11 out-of-this-world facts about 'The Outer Limits'

Caution: One of these images was deemed too scary for 1960s TV.

Along with Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits is part of the holy trinity of 1960s television sci-fi. Though, it is easily the most overlooked of the three.

Which is strange, considering its pedigree. The 1963 show ran for just two seasons, yet featured the work of the most talented cinematographers, special effects gurus, fantasy writers and actors of the day. The anthology series is often compared to (and confused with) The Twilight Zone, but there are some key differences.

For starters, The Outer Limits episodes were all one-hour long. While Rod Serling's creation could slip into moments of whimsy and comedy, The Outer Limits largely stuck to unsettling monsters and hard science fiction. 

Half a century later, The Outer Limits will still send a chill up your spine and dazzle you with its craft. Let's take a look at some fascinating facts about this influential TV show.

1. It's original title was 'Please Stand By'

That name was scrapped, as the network featured audiences would mistake the opening credits as an emergency broadcast of interruption of service — especially considering the images of test patterns in the intro. This was the Cold War, after all, and Americans were on edge.

2. Award-winning writers penned the scripts.

Great television shows begin with great writers, and The Outer Limits had a legendary stable. Robert Towne, who nabbed an Oscar for his Chinatown script, wrote "The Chameleon." Genre master Harlan Ellison contributed a couple brilliant teleplays. Series producer Joseph Stefano wrote more episodes than anyone. He had just come off writing the Psycho screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock.

3. One episode was censored for being too frightening.

"The Architects of Fear" features a particularly gruesome beast, the monstrously altered form of Allen Leighton (Robert Culp). Some ABC affiliates found the creature so disturbing, they opted to insert a blank black screen instead of the "Thetan." In other markets, footage of the Thetan was held back until after the 11 o'clock news. Of course, today it's not so scary, right?

4. The series also utilized one of Hollywood's greatest cinematographers.

Members of the International Cinematographers Guild named Conrad Hall one of the top ten cinematographers in history. He lensed everything from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to American Beauty (winning Oscars for both, by the way). You can also ogle his beautiful work in 15 episodes of The Outer Limits — including "The Architects of Fear."

5. Many monsters were recycled on 'Star Trek.'

After The Outer Limits ended in 1965, many of the cast and crew went on to work for Star Trek. And that includes some of the fantastic monsters. The massive "microbe beast" seen in the final episode, "The Probe," went on to become the Horta in "The Devil in the Dark." That's him pictured here. A couple Outer Limits creatures can be spotted in cages in the pilot episode "The Cage." Oh, and the technique used to make the pointy ears in "The Sixth Finger" would go to great use in Star Trek.

6. Shatner and Nimoy appeared on 'The Outer Limits,' too.

Before they became Spock and Kirk, these two icons worked in separate episodes, "I, Robots" and "Cold Hands, Warm Heart," respectively. James Doohan also starred in an episode ("Expanding Human").

7. 'The Terminator' was sued for plagiarism of the episode "Soldier."

See if this plot sounds familiar. A soldier from a dystopian future — "a future where men are machines born to kill" — is sent through time, arriving on a city street in an electrical storm. He is followed by his enemy, another killer from the future. Harlan Ellison won a Writers' Guild Award for "Soldier," the season-two premiere. Two decades later, when he saw The Terminator, Ellison would file a lawsuit against the film's studio, Orion Pictures. Director James Cameron conceded the influence, and Ellison was awarded money and credit on the movie.

8. The network foolishly moved the show to a new time slot in season two.

The show was a hit with young audiences in its first season. However, ABC moved the series to Saturday evening as the lead in to The Lawrence Welk Show. Talk about a generation gap. The opposition, Jackie Gleason and his American Scene Magazine, drubbed The Outer Limits in the ratings. Kids want to be out on a Saturday night. The show was canceled midway through season two.

9. The monsters were referred to as "The Bear."

In the parlance of the production, the creatures were called "the Bear." Most of the episodes feature a "Bear" of some sort. Just something to keep in mind if you want to discuss the show and sound like an expert.

10. Some episodes were filmed at interesting homes.

You likely recognize the iconic Chemosphere house in the hills above Los Angeles. The UFO-like home has turned up on dozens of Hollywood productions. However, The Outer Limits was first screen production to feature the architectural marvel, built in 1960. Look for it in "The Duplicate Man." Additionally, some episodes were filmed in producers Joseph Stefano's home, glamorously named Villa De Stefano.

11. A 1990s revival of the series ran for seven seasons.

Showtime revived the series in 1995. The reboot had a far more fruitful run, lasting through 2002, on both the pay cable channel and Syfy (then called the Sci-Fi Channel). Leonard Nimoy even appeared in the remake of his original episode, "I, Robot."


Comedians and sitcom stars turned up in these eerie tales. TAKE THE QUIZ

Enjoy even more classic shows on-air! Find where to watch MeTV in Washington, DC