I’m becoming more and more intrigued in watching The Orville, Seth McFarlane’s sci-fi comedy-drama homage to Star Trek. Yeah, I know, people who watch The Orville are frustrated Trekkors who think that the new Star Trek: Discovery is a Trek show that lost its way, and that The Orville is the Galaxy Quest TV series we deserve.
Okay, enough of the meta.
Because last night’s episode of The Orville – entitled “If The Stars Should Appear” seemed to me, rather familiar.
Almost TOO familiar.
To the point where a certain Hollywood sci-fi writer should be contacting his legal team.
In last night’s episode, Captain Ed Mercer (McFarlane) and his away team discover a gigantic spaceship. They investigate, and discover that the spaceship is actually a bioship, a structure designed to save an entire population by transporting them to a new planet.
See, this week’s plotline of The Orville involves that bioship. Over time, the inhabitants of the bioship, through generations of life cycles, completely forgot they were on a ship, and thought that they were living on their own planet. However, the engines on the bioship were damaged, and the ship itself is on a collision course with a star. And it’s up to the crew of The Orville to find the engines and fix them, and hopefully direct the bioship to a new home – despite residents of the bioship fighting against any notion that they’re on a spaceship of any kind at all.
That’s inspired writing, isn’t it? It really is.
Because that was the sci-fi TV show Harlan Ellison wrote 40 years ago.
And if you ask me “Who’s Harlan Ellison,” I will hit you with a rock.
Harlan Ellison is one of our greatest living science fiction and fantasy writers. His short stories are classics like “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Tick-Tock Man,” “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” and “A Boy and His Dog,” the latter of which became a popular 1975 movie. He was also the author of the greatest Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever” – you know, the one where Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock go back in time and meet Joan Collins … yes, that episode.
Suffice it to say that Harlan Ellison is a screenwriting genius, with amazing stories written both under his real name and his pen name, Cordwainer Bird.
And it was under the “Cordwainer Bird” pseudonym that he created the 1973 sci-fi TV series The Starlost.
The Starlost‘s plotline is of a giant space ark, carrying the inhabitants of a dying Earth. Over time, the inhabitants of the bioship, through generations of life cycles, completely forgot they were on a ship, and thought that they were living on their own planet. However, the engines on the bioship were damaged, and the ship itself is on a collision course with a star. And it’s up to three members of the ark ship to find the engines and fix them, and hopefully direct the bioship to a new home – despite residents of the bioship fighting against any notion that they’re on a spaceship of any kind at all.
The Starlost lasted for half a year – approximately 16 episodes – before it was cancelled. And unless you’re a hardcore sci-fi fan, you probably never even knew there was such a TV show in existence.
Well, at least until now.
Now granted, I was looking at the credits for The Orville‘s episode last night, wondering if Harlan Ellison had simply rewritten his original series pitch as an Orville episode. Nope.
Which menas, at some point in time, if Harlan Ellison discovers this episode exists …
There’s going to be a lawsuit.
James Cameron knows this.
See, the credits for Terminator 2: Judgement Day had to be altered to credit Harlan Ellison, in that several themes from the sci-fi classic were too close to two stories Ellison wrote for the 1960’s TV show The Outer Limits, “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand.”
Yep, the idea of a time-traveling robot that was built to kill / save those in the past to protect the future… Ellison wrote that 50 years ago for a TV anthology drama. And he was able to get a screenwriter credit on Terminator 2: Judgment Day because of those similarities.
In other words … Do not piss off Harlan Ellison. He will sue. And he will eventually win.
So to the writing team of The Orville – be careful about where you’re pulling your sci-fi episodes. Because last night’s episode ventured TOO CLOSE to something that was previously crafted.
Or you’ll receive a call from Harlan Ellison’s legal team on line 3.
Just sayin’ is all…