In March, 1977, not long after my 11th birthday, I received a newsletter from Lincoln Enterprises announcing the pilot premiere of Spectre, an occult-themed thriller starring Robert Culp and created by Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry.
I was instantly obsessed.
Debuting on Saturday, May 21, Spectre aired from 9-11pm to low numbers. It was not picked up by NBC and the pilot was cast into the morass of late night horror movie rotation.
I caught it every now and then,even managed to video tape three-fourths of it so I could watch at my leisure, which I did until the tape wore out sometime in the early 90s.
Spectre admittedly suffered from shoddy production values, and some of the lore is a bit wonky, but I dare say you’d be hard pressed to find a better occult detective film in spirit.
Culp’s William Sebastian is everything you could want from a paranormal investigator. He is a world famous criminologist for starters, but he is also a tortured soul. A confrontation with Asmodeus himself left Sebastian physically and spiritually scarred, forcing him to dedicate his life to occult research and to battling the forces of evil wherever they might arise.
Robert Culp was always a solid actor and his approach toward portraying William Sebastian gave the character both an air of intellectualism and a vulnerability that is hard to pull off.
The pilot had a terrific cast that included Gig Young as Sebastian’s best friend and colleague, Dr. Hamilton, Majel Barret as his housekeeper Lilith, and a young John Hurt as Mitri Cyon.
There are a number of reason’s the pilot failed to find an audience. I suspect most of America was busy watching Starsky & Hutch or All in the Family instead, but ultimately, I don’t think the numbers were bad enough for NBC to pass on Spectre.
I suspect it had more to do with fear.
While Spectre is rather tame by today’s standards, in 1977, the pilot was more than a little titillating, with sexual roleplay on display and a couple of mass orgies filling Middle America’s TV screens.
Spectre had more than a passing resemblance to Eyes Wide Shut at times and that was probably a bit much for network executives.
Whatever the reason, Spectre didn’t make the cut and more’s the pity. If any show deserved revisiting, with modern sensibilities and production values, it’s this one.
I tried to contact the Roddenberry Estate regarding the franchise’s availability, but alas, their lawyers ignored my pleas. And so, Spectre remains relegated to a distant memory, late night movie fodder, and youtube viewings.
Even the novelization, which is a cracking good read by Robert Weverka, is long out of print and hard to find.
William Sebastian deserves better. I still hold out hope that one day the Roddenberry Estate will allow new life to be breathed into Spectre, no matter the medium.