It wasn’t the promise of time travel, the manly leads, or the effects-filled promos that got us excited about the debut of The Time Tunnel in the 1966 fall season. No, all we needed to see was “Created and Produced by Irwin Allen.” Those were magic words to a sci-fi-crazed kid in the mid-60’s, the official stamp of approval of the man who brought us Lost in Space and Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea. And of course, time travel, manly leads and special effects were a nice bonus.
Scientists Tony Newman and Doug Phillips didn’t set out to become heroes; they just wanted to build a secret government machine that would send human beings to any point in the past or future. Dubbed the “Time Tunnel,” the project worked, but not perfectly. Tony and Doug were forced to enter the Time Tunnel before it was fully tested, and they soon found themselves helplessly thrown from one era to the next, moving backwards and forwards through the space-time continuum but unable to return to the present.
On any given episode, Tony and Doug might find themselves aboard the ill-fated Titanic (the scene for the pilot episode), rocketing to outer space, defending the Alamo, joining forces with Robin Hood, battling off ancient Barbarians, and meeting everyone from Billy the Kid to Marie Antoinette. No matter where they went, you could be assured there would be plenty of exciting danger, and usually a bare-knuckle brawl (yes!).
Watching somewhat helplessly from the Time Tunnel’s underground lab in the present day were General Heywood Kirk and scientists Dr. Ann MacGregor and Dr. Raymond Swain. The folks at the home fort could do little to get Tony and Doug back to their own time, but since the Time Tunnel let them keep an eye on the proceedings, they were sometimes able to lend a helping hand or twist a helping dial.
The Time Tunnel had an ample supply of 20th Century Fox stock footage for its historical backgrounds, but even with that film library, the show was very expensive. When ratings weren’t up to the cost, ABC pulled the plug on The Time Tunnel after its debut season. But take heart, little Irwin Allen junkies. The big guy came right back in 1968 with Land of the Giants, carrying on with the effects-laden sci-fi wows.
USA / ABC – Twentieth Century Fox / 30×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 9 September 1966 – 1 September 1967
Creator/Executive Producer: Irwin Allen / Music: Johnny Williams
JAMES DARREN as Dr Tony Newman
ROBERT COLBERT as Dr Doug Phillips
LEE MERIWEATHER as Dr Ann Macgregor
JOHN ZAREMBA as Dr Raymond Swain
WHIT BISSELL as Lt gen Heywood Kirk