40 years ago, Star Wars murdered the most promising sci-fi show of all time
Logan's Run is a cult movie and an even more obscure novel. But what do you know about the TV show?
In a sci-fi world where no one is permitted to live longer than 30 years, you’d think the storytelling possibilities would be pretty limited. By all accounts, the 1976 film Logan’s Run does manage to fully explore and resolve its thrilling concept, but one year later, the Logan’s Run TV show still managed to make a convincing case for its existence.
This strangely compelling and totally underrated retro gem asks a different question about this specific dystopia: What if the premise of Logan’s Run was not the story of Logan’s Run? 40 years ago — on September 16, 1977 — the TV version of Logan’s Run had more sci-fi writing cred than most new TV shows have today. So what went wrong?
The success of Star Wars created a lot of problems for other sci-fi TV and film of the late 1970s. Because Star Wars was overwhelmingly praised for its visual effects, a subtle but relevant backlash emerged in sci-fi discourse: who cares about good special effects anyway?
When you read a 1977 interview with the Logan’s Run TV show producers, you’ll find an annoyance with the Star Wars comparisons isn’t subtext. It’s just text. After Logan’s Run was canceled in early 1978, one of the stars of the series, Heather Menzies (who played Jessica 6) also blamed Star Wars for the untimely end. As she said in 2017, “I think they needed to spend more money on the visuals. Star Wars came out around that time and we couldn’t really compete with that.”
In that same issue of Starlog, the series stars — Gregory Harrison and Heather Menzies — rock the front cover with the headline: “Logan’s Run: This Season’s Most Exciting TV Series.” When you take into consideration the recycled film costumes and footage found in this series, you might find yourself scoffing at such a claim. How could serious sci-fi journalists in 1977 get this show so wrong? It looks so bad!
But from a writing perspective, the Logan’s Run series is actually amazing. The script editor was D.C. Fontana — famous for her work on Star Trek — and several scripts and stories of the show were written by other massively talented science fiction authors, including David Gerrold, Harlan Ellison, and John Meredyth Lucas. The pilot was co-written by novelist William F. Nolan, co-author of the original book, while the show was produced by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who had created the smash-hit Charlie’s Angels the year before.
Does any of this come through in the series? If you're patient and can see beyond the low-budget production values, the answer is a big yes. Logan’s Run the series is almost nothing like the film. The movie’s central problem of a society where people are murdered at 30 years old is essentially just a backdrop for more interesting story-of-the-week sci-fi plots.
Mostly, Logan 5 and Jessica 6 roam a post-apocalyptic Earth. Each week, they encounter a different sci-fi puzzle that feels like their own Black Mirror or Twilight Zone story. They encounter straight-up aliens in the second episode (“The Collectors”). In the fifth episode (“Man Out of Time”), a time traveler from the past tries to prevent their future altogether.
Each episode contains enough material for an entire mid-range sci-fi series today. “Half-Life” imagines a frightening future caste system, while “Crypt” explores the dangers of unfreezing humans kept in cryogenic sleep for too long.
In the film version of Logan’s Run, the familiar sci-fi trope of a perfect society keeping a deadly secret was the entire story. But in the TV show, the writers assumed the audience was a little smarter than that. Logan questions the system and becomes a runner within the first five minutes of Episode 1.
Watching Logan’s Run now, all you can see is wasted potential. Gregory Harrison is okay as Logan but he lacks the charismatic star power of other ‘70s sci-fi stars — like, say, Dirk Benedict, who later played Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica. Later, Heather Menzies revealed that Benedict did, in fact, audition for the part of Logan, and one can only wonder how that would have turned out if he had gotten the role.
Logan’s Run is not a perfect sci-fi TV series. It may not even be a great one. But it is much better than it gets credit for. Battlestar Galactica would go on to be reimagined as one of the best sci-fi shows ever in 2003. Why not Logan’s Run next? If some magic wand could be waved, and this series could be remade with modern production values but the same rich sense of story, that show would be an instant sci-fi classic, reborn from the ashes of a series nobody remembered in the first place.