Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Time Express

Short-lived TV series fascinate me.  Having some idea of what is involved in just getting a TV series commissioned, let alone actually getting it on air, it must be crushing for those involved when it doesn't get recommissioned after a single series.  But at least, under those circumstances, the makers would have seen a reasonable number of episodes air.  Far worse must be those instances where a series is pulled only a few episodes into a run.  Sometimes this results in unaired episodes being rescheduled to a graveyard slot, shunted to another. lesser, network or, worst of all, shelved indefinitely.  Even worse are those situations where networks executives must have made a decision to cancel a series more or less as soon as it has started its run. 

Such a scenario seems to have befallen the 1979 US TV series Time Express, of which only four episodes, including the pilot, were ever made.  The format was very similar to the much more successful Fantasy Island, with Vincent Price using his time-travelling train to take the various guest stars back to key moments in their lives in order to set right wrongs, repair relationships and all the other things people used to do on 1970s network television. Quite why Fantasy Island was a long-running success whilst Time Express was axed before it ever really started is a mystery.  I can only assume that it had disastrously poor ratings from the off.  Maybe Vincent Price was the problem - audiences tended to associate him with camp horror which might have given them false expectations for Time Express.  Whatever the reason, and despite the star power of Vincent Price and Coral Brown (although they only tended to appear at the beginning and end of the episodes), the series ground to a halt after four episodes.  But that didn't stop it turning up on UK TV, with the BBC showing all four episodes, of which I recall seeing at least one.  I can only assume that they acquired the episodes as part of a package deal for other, more popular, series from the same producers and decided that they might as well screen them.  If I remember rightly, they showed them late in the evening, after the news.  I don't recall them ever being repeated.

Despite being used as a short-term schedule-filler by the BBC, something about Time Express lingered in my memory.  Over the years I forgot any of the details of the series, even the title - I misremembered it as 'Time Train' - but the image of Price and his train remained somewhere in the back of my mind.  These memories were stirred last year when PQ Ribber started talking about Supertrain, a contemporaneous US TV series which lasted a bit longer, (US TV networks clearly had trains on the brain in the late seventies), on his Quequaversal Satellite podcast.  Then, quite by chance, earlier this year the title sequence turned up in the 'suggested videos' column on You Tube when I was watching something completely unconnected.  Watching said title sequence was itself like travelling back in time with its typically seventies TV theme music and roster of guest stars (not to mention special guest stars) who were familiar TV faces in 1979 but are mostly forgotten now.  So there you have it, another TV memory.  Maybe Time Express isn't worth remembering, bearing in mind its meagre run.  Certainly nobody has tried to hail it as a lost TV classic or proposed 'reimagining' it for cable TV.   But somebody thought it a good enough idea to pitch to a network and some executive there clearly thought it could be a hit as they commissioned it for a series.  Who knows, there might be a parallel universe where it was a ten season success whereas Fantasy Island didn't get past a pilot. 



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