The Outer Limits (1963 TV series)

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The Outer Limits
Title card
Created by Leslie Stevens
Directed by László Benedek
Abner Biberman
John Brahm
John Erman
Felix Feist
Robert Florey
James Goldstone
Charles F. Haas
Byron Haskin
Leonard Horn
Gerd Oswald
Paul Stanley
Leslie Stevens
Narrated by Vic Perrin (Control Voice)
Opening theme Dominic Frontiere (1963–64)
Harry Lubin (1964–65)
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes49 (list of episodes)
Executive producerLeslie Stevens
Producers Joseph Stefano (1963–64)
Ben Brady (1964–65)
Cinematography Conrad Hall, John M. Nickolaus, Kenneth Peach
Running time51 minutes
Production companiesDaystar Productions
Villa DiStefano Productions
United Artists Television
Distributor United Artists Television
Original network ABC
Picture format Black-and-white 4:3
Audio format Mono
Original releaseSeptember 16, 1963 (1963-09-16) 
January 16, 1965 (1965-01-16)

The Outer Limits is an American television series that was broadcast on ABC from September 16, 1963 to January 16, 1965 at 7:30 PM Eastern Time on Mondays. The series is often compared to The Twilight Zone , but with a greater emphasis on science fiction stories (rather than stories of fantasy or the supernatural matters). The Outer Limits is an anthology of self-contained episodes, sometimes with a plot twist at the end.


The series was revived in 1995, 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]

As of April 2019, a new revival was stated to be in the works at a premium cable network. [2]

Series overview


Each show would begin with either a cold open or a preview clip, followed by a narration spoken over visuals of an oscilloscope. Using an Orwellian theme of taking over your television, the earliest 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.

A similar but shorter monologue caps each episode:

We now return control of your television set to you, until next week at this same time, when the Control Voice will take you to... The Outer Limits.

Later episodes used one of two shortened versions of the introduction. The first few episodes began simply with the title screen followed by the narration and no cold open or preview clip. The Control Voice was performed by actor Vic Perrin.

Production information

James Shigeta and John Anderson (in Ebonite costume) in the episode "Nightmare" (1963) Outer Limits Nightmare 1963.jpg
James Shigeta and John Anderson (in Ebonite costume) in the episode "Nightmare" (1963)

The Outer Limits was originally broadcast on the American television network ABC (1963–65). In total, 49 episodes were produced. 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 unaired pilot, the series was called Please Stand By, but ABC rejected that title (NBC would later approve the title for their 1979 comedy series). 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 the film Psycho ), who was the Season 1 producer and creative guiding force. Stefano wrote more episodes of the show than any other writer. Future Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne ( Chinatown ) wrote "The Chameleon", which was the final episode filmed for Season 1. Two especially notable Season 2 episodes "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier" were written by Harlan Ellison, with the former episode winning a Writers' Guild Award. The former was for several years the only episode of The Outer Limits available on LaserDisc.

Season 1 combined science fiction and horror, while Season 2 was more focused on 'hard science fiction' stories, dropping the recurring "scary monster" motif of Season 1. Each show in Season 1 was to have a monster or creature as a critical part of the story line. Season 1 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 Season 2 when Stefano left (two Season 1 episodes without a "bear" are "The Forms of Things Unknown" and "Controlled Experiment", the first of which was shot in a dual format as science fiction 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. It was the only comedic episode of The Outer Limits). [3]

Earlier Season 1 episodes with no "bear" were "The Hundred Days of the Dragon" and "The Borderland" made before the "bear" convention was established. Season 2 episodes with a "bear" are "Keeper of the Purple Twilight", "The Duplicate Man", and "The Probe". "Bears" appear near the conclusion of the Season 2 episodes "Counterweight", "The Invisible Enemy", and "Cold Hands, Warm Heart".) The "bear" in "The Architects of Fear", the monstrously altered Allen 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, effectively censoring most of the show's last act. In other parts of the United States, the "Thetan" footage was tape-delayed until after the 11pm/10c news. In others, it was not shown at all.

The series was shot at KTTV (Metromedia Square) on sound stage # 2. Season 1 had music by Dominic Frontiere, who doubled as Production Executive; Season 2 featured music by Harry Lubin, with a variation of his Fear theme for One Step Beyond being heard over the end titles.[ citation needed ]


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 program'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 of the creatures that appeared in Outer Limits episodes have been sold as models or action figures in the 1990s and 2000s. A variety in limited editions have been 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]

Reception and reputation

The series earned a very loyal audience in the first season. It was so devoted, some people were reported to take a TV set with them if they had to be away from home, so they would not miss an episode (as home video recording did not yet exist). However, the second season fared rather poorly in the Nielsen ratings after moving from Monday to Saturday night, going against Jackie Gleason. Producer Joseph Stefano chose to leave the show after the first year; he realized that competing against the more popular Gleason would kill his show (proven by its cancellation midway through the second season). However, the series retained a following for many years after its original broadcast. Many decades later, horror writer Stephen King called it "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV."

Originally scheduled to air on November 25, 1963, the episode "Nightmare" was delayed until December 2 due to television coverage of the state funeral of President John F. Kennedy.

Comparison to The Twilight Zone

Like The Twilight Zone , The Outer Limits had an opening and closing narration in almost every episode. 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"), 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.

However, there is some common ground between certain episodes of the two shows. As Schow and 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". [6]


Influence on Star Trek

A few of the monsters reappeared in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series later in the 1960s. The moving microbe beast in "The Probe" was later modified and used as the 'Horta' in "The Devil in the Dark", and operated by the same actor, Janos Prohaska. The "ion storm" seen in "The Mutant" (a projector beam shining through a container containing glitter in liquid suspension) became the transporter effect in Star Trek. The black mask from "The Duplicate Man", is used by the character Dr. Leighton in "The Conscience of the King". The Megasoid, from "The Duplicate Man" and the Empyrean from "Second Chance" (1964) were seen briefly near Captain Christopher Pike in other cages in the Star Trek pilot "The Cage".

The process used to make pointed ears for David McCallum in "The Sixth Finger" was reused in Star Trek as well. Lead actors who would later appear in the regular cast of Star Trek included Leonard Nimoy, who appeared in two episodes ("Production and Decay of Strange Particles" and "I, Robot") and William Shatner who appeared (in the episode "Cold Hands, Warm Heart") as an astronaut working on a Project Vulcan. Actors who would subsequently appear in the regular supporting cast of Star Trek were Grace Lee Whitney (episode "Controlled Experiment") and James Doohan (episode "Expanding Human"). 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. [7] Additionally, Michael Ansara, who appeared in the episode "Soldier", would guest-star as the Klingon commander Kang in the original and spin-off series.

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. There was a gag order as well." [8]

Film adaptation projects

Filmmaker Kevin Smith has stated that, before offering him the chance to write Superman Lives in 1996, Warner Brothers offered him two projects: a remake of The Architects of Fear and Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian . [9] On June 20, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was developing a film version of The Outer Limits based on the "Demon with a Glass Hand" episode, with Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill writing and Mark Victor producing. [10] On April 1, 2019, "Variety" reported that a new reboot is in the works at a premium cable network. [11]

Pop Culture

Steve Streeter published The Outer Limits Newsletter from 1978 to 1983. [12] Streeter also founded the Outer Limits Fan Club in 1978. [13]

Lyrics to the title song of the 1989 film UHF , written by and starring "Weird Al" Yankovic, references The Outer Limits' cold-open narration:

Don't you know that we control the horizontal
We control the vertical, too


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
1 32September 16, 1963 (1963-09-16)May 4, 1964 (1964-05-04)
2 17September 19, 1964 (1964-09-19)January 16, 1965 (1965-01-16)

Home media

VHS release

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

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 box set featuring all 49 episodes of the series. The re-releases of Season 2 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 nameEpisodesRegion 1 Release dateRegion 2 Release date
Season 132September 3, 2002July 11, 2005
Season 217September 2, 2003July 25, 2005
The Complete Series49October 21, 2008

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.

Blu-ray release

On 27 March 2018, Kino Lorber released the first season on Blu-ray. [14] The 7-disc set contains the 32 episodes of the first season. The second season was released 20 November 2018, but the episode "Soldier" has audio defects. A replacement disc was sent out from Kino in April 2019. [15]

On Jun 24, 2020, Australia's Via Vision Entertainment released "The Outer Limits: Complete Original Series Collector's Edition" 11-disc Blu-ray set. It's coded for region B and comes in a hard box case with a 60-page Illustrated booklet, with essays by leading Outer Limits expert and author David J. Schow.


See also

Similar TV series

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  2. Otterson, Joe (April 1, 2019). "'The Twilight Zone' Rides TV Horror Anthology Wave". Variety. Retrieved November 7, 2019.
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  7. The Outer Limits Official Companion, Schow & Frentzen, p. 361.
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