Space Patrol is a science fiction adventure, aimed at juvenile audiences of the early 1950s via television, radio, and comic books.
Title card from the episode “The Energy Thief”, original air date September 13, 1950
The Space Patrol television show began as a 15-minute show on a local (Los Angeles) station on March 9, 1950. On December 30, 1950, a half-hour show was added on Saturdays on ABC (while the 15-minute show continued daily locally, and was seen via kinescope in a few other cities). A 1953 30-minute episode was the subject of the first US experimental 3D-TV broadcast on April 29 in Los Angeles on ABC affiliate KECA-TV.
Space Patrol aired continuously until July 2, 1954; after a short break, it reappeared on September 4, 1954, and it finally disappeared from the air on February 26, 1955. 210 half-hour shows were made, and close to 900 15-minute shows over Space Patrol’s 5-year run.
The stories followed the 30th-century adventures of Commander Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer) of the United Planets Space Patrol and his young improbably-named sidekick Cadet Happy (Lyn Osborn) as they faced nefarious interplanetary villains with diabolical schemes. Not surprisingly for the time, some of these villains had Russian- or German-sounding accents. Cmdr. Corry and his allies were aided by such nifty gadgets as “miniature space-o-phones” and “atomolights.” Episodes had such pulp-magazine titles as “Revolt of the Space Rats” and “The Menace of Planet X.”
The special effects used in the live half-hour TV episodes had to be performed in real time. For example, pistols that shot invisible rays necessitated pre-positioning a small explosive charge on the wall. An actor would point the prop at that spot, whereupon a special effects worker would throw a detonation switch. These effects could not have been superimposed on film for the series was done live. For distribution to distant stations, an image of a tiny bright TV monitor was filmed to make kinescopes, and most of the Saturday half-hour TV broadcasts are available in this form today. The 15-minutes-every-weekday version of the program was at first seen mainly in the Los Angeles viewing area, but also was later distributed nationwide via kinescopes; it was not carried by ABC-TV but was presented in syndication.
The show played directly to children, and each episode shamelessly merchandised various toys and mail-order premiums tied into the series during their commercial breaks. Even the ads for corporate sponsor Chex cereals used the show’s space opera motif in their pitches. A unique feature of the TV and radio adventures was that the premium of the month was often worked intricately into the action of the live adventures.
Many if not all of the 30-minute TV episodes are also currently available in various video formats.
The success of the TV show spawned a radio version, which ran for 129 episodes from October 1952 to March 1955. The same cast of actors performed on both shows. The writers, scripts, adventures and director were quite similar between the radio and TV incarnations. Although there was never any deliberate crossing-over of storylines, TV villains showed up on the radio (notably Prince Bacarratti), and during the Planet X story arc both TV and radio explored the rogue planet.
While the series lacked the adult sophistication of such shows as X Minus One (which focused on adapting short fiction by notable genre names as Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury), Space Patrol was enjoyed as the sort of Golden Age space opera popularized in the 1930s, the days of science fiction’s infancy, by pioneering magazine editor Hugo Gernsback, and it is prized by OTR collectors today as one of radio’s most enjoyable adventures.
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