Was There an Unaired Episode of Planet of the Apes?

This isn’t a particularly huge mystery by any means but there does seem to be some confusion as to whether or not all 14 episodes of Planet of the Apes were broadcast in 1974 on CBS. The live-action series, which starred Roddy McDowall, Ron Harper and James Naughton, premiered on Friday, September 13th, 1974 and was off the air by the end of December. Harper and Naughton played Alan Virdon and Pete Burke, respectively, astronauts flung far into the future into a world populated by apes who find themselves fugitives. McDowall, who appeared in four of the five Planet of the Apes movies, played a chimpanzee named Galen who befriended the humans. The episode that some sources, including the 2001 DVD release, say was unaired is called “The Liberator” and saw Virdon and Burke captured by a village of humans.

The sources that state “The Liberator” was never aired say that another episode, “Up Above the World So High,” was broadcast on Friday, December 6th and was the last first-run episode to air. Other sources insist that “The Liberator” aired on December 6th and “Up Above the World So High” on December 20th. Here’s what weekly and daily television listings from a variety of newspapers have to say:

  • Weekly listings published on Sunday, December 1st indicate that “Up Above the World So High” was scheduled for Friday, December 6th. Daily listings confirm this.
  • Weekly listings published on Sunday, December 8th indicate that Planet of the Apes would be pre-empted on Friday, December 13th for holiday specials. Daily listings confirm this.
  • Weekly listings published on Sunday, December 15th indicate that “Up Above the World So High” was scheduled for Friday, December 20th. Daily listings confirm this.
  • Weekly listings published on Sunday, December 22nd indicate that the premiere episode, “Escape from Tomorrow,” was repeated on Friday, December 27th. Daily listings confirm this.

Based on this information, it seems that “Up Above the World So High” was supposed to air on Friday, December 6th but for some reason was not shown until Friday, December 20th. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing what actually aired on Friday, December 6th looking only at printed television listings. It could have been replaced by “The Liberator” or it may have been pre-empted entirely. Short of checking the logs of a CBS affiliate or the network itself, or perhaps a diary entry recounting what someone watched on the evening of December 6th, I can’t think of any other way to confirm what CBS broadcast on December 6th. In this case, television listings are simply not enough to go on.

3 Comments

  • DuMont says:

    I love it! A genuine, bona-fide unaired episode controversy. And for a series that matters, too!

    My records also indicate that the episode “The Liberator” remained unaired, and the 20th-Television DVD release is correct in stating so.

    I seem to remember that CBS played around with the ordering of the episodes, which differed from the production order, and upset the flow of the somewhat serialized journey-styled storytelling. CBS probably did this at the behest of Mr. Fred Silverman, who was renowned for proffering strong opinions on the worthiness of particular episodes of series. For some reason, “The Liberator” might have been held back from its earlier intended airing (it was the 7th episode filmed) for a myriad of reasons (weak script, lack of promotable guest stars).

    This first ‘pre-emption’ would have been from late October, when CBS was still trying to salvage the series. Then, for whatever reasons, CBS held back the 6th and the 7th filmed episodes, and ultimately skedded them both for airing (burn-off), post-cancellation and post-November Sweep.

    But then, for some reason, CBS either yanked “The Liberator” and substituted “Up Above the World So High” (the final filmed episode) for airing on Friday December 6th. Or, there was some rush special (a big news event?) on December 6th that caused a pre-emption of “The Liberator”, with “Up Above the World So High” airing as planned on December 20th.

    I’ll sleuth through my 1974-75 season ratings files to see if I can determine whether fresh or encore episodes aired on those three dates, or were subject to pre-emptions (which might have been sustaining news specials?), to help resolve this mystery. ‘Planet of the Apes’ averaged 14.8HH for the season, but I do remember the numbers showed steady erosion from good preem numbers and were considerably lower in December than September.

  • Studio73 says:

    The same “lost episode” text also appears on the packaging of the UK (and other international versions?) of the DVD release despite the fact that the ITV network ran the series several times in the 1970s (and it also aired on other channels more recently) and there is no evidence that any episodes were held back (although ITV’s federal structure may have meant that individual episodes might have been pre-empted in individual regions).

    I assume the text from the US edition was carried over with no thought.

  • DuMont says:

    I’ve come up with some more information that clarifies the mystery somewhat.

    When ‘Planet of the Apes’ debuted on CBS in the fall of 1974, it carried high expectations, especially from ad agencies that predicted it was a sure-fire hit that would average a 35% share. When it made its debut on Friday September 13th, it performed under expectations with a 18.4HH/32%, coming second to NBC’s combo of ‘Sanford & Son’/’Chico & the Man’. That was the highest Nielsen the show ever garnered, and it never even approached the 35.2HH/60% share that the PLANET OF THE APES theatrical garnered for CBS a year earlier on September 14, 1973.

    From debut, the ratings eroded each coming week, showing no upward bounce. The 3 originals in September averaged 16.8HH, the 4 originals in October averaged 15.3HH, the 5 originals in November averaged 14.8HH, and the 1 original/2 encores in December averaged 12.2HH.

    My ratings data indicates that ‘Planet of the Apes’ was original on December 6th, but encores on December 20th and 27th. What I suspect happened is that CBS substituted “Up Above The World So High” for the originally skedded “The Liberator” on Friday December 6th, probably in the belief that it was a stronger episode and seeking a better lead-in for its edition of ‘The CBS Friday Movies': THE CAREY TREATMENT. I think CBS intended to save “The Liberators” for showing in January, and that is why encores were skedded during the two final weeks of December (a low-HUT time of year).

    Flash back to mid November 1974. This particular fall, CBS dithered much longer than the other nets in confirming their cancellations and back nine orders. By November 18th, they had cancelled only ‘Sons & Daughters’ (which got cancelled October 14th), and they had strung along until mid-November the producers of five series that were still on the “bubble” for their back nine orders: ‘Barnaby Jones’, ‘Manhunter’, ‘Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers’, ‘Apple’s Way’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’. In the weeks leading up to their mid-season sked announcement, there were rumors on Madison Ave that CBS was contemplating swapping time periods for ‘Planet of the Apes’ (Fridays at 8 pm) with ‘Apple’s Way’ (Sundays at 7:30-8:30 pm) in an effort to save both series.

    Around this time, a new mid-season option surfaced. Back in September, CBS had commissioned Miss Cher Bono for a special during the winter 1974-75 season that would serve as a test pilot for a 1975-76 series. When CBS saw the early sneaks of the special, they fast-tracked it to series for debut in February, and decided to sked it Sundays at 7:30 pm (the same timeslot where ‘The Sonny Comedy Revue’ had failed that fall). So that ruled out Sundays for ‘Planet of the Apes’.

    Staying on Friday nights had become problematic because ABC had revised its line-up in late October, moving ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ from 8:30-9:30 pm to 8-9 pm in direct competition with ‘Planet of the Apes’, and in the first head-to-heads, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ was beating ‘Planet of the Apes’ for second place.

    To give itself time while it dithered, CBS had already given script and additional episode orders to its “bubble” series…’Planet of the Apes’ had been given an order for a half-dozen additional scripts, and had started production on at least a few of them (“Up Above The World So High” would have been the first episode of a planned back nine).

    However, CBS was now without a timeslot for ‘Planet of the Apes’, a series for which it was paying a reported $225K licence fee to 20th-Fox, who were no doubt deficit financing the series to a big extent (with its Oddyssey-like story making large use of exteriors and tricky futuristic sets). So on November 18th or 19th, they stopped production on ‘Planet of the Apes’, but they didn’t have a replacement series immediately identified so the time period was labelled TBA in their mid-season announcement. Subsequently, CBS would announce that a detective series ‘Khan’ would get the time period, but that wouldn’t be ready until February, so CBS said that they would fill the timeslot in December and January with the remaining ‘Planet of the Apes’ episodes and specials.

    What ultimately torpedoed ‘Planet of the Apes’ airing that final episode “The Liberator” were the awful ratings the series suffered in December. The December 6th original garnered a 12.5HH, and then the two encores got 12.1HH and 12.0HH. There was concern that ‘Planet of the Apes’ as a lead-in was killing ‘The CBS Friday Movies’ (and it was), so a decision was made to go all-specials in January until ‘Khan’ was ready.

    And that is why ‘The Liberator’ never aired on broadcast in the United States. One unaired episode wasn’t enough to bother with a summer season burn-off, and those encore ratings probably scared CBS off of any further airings of ‘Planet of the Apes’.

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