Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #37: "In Search Of" with Leonard Nimoy

In case you hadn't noticed lately, cable TV network schedules are brimming with monsters, mysteries, aliens, UFOs, bigfoots, historical conundrums and everything else fantastical that might or might not exist or have existed on Earth.  TV audiences' perpetual interest in these kinds of esoteric anomalies is nothing new, and one of the most fondly recalled series in this genre is the syndicated half-hour In Search Of which premiered in 1977.  Veteran producer/writer/creator Alan Landsburg drew upon his years of documentary television experience with shows such as The March of Time, National Geographic specials and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau to fashion this modestly budgeted but extremely effective, impeccably produced look into the unusual.

Landsburg dipped his toe into the real-life mystery genre several years before the debut of In Search Of with a quartet of specials about Ancient Astronauts, a subject that still lives on in glorious style with H2's Ancient Aliens series hosted by the enthusiastic Giorgio Tsoukalos.  Three of these were hosted/narrated by Twilight Zone and Night Gallery creator Rod Serling, a perfect choice to lend an air of erudite intensity and credibility to these out-of-this-world subjects. When the decision was made to create a weekly series with similar material, Serling was the first choice but unfortunately had passed away in 1975.

The decision to bring in former Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy was a brilliant one.  The original Star Trek series at the time was enjoying an unprecedented (in all of TV history) renaissance thanks to syndicated reruns; the first big screen motion picture wouldn't come out until 1979. Nimoy's fine reputation playing the brilliant Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock played into both the weirdness of In Search Of and also into the sense that the show would treat these subjects with seriousness and respect, which it did.  Nimoy was never less than convincing, curious, involved and absolutely the perfect choice to present this material.  His intelligent presence was the fascinating firmament which gave In Search Of its lasting pop culture gravitas.

The original unforgettable opening and closing theme segments feature Nimoy's terrific narration and set the stage for the unusual delights to come:

144 episodes over five years, a respectable output and more than respectable entertainment legacy for both Mr. Landsburg and also for Leonard Nimoy.  I wasn't a kid when these shows came on, but those who were often report that In Search Of had a deep influence on them, simultaneously frightening them and also opening up their minds to the wonders of the universe.  Click here for one account, and here's another guy's report of his Bigfoot fear fueled by ISO, and finally one here from a man who loved the show. The rest of us just thought it was immensely interesting and entertaining, often food for thought and a not-to-be-missed treat.

After it left local TV syndication In Search Of was picked up by the A&E cable networks who reworked the iconic theme song and deleted the Nimoy visual segments -- bah and just plain stupid; they made the show and were restored for a run on History Channel. (In the early 2000s there was a short revival on the Sci Fi network starring The X Files actor Mitch Pileggi.)

Let's take a look at a few example of the wide variety of segments covered on In Search Of. Some of these have the original theme, some are from other runs with less Nimoy and different theme, but at least the Nimoy narration is there --

How about the Kennedy Assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald:

How about the Ogopogo lake monster?:

The Tunguska Incident in Russia:

For the Biblically inclined, Noah's Ark:

Of course, here's Bigfoot:

The unsolved disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller -- this episode was always one of my favorites, seemed quite tragic for all concerned:

And Leonard Nimoy's own interest in the history of artist Vincent Van Vogh and his brother Theo brought this half-hour:

In addition to the previously mentioned productions, Alan Landsburg was also responsible for the extremely popular That's Incredible! series from the early 1980s as well as a string of popular TV movies like Adam (about the Adam Walsh murder whose aftermath led to John Walsh and America's Most Wanted), Bill (with Mickey Rooney as a mentally challenged man), The Jayne Mansfield Story (starring Loni Anderson & Arnold Schwarznegger), The Ryan White Story (about the young boy who contracted AIDS) and so many others.

Alan Landsburg passed away on August 13th of this year at the age of 81.  Read about his distinguished career by clicking here, here, and here. Renowned cryptozoologist Loren Coleman (he worked on the show with Landsburg) gives a thoughtful personal recollection here. Landsburg was also very involved in thoroughbred racing; read that world's farewell to him hereLeonard Nimoy continues to enjoy a special place in the hearts of all Star Trek fans for his portrayal of Spock and also for his thoughtful and artistic impulses which have enriched the world at large.

The entire In Search Of series and specials has been released in a complete DVD set which is sold on Amazon, among other venues.  (This set seems to restore the original theme and all Nimoy content which is exactly the way it should be seen.)

Literally all the "unexplained mystery" genre programs on TV today owe their existence to In Search Of.  The series' legacy and spirit of exploration and adventure is alive and well today after forty years!

I was at this NATPE but missed visiting the suite!

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