "The Duplicate Man",[4] and both created a figure of Gwyllm as an evolved man from "The Sixth Finger".[5]

Influence on Star Trek

A few of the monsters reappeared in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series later in the 1960s. A prop head from "Fun and Games" was used in Star Trek to make a Talosian appear as a vicious creature. The moving microbe beast in "The Probe" later was used as the 'Horta' in "The Devil in the Dark", and operated by the same actor (Janos Prohaska). The process used to make pointed ears for David McCallum in "The Sixth Finger" was reused in Star Trek as well. The 'ion storm' seen in "The Mutant" (a projector beam shining through a container containing glitter in liquid suspension) became the transporter effect in Trek. The black mask from "The Duplicate Man", is used by the character Dr. Leighton in "The Conscience of the King". The Megazoid, from The Duplicate Man, was seen briefly near Captain Christopher Pike in the first Star Trek pilot "The Cage".

Actors who would later appear in Star Trek included Leonard Nimoy who appeared in two episodes ("Production and Decay of Strange Particles" and "I, Robot") and William Shatner appeared (in the episode "Cold Hands, Warm Heart") as an astronaut working on a Project Vulcan. Other actors who subsequently appeared in Star Trek were James Doohan in a supporting role as a policeman in "Expanding Human", and Grace Lee Whitney in the episode "Controlled Experiment".

Gene Roddenberry was often present in the Outer Limits' studios, and hired several of its staff, among them Robert Justman and Wah Chang for the production of Star Trek.[6]

Lawsuit on behalf of Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison contended that inspiration for James Cameron's Terminator had come in part from Ellison's work on The Outer Limits. Cameron conceded the influence. Ellison was awarded money and an end-credits mention in The Terminator (1984), stating the creators' wish "to acknowledge the works of Harlan Ellison". Cameron was against Orion's decision and was told that if he did not agree with the settlement, they would have Cameron pay for any damages if Orion lost Ellison's suit. Cameron replied that he "had no choice but to agree with the settlement. Of course there was a gag order as well, so I couldn't tell this story, but now I frankly don't care. It's the truth. Harlan Ellison is a parasite who can kiss my ass."[7]


The series fared rather poorly in the Nielsen ratings at the time of initial broadcast (as reflected in its cancellation after only 1 and 1/2 seasons) in comparison to the more popular Twilight Zone series. However, the series was well liked by those who did watch it. Many decades later, revered horror writer Stephen King called it "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV."

In a 2002 review of the original series, Mark Holcomb wrote that The Twilight Zone and Star Trek were more popular in part because they played things more safely than The Outer Limits, choosing to "never stray far from the rationalism that drives most American entertainment". Holcomb writes:

Their [referring to The Twilight Zone and Star Trek] human characters are fallible, impulsive creatures uniquely adept at screwing up, but every emotion, relationship and deeply held conviction they display remains in place at the end of virtually every episode. However comforting this may have been, it tended to refute the everyday experience of the viewing audience.

The Outer Limits wouldn't, or couldn't, cater to such needs. Stevens and Stefano had something much less conciliatory in mind for their show, and thus set it squarely in a universe ruled by labyrinthine pressures and transient pleasures, where meaning and morality were in constant flux and human beings fought desperately — sometimes heroically – to keep pace. This starkly recognizable yet distinctly off-kilter milieu made The Outer Limits television's most unabashedly modernist work.[8]

DVD releases

MGM Home Entertainment has released both seasons of The Outer Limits on DVD in Region 1. In 2007, they re-released the series in three separate sets. In October 2008, MGM released a 7-disc boxset featuring all 49 episodes of the series. The re-releases of the second season correctly claim three discs in the set on the outer packaging, whereas the individual slim cases with the DVDs inside rather confusingly claim only two.

DVD name Episodes R1 Release date R2 Release date
Season 1 32 September 3, 2002 July 11, 2005
Season 2 17 September 2, 2003 July 25, 2005
The Complete Series 49 October 21, 2008 -

The DVDs include a revised version of the original intro, heard over the episode menus:

There is nothing wrong with your DVD player. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling your DVD player. We already control the horizontal and the vertical. We now control the digital. We can change the focus from a soft blur to crystal clarity. Sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.

VHS releases

A "platinum" version of the MGM/UA Library brand product of the video series was released.

See also

Similar series


  1. ^ "Special Collectors' Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28-July 4). 1997. 
  2. ^ Barry Morse's autobiography "Pulling Faces, Making Noises: A Life on Stage, Screen & Radio" p. 196
  3. ^ David J. Schow and Jeffrey Frentzen, The Official Outer Limits Companion, Ace Books, New York, 1986, pages 3 and 350.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Outer Limits Official Companion, Schow & Frentzen, p.361.
  7. ^ The Futurist: The Life and Times of James Cameron (Kindle location 885)
  8. ^

External links

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