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Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Ezekiel saw the wheel. This is the wheel he said he saw. These are unidentified flying objects that people say they are seeing now. Are they proof that we are being visited by civilizations from other stars? Or just what are they? The United States Air Force began an investigation of this high strangeness in a search for the truth. What you are about to see is part of that 20-year search." 

 Project: U.F.O. aired for two 13-episode seasons on NBC, in 1978 and '79. Produced by Dragnet creator Jack Webb, the show exploited, like Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the high interest in U.F.O.s among the general public in the 70s. But, being a Jack Webb production, it hewed to the Dragnet (and Adam-12) formula, of straight-forward, matter-of-fact dramatizations of allegedly "true" cases of U.FO. sightings and extraterrestrial encounters.

In each episode, two officers of the United States Air Force - in the first season, Major Jake Gatlin (William Jordan) and Staff Sergeant harry Fitz (Caskey Swaim), in Year 2, the Gatlin character was replaced by Captain Ben Ryan (Edward Winter) - would investigate  two or three alleged sightings and encounters (all supposedly based on the Air Force's "Project Blue Book" files), which would be dramatized for the audience. This called for a huge number of miniature spaceship models (created by Brick Price), as well as some imaginative alien creations... and some less-than-imaginative ones; this is another 70s genre show (Ark II, Space Academy, Mork & Mindy) that rented out Bill Malone's Robby the Robot replica for an episode.

 My memories of the show are somewhat vague; I do recall watching it every week, although I was mostly interested in seeing all the cool spaceship models. Because they had several "encounters" to dramatize each week, the show went through more spaceship designs than any other TV show of its era, except maybe Space: 1999.  I suspect that it was the cost of all these special effects sequences that led NBC to cancel it once the ratings began to dip.

Other problems were that the main characters were given virtually no depth of personality, and there was no humor on the show to speak of. Everything was presented dryly and straight-faced, and while some of the dramatizations were genuinely creepy, the show's format required that the investigators ended up explaining a way a certain percentage of the sightings as hoaxes or mistakes.  While this may have reflected the Air Force's actual Blue Book findings, I think viewers might have been turned off by that. I know that I preferred it on the few occasions when they decided they couldn't just dismiss a U.F.O. event with some dull, mundane explanation. I wanted those aliens to be real!

Anyway, I haven't seen Project: U.F.O. in years, so I have no idea how the show holds up - if at all. I'd like to see it again, though - if only for all the alien spaceships!

And yes - this show was called Project Blue Book in syndication and in some international markets. But it was officially Project: U.F.O. when it aired in its original network run, so please don't tell me I got the name wrong - you can check out the opening titles for both seasons HERE.


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