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Evolution of Science Fiction in Television: The War of the Worlds

Greetings Earthlings! I have come to educate the non-believers, and reminisce with the faithful followers of science fiction. In this monthly column, we will start at the beginning then go back to the future…..I will be showcasing the best science fiction shows on television from the terribly awesome 50’s to today.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all……..

War of the Worlds first broadcast on Sunday, October 30,1938 from 8:00 to 9:00pm on the Columbia Broadcasting System. The broadcast caused a wave of mass hysteria that seized thousands of radio listeners. H.G. Wells’ invasion fantasy disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams, and clogged communications systems.

Let’s see what caused ALL that commotion shall we?


The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Welles.


We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.

Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment. It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back to work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30th, the Crosley service estimated that thirty-two million people were listening in on radios.


Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News.

At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the earth with enormous velocity.

Professor Pierson of the Observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell’s observation, and describes the phenomenon as, quote, “like a jet of blue flame shot from a gun,” unquote.

We now return you to the music of Ramon Raquello, playing for you in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, situated in downtown New York.



Ladies and Gentlemen, following on the news given in our bulletin a moment ago, the Government Meteorological Bureau has requested the large observatories of the country to keep an astronomical watch on any further disturbances occurring on the planet Mars.

Due to the unusual nature of this occurrence, we have arranged an interview with a noted astronomer, Professor Pierson, who will give us his views on this event. In a few moments we will take you the Princeton Observatory at Princeton, New Jersey.

We return you until then to the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.



We are ready now to take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton where Carl Phillips, our commentator, will interview Professor Richard Pierson, famous astronomer. We take you now to Princeton, New Jersey.


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is Carl Phillips, speaking to you from the observatory of Princeton. I am standing in a large semi-circular room, pitch black except for an oblong split in the ceiling. Through this opening I can see a sprinkling of stars that cast a kind of frosty glow over the intricate mechanism of the huge telescope. The ticking sound you hear is the vibration of the clockwork.

Professor, may I begin our questions?


At any time, Mr. Phillips.


Professor, would you please tell our radio audience exactly what you see as you observe the planet Mars through your telescope?


Nothing unusual at the moment, Mr. Phillips. A red disk swimming in a blue sea. Transverse stripes across the disk. Quite distinct now because Mars happens to be the point nearest the earth…..in opposition, as we call it.


In your opinion, what do these transverse stripes signify, Professor Pierson?


Not canals, I can assure you, Mr. Phillips—


(OFF-MIC) I see.


—-although that’s the popular conjecture of those thwo imagine Mars to be inhabited. From a scientific viewpoint the stripes are merely the result of atmospheric conditions peculiar to the planet.


Then you’re quite convinced as a scientist that living intelligence as we know it does not exist on Mars?


I’d say the chances against it are a thousand to one.


Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen, someone just handed Professor Pierson a message. While he reads it, let me remind you that we are speaking to you from the observatory in Princeton, New Jersey, where we are interviewing the world famous astronomer, Professor Pierson…..

Oh, one moment, please. Professor Pierson has passed me a message which he has just received…Professor, may I read the message to the listening audience?


Certainly, Mr. Phillips.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I shall read you a wire addressed to Professor Pierson from Dr. Gray of the National History Museum, New York.

Quote, “9:15 P.M. eastern standard time. Seismograph registered shock of almost earthquake intensity occurring within a radius of twenty miles of Princeton. Please investigate. Signed, Lloyd Gray, Chief of Astronomical Division,” unquote.

Professor Pierson, could this occurrence possibly have something to do with the disturbances observed on the planet Mars?


Hardly, Mr. Phillips. This is probably a meteorite of unusual size and its arrival at this particular time is merely a coincidence. However, we shall conduct a search, as soon as daylight permits.


Thank you, Professor. Ladies and gentlemen, for the past ten minutes we’ve been speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton, bringing you a special interview with Professor Pierson, noted astronomer.

This is Carl Phillips speaking. We are returning you now to our New York studio.



Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. Toronto, Canada: Professor Morse of McMillan University reports observing a total of three explosions on the planet Mars, between the hours of 7:45 P.M. and 9:20 P.M., eastern standard time. This confirms earlier reports received from American observatories.

Now, nearer home, comes a special bulletin from Trenton, New Jersey. It is reported that at 8:50 P.M. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton.

The flash in the sky was visible within a radius of several hundred miles and the noise of the impact was heard as far north as Elizabeth.

We have dispatched a special mobile unit to the scene, and will have our commentator, Carl Phillips, give you a word picture of the scene as soon as he can reach there from Princeton.

In the meantime, we take you to the Hotel Martinet in Brooklyn, where Bobby Millette and his orchestra are offering a program of dance music.



We take you now to Grovers Mill, New Jersey.



Ladies and gentlemen, this is Carl Phillips again, out of the Wilmuth farm, Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Professor Pierson and myself made the eleven miles from Princeton in ten minutes.

Well, I…..hardly know where to begin, to paint for you a word picture of the strange scene before my eyes, like something out of a modern “Arabian Nights.”

Well, I just got here. I haven’t had a chance to look around yet. I guess that’s it. Yes, I guess that’s the thing, directly in front of me, half buried in a vast pit. Must have struck with terrific force. The ground is covered with splinters of a tree it must have struck on its way down.

What I can see of the object itself doesn’t look very much like a meteor, at least not the meteors I’ve seen. It looks more like a huge cylinder. It has a diameter of…what would you say, Professor Pierson?


About thirty yards.


About thirty yards….The metal on the sheath is…..well, I’ve never seen anything like it. The color is sort of yellowish-white. Curious spectators now are pressing close to the object in spite of the efforts of the police to keep them back. They’re getting in front of my line of vision. Would you mind standing to one side, please?


One side, there, one side.


Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it’s another one, and another one, and another one! They look like tentacles to me. I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it…..Ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. The monster or whatever it is can hardly move. They’ve seen plenty. This is the most extraordinary experience, ladies and gentlemen. I can’t find words…I’ll pull this microphone with me as I talk. I’ll have to stop the description until I can take a new position. Hold on, will you please, I’ll be right back in a minute…..

Ladies and gent……Am I on? Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, here I am, back of a stone wall that adjoins Mr. Wilmuth’s garden. From here I get a sweep of the whole scene. I’ll give you every detail as long as I can talk and as long as I can see.

More state police have arrived. They’re drawing up a cordon in front of the pit, about thirty of them. No need to push the crowd back now. They’re willing to keep their distance.

The captain is conferring with someone. We can’t quite see who. Oh yes, I believe it’s Professor Pierson. Yes, it is. Now they’ve parted and the Professor moves around one side, studying the object, while the captain and two policemen advance with something in their hands.

I can see it now. It’s a white handkerchief tied to a pole….a flag of truce. If those creatures know what that means…..what ANYTHING means….

Wait a minute! Something’s happening……

A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What’s that? There’s a jet of flame springing from that mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they’re turning into flames!

This wonderful, thrilling, story was the backdrop for the television series of the same name. War of the Worlds ran for two seasons, from 1988 to 1990. The series used many of the aspects of the radio adaptation, original novel and 1953 film as a guidepost.

In the series, rather than being killed outright by germs like the movie ending, the aliens had all slipped into a state of suspended animation and were stored away in toxic waste drums that were shipped to various disposal sites. A widespread government cover-up combined with a condition dubbed “selective amnesia” was used to convince most people that the invasion never happened.

A terrorist group calling itself the People’s Liberation Party accidentally irradiates the drums containing the aliens while raiding the dumpsite Fort Jericho. The radiation destroys the bacteria that was keeping the aliens unconscious. Once free, the aliens take possession of the bodies of the six terrorists who overran the site.

From that moment on, they find the means of appropriating the planet, both in purging the plague that is humanity and developing a permanent means to inoculate themselves against the planet’s indigenous bacteria.

An eclectic group is formed by the government to deal with the new alien threat, and the series follows their missions and adventures.

The series starred Jared Martin, Lynda Mason Green, Philip Akin and Richard Chaves. It was created by Greg Strangis and had 43 episodes from October 10, 1998 to May 14,1990.

One comment

  1. I absolutely love the War of the Worlds broadcast. If you haven’t listened to it, do yourself a favor and check it out. archive.org/details/OrsonWellesMrBruns


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