Saturday, October 25, 2014

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (known simply as One Step Beyond in syndication) was an anthology that explored the paranormal, focusing on events that seemed to defy rational explanation. Over the course of its run, various episodes of One Step Beyond featured such things as premonitions, clairvoyance, ghosts, astral projection, parallel universes, and so on. While Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond covered some rather fantastic subject matter, the episodes were claimed to be based on true events.

Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond was the creation of writer Merwyn Gerard. Mr. Gerard had a long career in radio, having written for such shows as The Whistler, Suspense, Escape, and Night Beat, before moving into television where he wrote episodes of such programmes as Robert Montgomery Presents and M Squad. Mr. Gerard's original idea was that of an imaginative anthology that would rotate each week between fantasy, horror, tales of the paranormal, and science fiction. Originally titled Imagination, it was later retitled Fantasy. Merwyn Gerard brought Collier Young in as the line producer on the show.

Mr. Young had been married to director and film star Ida Lupino, and had worked with her on such films as Never Fear (1949), Outrage (1950), Hard, Fast, and Beautiful (1951), and The Bigamist (1953). On television he had created the show Mr. Adams and Eve. He also brought Larry Marcus onto the show as a writer. Mr. Marcus had written on such films as The Red Dress (1954) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and for such TV shows as Four Star Playhouse, M Squad, and Wagon Train. As a director on the show and its host Merwyn Gerard brought in John Newland. As a director Mr. Newland had directed episodes of Robert Montgomery Presents, The Thin Man, and The Loretta Young Show, as well as the films That Night (1957) and The Violators (1957). As an actor he had appeared in the films and on such TV shows as Studio One, Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow, Kraft Theatre, and Robert Montgomery Presents.

In the end Messrs. Gerard, Young, Marcus, and Newland disposed of the idea of a show that would rotate between fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and science fiction. Quite simply, there had already been horror anthologies (Lights Out) and science fiction anthologies (Tales of Tomorrow), and they wanted to do something that had never been done. Given that except for the short lived quiz programme E.S.P. (hosted by Vincent Price) there had been no programme focused on psychic phenomena, the four of them decided they would produce a show that centred on paranormal events. They further decided that their prospective show would be based on fact. That is, each episode would be based on something that had actually happened. The episodes then unfolded as docu-dramas, with John Newland offering evidence as to the events portrayed in the episodes at their end. This naturally set One Step Beyond apart from the horror and science fiction anthologies that had preceded it.

The pilot for One Step Beyond, "The Bride Possessed," was written by Merwyn Gerard and directed by John Newland. It cost $30,000, a respectable amount for a television pilot at the time. Once the pilot was completed, the production team set about trying to sell it to a sponsor. In the end aluminium producer Alcoa Inc. agreed to sponsor the show for an entire season. As a result it would receive the name it would bear throughout its network run, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond. Alcoa was one of the major television sponsors of the era, and had already sponsored The Alcoa Hour (which ran from 1955 to 1957) and Alcoa Theatre, whose run overlapped with One Step Beyond (Alcoa Theatre ran from 1957 to 1960). Ultimately Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond would prove moderately successful. It debuted on 20 January 1959 and ran for a total of 95 episodes (nearly three seasons) until 4 July 1961.

Following its initial network run, reruns of One Step Beyond would be syndicated until well into the Eighties. In fact, it proved to be successful enough in syndication that a new version, The Next Step Beyond, was produced for first run syndication in 1978. Unfortunately, it would not prove as successful as the original, only running for one season (25 episodes). As to the original series, it would be run on the Sci-Fi Channel in the Nineties and has since been released on DVD.

In many ways One Step Beyond was a pioneering television show. It as the first scripted series to deal with the paranormal.  It was the forerunner of such shows as The Sixth Sense, The X-Files, Medium, The Ghost Whisperer, and Haven. Indeed, in some respects it could even be considered an indirect ancestor of various reality shows dealing with the paranormal that filled cable channels in the Naughts.

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