There are always more ideas out there than the material world can reasonably be expected to support; and, in the United States, 'prime time' television seasonally suffers a glut of good and bad ideas in the form of new series. Many never get off the starting block, producing nothing more than a single pilot programme that vanishes into oblivion 1. Some series manage to survive for a single season and others wither before that, leaving a sense of what might have been possible without much hope of resolution.
One such concept was Automan, a novel series that failed to hit the mark and ran far short of a full season. Automan was written and produced by Glen A Larson, who brought to the screen such timeless masterpieces as Knight Rider, featuring David Hasselhof and a talking Pontiac Trans Am sports car called KITT2. Larson is probably best known as the creator of Battlestar Galactica.
Walter Nebicher is a frustrated member of the Los Angeles Police Force. While he'd love to be out on the streets fighting crime head on, he's stuck behind a computer doing a job that nobody (especially his boss, Captain Boyd) appears to appreciate. Seeking to find a means to resolve this frustration, Walter creates Automan, a three-dimensional holographic computer construct that looks just like a human being... apart from the fact that he can walk through walls, create things like cars and helicopters in an instant, and consumes more electricity than a kettle factory.
Automan is a computerized vigilante, capable of chasing down the criminals that Walter and the whole Los Angeles Police Department can't. He's accompanied by a flying companion called Cursor, who creates the various vehicles and tools that he uses to fight crime. Being computer generated he has the ability to interact with other computer controlled mechanisms, such as traffic lights. His existence consumes a massive amount of electrical energy, so he can only function effectively at night, when local energy consumption is low3. During the day, robbed of peak power potential, he would fade away.
The gimmick for the show was the computer generated aspect, achieved in a fashion similar to Disney's Tron. Automan himself was dressed from neck to toe in a black body suit with glowing blue lines running along the limbs and outlining the torso. Within the lines the black panels featured a 'moving' blue speckled effect to suggest the computer generated nature of Automan's existence.
The theme was continued in Automan's vehicles, the most used vehicles being the Autocar and the Autocopter which were, again, black with glowing blue highlights. The vehicles came into existence from nothing, building through a line drawing effect, and creating a skeletal model before solid form was achieved. The resulting vehicles were always considerably enhanced (faster, stronger, more agile, etc), providing criminals very little chance of escape... unless the Sun came up and the power supply died. The Autocar was capable of astonishingly tight turns.
The Main Cast
- Desi Arnaz Jr as Walter Nebicher
- Chuck Wagner as Automan
- Robert Lansing as Lt Jack Curtis
- Heather McNair as Roxanne Caldwell
- Gerald O'Loughlin as Captain Boyd
The show ran for a total of 13 televised episodes.
- Automan - 90 minute Pilot, 15 December 1983
- Staying Alive while Running a High Flashdance - 22 Dec 1983
- The Great Pretender - 29 December, 1983
- Ships in the Night - 5 January, 1984
- Unreasonable Fascimile - 12 January, 1984
- Flashes and Ashes - 19 January, 1984
- The Biggest Game in the Town - 26 January, 1984
- Renegade Run - 5 March, 1984
- Murder MTV - 12 March, 1984
- Murder, Take One - 19 March, 1984
- Zippers - 26 March, 1984
- Death By Design - 2 April, 1984
- Club Ten - 9 April, 1984
The episodes aired approximately six months later in the United Kingdom.
There are always possibilities, even for those programmes that appear to have been long laid to rest. While the chances of a new series are limited, there is still life to be found in nostalgia channels on cable/satellite, video, and fan-driven websites. The series has already aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and there has been a recent increase in the number of 'classic' TV favourites being resurrected to video, either as one-off tasters or complete releases.