Doing Westworld on the small screen is nothing new. Has the current version learned the mistakes of Westworld’s first venture into television?
An incredibly short-lived and obscure offshoot of the 1973 Michael Crichton movie Westworld, Beyond Westworld could just as easily have been made with no references whatsoever to the Crichton story. The only real connecting tissue between movies (if one is also countung the less-well-regarded 1976 big-screen sequel Futureworld) and series is that there are robots nearly indistinguishable from humans, and they’re made by an outfit known as Delos. In the movie, Delos is the multi-faceted robotic amusement park that goes awry, but in TV terms, Delos seems to be a corporate entity with almost limitless government security clearance.
None of the movie characters are seen or mentioned in Beyond Westworld; Delos security chief John Moore and renegade Delos roboticist Simon Quaid are invented strictly for television, and the closest the TV series comes to acknowledging any specific movie character is a somewhat-lookalike robot gunfighter, played by an actor whose chiseled features only slightly resemble those of Yul Brynner. And more specifically, the robot POV shots and the depictions of the robot technology are more closely linked to other TV entities – i.e. the recurring Fembots faced by The Bionic Woman – than they resemble anything from Westworld.
The series format, based on Crichton’s movie, was devised by writer/producer Lou Shaw, already a winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for a 1978 Quincy M.E. episode he had co-written. Shaw was a producer on that show and McCloud prior to being tasked with reviving Westworld as a TV property. Helping Shaw oversee the actual production of the series was Fred Freiberger (1915-2003), who had been the producer in charge of Star Trek’s final season (1968-69) and the second and final season of Space: 1999 – both much-loved shows on which Freiberger aroused fan ire by instituting changes both small and wide-reaching. With Beyond Westworld, Freiberger was in on the ground floor from the show’s inception, for good or ill. This series would be one of his final writing or producing credits.
The stars of the series all had brighter futures ahead of them; Jim McMullan, barely allowed to turn in anything more compelling than a robotic performance himself, would go on to co-star in Dallas, while Connie Sellecca would graduate to The Greatest American Hero. Veteran actor James Wainwright (1938–1999) was a fixture of American TV, guest starring in countless shows from the late ’60s through his retirement in 1990. William Jordan, who had moved on to this show upon completing work on the NBC series Project UFO, also continued his guest-starring career into the 21st century.
Beyond Westworld was scheduled to lead into CBS’ Wednesday Night Movie in March 1980, where it premiered as a mid-season replacement, but even without extensive material documenting the making of the series, it would seem there were problems from the outset. Only five hour-long episodes (including the pilot, which had a different female lead) were produced by MGM, and only three of those were aired by CBS before the series was pulled off the schedule. Beyond Westworld’s problems may have been creative or budgetary, but in either case, they ensured that the robots of Delos had a very limited shelf life. The series was only issued on DVD during the build-up to HBO’s completely unrelated revival of the Westworld concept.
Westworld remained in the past until HBO revealed plans to launch a J.J. Abrams-produced television reboot in 2014. But even with the impressive creative credentials on display among the makers of the new Westworld, it too had its own behind-the-scenes struggles. Whether it’s the fault of robots or humans, nothing’s easy in Westworld.