Land Of The Lost.
Issue 30 of the British SF media magazine SFX (published October 1997) contains my four page article on the classic American television series Land Of The Lost. The article takes an in-depth look at the series, drawing on recollections from series co-creator Marty Krofft, as well as writer Larry Niven and language consultant Professor Victoria Fromkin. Alas the interviews I conducted for this article were edited to fit space constraints in the published article, and for much the same reason, I had to exclude much material myself, so here for posterity are the complete texts of my conversations with series co-creator Marty Krofft, writer Larry Niven and Professor Victoria Fromkin, who created the Paku language.
Q) How did you make the transition into Television?
A) Well, Hanna Barbera came to us, they had a show they sold to the network called The Banana Splits, and since they were only in animation, they didn't know how to do the characters. So we built the Banana Splits for them, and at the same time NBC and Kellogs kept coming into our factory, and NBC came to us and said, why don't you do your own show? So that's when we created Pufnstuf.
Q) Many of your projects have a fantasy or science fiction angle. Do you have a personal affinity for this particular kind of storytelling, or was this something that just developed by accident?
A) We always worked in fantasy, we just never lived in it. So basically, fantasy was, like because of our puppet shows, a major part of our lives, so it was easy for us to make a transition...... you know we used to put people in suits long before anybody else, so ultimately that's what we started doing, creating these fantasy lands.
Q) So what was the inspiration behind Land Of The Lost?
A) Well, we always had a big interest in Dinosaurs and we were looking to create a situation that kids would like.... put a family together that was missing a wife and a mother and (then) we sent these three people off, and put them in another time and another place, and another world.
Q) You mention an interest in Dinosaurs.
A) Well, most people are interested in Dinosaurs, we were just trying to figure out a way to do something with Dinosaurs, and we hadn't done it before. I don't think there was any great magic to the decision. We were the first ones probably to do them for kids television.
Q) I understand the series was pitched in a rather unusual way, in that you pasted up pictures of dinosaurs from magazines onto a piece of card and took it into the office?
A) We actually did. We did a big research in many magazines and pulled a lot of stuff together.... and we built an opening.... we did it real simple, and showed how this raft would go over the waterfall and wind up in the Land Of The Lost.
Q) There were a good number of science fiction writers working on the first season. What was your impression of the sort of scripts they were turning out?
A) Oh they were great, you know, we had a lot of input from the writers, and I think the writers came up with a lot of terrific ideas.
Q) You didn't think they were perhaps a little too complicated for the intended audience?
A) Well, I think we had to simplify some of their ideas, but I didn't think so, I'd rather have it more complicated to start with and then simple it down a bit.
Q) Do you think it was a loss of detriment to the show that you no longer had these writers for the second season?
A) Well no, because we had already set the pattern for the show, and so I think the show held up pretty good.
Q) How did you come to pick David Gerrold to work with you?
A) Well, I think the Star Trek background was big, he had a real fabulous imagination and he was just very good for this project.
Q) Could you tell me a little about Alan Foshko, who has a co-credit for creating Land Of The Lost?
A) Well, Alan Foshko was a friend of ours for years, and we had him in the development area of the company, and he worked with Sid on some of the creative ideas behind it, and I gave him that credit.
Q) There is a consistently strong moral tone to the episodes I have seen, that nevertheless, and to its credit, never sound preachy, something I think can damage a show if you have what amounts to a moral of the day for every episode.
A) Well if you do that you kill it. The kids know what you're doing. We really didn't do any of that you know, we just had our own morals and we had a family that learned to live with each other under tough conditions.
Q) Is this subtle moral tone a Sid And M" Krofft trademark do you think?
A) I think so. I think this is everything we've done. I think that our stories and the morals we have injected into our shows are just everyday situations, and I think we're responsible in this area and that we always were. The stories meant a lot to us, and then the action followed the story.
Q) Whose idea was the language for the Pakuni?
A) That was the network. They wanted to make sure that we were FCC friendly.
Q) Could you explain the term "FCC friendly."
A) Well the FCC is the Federal Communications Commission, that puts the shows in a category, if they're positive you know, or negative. And we had Professor Fromkin as a consultant and she created this Pakuni language, which seemed to do good with all the kids.
Q) Professor Fromkin suggests you could pick up the Pakuni language by watching from episode to episode. Did you actually see any evidence of this happening in practice?
A) Well let me see, I think she did probably. I don't know that I was that literal. But whatever it was, it worked. I can't fault her. I think she did a good job.
Q) Did you have any great difficulty with censorship?
A) Well, you always do. At networks you have practices and standards. They were looking after the kids for whatever reasons.
Q) But oddly you got away with the Sleeztak using crossbows?
A) Well fantasy type weapons I think were a lot different than using a real gun. An old civil war cannon probably doesn't work, you're not going to be carrying that around. See comments in Larry Niven interview for more on the civil war cannon.
Q) Did the cave set burn down at the end of season 2?
A) Well the cave set burned, but it wasn't in Land Of The Lost, it was in Sigmond And The Sea Monsters.
Q) What happened to all the models from LOTL?
A) We have them all in the warehouse. We have the Sleeztaks, and Enik, who was the Sleeztak with the wisdom, we have Enik still intact.
Q) Certainly it is the case here in the UK that each generation has a defining children's programme that they all remember fondly. Do you think Land Of The Lost has a similar place in the hearts of American children?
A) Oh I think absolutely. I think LOTL is way up there with the kids who have grown up today, just like we have millions of fans who are waiting for the LOTL movie. Land Of The Lost will always be alive.
Q) Was it this popularity which prompted the 1990's relaunch?
A) It was so popular, and so we did another one, and now we've doing the movie.
Q) The new LOTL seems to have lost some of the detail of the original.
A) Well, it's a different concept basically. It was driven by the programme director at the time at ABC, and they didn't want to do the original one. So we re-established... the people were the same breakdown of people, some of the characters were the same, but you're right, the direction was different.
Q) Do you think it's impossible to now make a series like the original LOTL in todays television market?
A) I don't think so, if they gave you the budget.
Q) So the will would be there, as long as the money was?
A) I think so.
Q) The special effects in the original LOTL were very impressive for the time, and in fact stand up quite well when viewed today. Were the effects done by an in-house team connected with Krofft?
A) Well some of them were in-house, and some of them were not. We went to different people who had experience of doing Dinosaurs, and you know, I think we had outside input, we definitely did.
Q) Was it a costly show by the standards of the time?
A) I think it was, I think it was probably the most expensive show for kids at the time.
Q) What were your impressions of the cast and what they contributed to the show?
A) I think they were all well liked, Marshall, Will and Holly, they were remembered. They were definitely believable, and the kids at home were in love with these characters and still remember them today.
Q) Why did Spensor Milligan leave the show at the end of 2nd season. I've seen suggestions that it might have related to his personal life?
A) I don't remember that. I think you know that as it went into the third season, there was some disagreement, and we couldn't afford to pay him what he wanted. He had a commercial career and it was taking up to much of his time.
Q) Are you aware of a Hanna Barbera series called "Valley Of The Dinosaurs, made in I974, that sounds just like Land Of The Lost.
A) I think it came out the same time as we did, and it didn't do as well of course, and it went away.
Q) Do you think it was a conscious attempt to copy you?
A) I'm not sure. Its a good possibility.
Q) How is the LOTL movie going?
A) Well, we're in serious development on it. We're on our third writer and hopefully this guy will get it.
Q) And who would he be?
A) Scott Robinson. He'e just written a movie called Air Reno. And this is an interesting aside. Scott Robinson, in the first meeting I had with him, told me he used to give my daughter dance class.
Q) In closing then, where would you put LOTL in the Sid And Marty Krofft hall fame?
Marty Kroftt, thank you very much.
This interview was conducted by e-mail.
Q) How did you come to write for Land Of The Lost?
A) I wrote my first collaboration with David Gerrold. Not my best, but we enjoyed ourselves a lot, and I learned the first and second laws: you should be trying to impress and out do each other, and you should plan as much as possible. When David Gerrold became Story Editor for LOTL he called some friends in. That's why you see real science fiction writers writing for this show. The first show we did was "Downstream", the dramatic point being that they're on a river that flows in a circle. The river was to be filmed on site. The Land's screwy timeflow would be demonstrated when they meet an 1849er miner with a new, antique Winchester. Then the Powers vetoed the Winchester. David turned the man into a Civil War vet with a new antique cannon. Then they vetoed the river. David started talking about a road with lights under it......and I bowed out. The ideas all started as David's, but by the time I was done the ideas and characters always felt like mine. Then they put the river back in, but now it's blue screen. You see, we SF writers aren't used to all the damned involuntary collaborations. Creative people can't write that way. But David wanted to do two collaborations, to fulfil promises he'd made. What we worked out was this: I'd do the first draft. He'd decide what needed changing (as Story Editor.) Then (as collaborator) he'd change it. And I wouldn't have to watch idiots at work on my precious brain child.
Q) More of a comment than a question, but as I understand the rules of American children's television, there is a restriction on showing characters shooting handguns or rifles. The producer of the animated version of The Planet Of The Apes tells a similar tale to yours, in that the Apes (who of course in the movies are equipped with a profusion of rifles) were not allowed to be shown firing handweapons of any kind. As a result, the makers of the animated series struck on the idea of equipping the apes with Mortars, probably on the assumption that kids (assumed to be liable to imitate what they saw on TV) would hardly have access to that sort of firepower in the family home. Hence you see the apes firing mortars in every conceivable situation, even from the backs of moving trucks. You may have fallen victim to the same restriction, and solution.
A) I was told. Madness. Notice how 20-odd years of TV censorship have decreased the crime rate?
Q) What was your view of SF television at the time? I think you can count on one hand the number of SF shows to utilise real SF writers (Star Trek, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone. LOTL), so with such a team as was assembled for LOTL, did you have a sense that you might be able to do something special in these circumstances?
A) I was a novice. The question was, could I write well enough? If I could contribute something innovative, that would be frosting on the cake. But I wasn't anticipating anything new or clever, either. I was well aware that the _Twilight Zone_ stories were all ripped off from 20-year-old science fiction magazines.
Q) For a children's TV show, LOTL seemed to be striving for rather complex detail as far as the SF content was concerned. In the episode "Circle", which you co-wrote with Gerrold, you show dramatically that the LOTL is a closed universe. The family look through binoculars, and in the distance, view themselves from behind, looking at themselves! Did this splendid detail come from you or Gerrold?
A) From David.
Q) Do you think the Powers at Krofft were supportive of this kind of writing and do you think it was well received by the audience?
A) Yes (because they never hesitated to make changes when they wanted them) and yes.
Q) Nowadays there is a lot of talk about story arcs (Babylon 5 set the trend), so I wonder, do you know if the season was mapped out to any degree, and did Gerrold's story suggestions give you much latitude to add to the background story.
A) Story arcs are complicated, are hard work. David was always prepared for that! His dilemma would have been: could he get his writers to follow? In the comic book universes, and often in TV, the hacks are too stupid. But David dealt with science fiction writers when he could. I'd say he had an arc in mind. But he didn't carve it out with my help. I just followed his lead.
Q) Do you have any particular feelings about Land Of The Lost. The series (or at least the first season) is highly regarded by those who know it. People talk affectionately of the writing, special effects and other efforts to make for a realistic background, such as the creation of a language for the natives. Given all this, do you think it was a good show?
A) It was OFTEN a good show. This sticks in my memory: they were gearing up for a second season. David Gerrold had dropped out, details unknown, and a new story editor awaited me. I waited for him to suggest stories, as David had. And he waited for me! I didn't have any. He.......assumed that was my job, I guess. Normally I can spin stories out of anything. But......I never got a solid background from David. If I don't have roots to lock my toes into, I can't reach as far. I've written in shared fantasies: I've reshaped DC's Green Lantern universe and written a Berserker story and a detective tale starring Shaherazade. But...in fantasy the author makes up the rules. In a shared fantasy, someone has to: maybe several authors together, or maybe one author invites a few friends in. But I can't just walk into a shared fantasy. I have to be pulled in. It was like the guy Harlan Ellison keeps talking about. Telephone voice: "I've got a wonderful idea for a TV series." "What is it?" "Atlantis!" and the fool waits for reactions, as if he's mapped out a complete set of thirteen stories. I'd say LAND OF THE LOST needed David Gerrold.
Q) Since you mention Harlan, there is a slim chance you could confirm the following story. There is an Interview with Mr Ellison conducted many years ago, in which he alludes to a meeting he was called to that very much reminds me of your statement above. He was asked to comment on a one line idea for a show that sounds like Land Of The Lost. The magazine editor suggests it was, but Ellison perhaps contradicts this by saying that the idea for the show came from Larry Harmon, who played Bozo The Clown for many years on US TV. This is at odds with the published credits for LOTL. Any idea if Harlan was approached to work on the show? It certainly seems possible, after all he did work on Star Trek as did David Gerrold. Note from JG: Marty Krofft confirms the article I allude to (in Starlog as it happens) made a completely false assumption. Larry Harmon had a big fat zero to do with LOTL.
A) I have no idea whose idea was the kickoff for LAND OF THE LOST. I do know that Harlan Ellison submitted a story treatment for an LOTL episode. So did other SF writers: I saw a stack of scripts. Was curious enough to leaf through Ellison's. It was impressively concise. The third act was given as, "Then I wrap it all up." There aren't many writers who can get away with that. I don't know if that episode (or most others) was made. Note from JG: There is no record of a Harlan Ellison episode. Perhaps in this case he didn't get away with it!
Q) I find it odd that in reading biographies of yourself, Spinrad and others, that the work you did on Land Of The Lost has been ignored (I've never seen it mentioned), and the show itself largely omitted from histories of SF. In fact very little attention is given to the television work of writers such as yourself, and when I contrast how much science fiction there is on television nowadays with the almost complete lack of recognised SF authors working in TV today, I am struck by the gulf that exists between SF book writers and as Harlan Ellison has argued, a lucrative market?
A) Interesting point. I'll say this much: David seems to have signed off after 13 episodes, and... most of the SF writers who worked on STAR TREK the first year were gone by the second, and.... As regards STAR TREK, I know why. They couldn't take the involuntary collaborations. Norman Spinrad's alien was changed by Gene Rodenberry's secretary! David Gerrold's story, one of the best, saw endless meddling, not because it was needed, but for the same reason monuments sprout graffiti. I speculate that my kind dropped out of LAND OF THE LOST for the same reason. I know I did. It's an attitude, really. I had no problem writing a first draft and then dropping out, as long as I knew in advance that would happen.
Q) You mentioned "we SF writers aren't used to all the damned involuntary collaborations. Creative people can't write that way." but do you think there is something more that maintains this gulf between the two writing disciplines and would you like to see more SF writers working in the field of television?
A) Yes. Like I said, it's an attitude.....partly. Partly it takes time to corrupt TV. THE OUTER LIMIT has at least one dedicated science fiction fan turned pro; he scripted "Inconstant Moon." They've probably got several. Let the field become user-friendly and we'll be back.
Q) Could I confirm my understanding that the only other TV show you have written a script for was the "Known Space" cross-over episode of the animated Star Trek.
Q) Just an aside, but Inconstant Moon was one of the first sf stories I ever read. I have great affection for it, and was delighted to see the Outer Limits do it, and I think, do it very well indeed.
A) Me too!
Q) Finally, are you ever tempted to do television work again, and have you had any interesting approaches you might want to tell me about?
A) It's a set of skills that I don't want to learn. Effort aside, those skills might interfere with those I already have: I would hate to get in the habit of letting actors do most of my characterisation for me.
Thank you Larry Niven.
The following conversation was conducted by e-mail. This first comment from the professor arises from my initial approach to her.
A) I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that interest in Paku remains. Pleased of course. I have little to say about the show itself. They would send me a script and I would translate the designated portions into Paku and that was the extent of my involvement. I tried to develop the language in such a way that children could pick it up if they proceeded from early to late scripts. I understand this actually worked but when the program was presented in reruns the episodes were not shown in the original order so my efforts were in vain.
Q) How did you get involved with LOTL?
A) I got a call from Kroft Productions who asked if I would write a language for their program, and we met, and signed a contract and that was it. -- I was a young, new professor at the time and charged practically nothing. I have learned better since. Have just written another Vampire language for a new movie called BLADE -- a terrible movie and not much Vampire in it but it was fun.
Q) Did you ever use the Paku language in your classes? I could imagine that creating a language from scratch would throw up various interesting problems and discussion points.
A) At the time the show first aired no one knew I had written the language and I had no idea it was a popular program for children. Certainly, my students at that time would not have watched it since they were all college students. But a few years ago I was using some data from Paku in my Linguistics 1 class -- with close to 500 students -- and asked if anyone had ever seen the show. There was a huge response and when the students heard I had written the language I did indeed gain new status. Seems that was more important than my 5 books and over 100 published papers. Oh well -- such is the basis of fame.
Q) What was it like to create a language from scratch, and in simple terms, could you say briefly how you go about doing something like that?
A) Linguistics is the study of the nature of language. One therefore needs to know a lot about the universal set of speech sounds (phonetics and phonology), the structure of words (morphology, the structure of sentences (syntax) and the meanings of words and sentences (semantics). Given what one knows, it is possible to decide what set of sounds the language will have, what rules for combination of meaningful units called morphemes, what the inflectional morphemes are, word order, etc etc. So you write a grammar and construct words. We linguists often do small parts of such languages in writing problems for students to solve. Since I did a lot of work on West African languages, particularly Akan, the major language of Ghana, Paku appears to be in the Kwa family of Bantu languages. Or at least if some linguist 2000 years from now would find excerpts of it, through reconstruction methods they would probably conclude that.
Thank you Professor.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org