Monday, October 30, 2023

Monsters (1988)

Podcast episode 54. A complete look at Monsters, the syndicated series from Laurel Entertainment which ran 1988-1991. The origins of George Romero, Night of the Living Dead, the birth of the modern zombie, Romero's Laurel Entertainment, and the films that led up to the creation of Monsters
Full episode guide and behind the scenes of show production, structure, writing, effects, and the people involved in the making of your favorite show. 

Intro/episode rundown 0-1:10:00

Behind the Scenes 1:10:00-end

In the credits I mistakenly omitted Martin Grams' well-researched book Way Out: A History and Episode Guide to Roald Dahl's Spooky 1961 Television Programwhich was key in being able to include the details about that series.

Also be sure to read Terror Television: American Series, 1970-1999 by John Kenneth Muir

Buy Creepshow on Bluray / 4K/UHD

Buy Tales from the Darkside complete series on DVD


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Saturday, September 30, 2023

More Animated Spin-Offs of Live-Action Shows: 1980s

Podcast episode 53. A trip through Saturday mornings of the 1980s with a focus on animated spin-offs or adaptations of live-action TV shows and characters. Background and behind the scenes of production are given for most shows covered. 

The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour 1980-1982 (Lone Ranger/Zorro Vol 1 / Vol 2)
The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang 1980 
Laverne & Shirley in the Army 1981
Mork & Mindy 1982
Gilligan’s Planet 1982 
The Gary Coleman Show 1982
The Dukes 1983
It’s Punky Brewster 1985 
ALF/ALF Tales 1987-1990
The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley 1988

Above affiliate links take you to Amazon listings of the respective series.


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Amazon links are affiliate, and Forgotten TV earns royalties from qualifying purchases made at no additional cost to you. Please support Forgotten TV while doing your regular Amazon shopping.

Original audio clips included are for the purposes of historical context, review, commentary, and criticism only and are not intended to infringe.

Sound effects/some music used under license from Epidemic Sound. If you need music for your podcast or YouTube channel, please visit Epidemic Sound

Forgotten TV is not affiliated with or authorized by any production company or TV network involved in the making of any TV show or film mentioned. All series and characters are copyright and property of their respective rights holders.

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Sunday, August 20, 2023

V: the Series

Podcast episode 52. A complete look at NBC's V: the Series from 1984-85. A full episode rundown, a look at the unfilmed finale, behind the scenes of production, and revival attempts are all comprehensively discussed.


Episode rundown 0-1:35
Behind the scenes 1:35-3:00 
Next time/credits 3:00-3:08

Buy V: The Series DVD on Amazon  (Amazon Video link)

Kenneth Johnson's books on Amazon


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Amazon links are affiliate, and Forgotten TV earns royalties from qualifying purchases made at no additional cost to you. Please support Forgotten TV while doing your regular Amazon shopping.

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Sound effects are used under license from Epidemic Sound. If you need music for your podcast or YouTube channel, please visit Epidemic Sound

Endless Void By Dreamstate Logic is used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License.

V: The Final Battle & V: The Series medley cover by Didier Martini 

Forgotten TV is not affiliated with or authorized by any production company or TV network involved in the making of any TV show or film mentioned. 'V' is the copyright and property of Warner Bros. Television Studios, Kenneth Johnson Productions, and possibly additional rights holders.

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Monday, May 1, 2023

V and V: the Final Battle

Podcast episode 51. A complete look at 1983's V and 1984's V: The Final Battle! Originally airing on NBC, created by Kenneth Johnson. 

review and behind the scenes of V 0-1:26:40

V: The Final Battle review/behind the scenes 1:26:40-2:14:45

Next time/credits 2:14:45-end

Buy V on Bluray on Amazon (DVD link)

Buy V: The Final Battle on Amazon

Buy V: The Series DVD on Amazon (Amazon Video link)


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Amazon links are affiliate, and Forgotten TV earns royalties from qualifying purchases made at no additional cost to you. Please support Forgotten TV while doing your regular Amazon shopping.

Original audio clips included are for the purposes of historical context, review, commentary, and criticism only and are not intended to infringe.

Sound effects are used under license from Epidemic Sound. If you need music for your podcast or YouTube channel, please visit Epidemic Sound

City In Panic Sound Effect / Sound Of Sirens and Screaming People In Panicking City / Royalty Free courtesy Played N Faved - Sound Effects & Stock Footage YouTube channel.

Forgotten TV is not affiliated with or authorized by any production company or TV network involved in the making of any TV show or film mentioned. 'V' is the copyright and property of Warner Bros. Television Studios, Kenneth Johnson Productions, and possibly additional rights holders.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Charles Sellier and Sunn Classic Pictures

Charles Sellier and Sunn Classic Pictures

By Chris Cooling


1974’s The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams introduced America’s original mountain man to film audiences and was an early effort of producer Charles E. Sellier Jr., having just joined Utah’s Sunn Classic Pictures. However, Sellier’s story begins well prior to his stint with Sunn Classic. Charles Sellier was born a Roman Catholic in 1943 and grew up in Denver, Colorado. Showing an interest and aptitude in photography, his first job was as a dark room technician. In the wake of his parent’s divorce at the young age of 12, he had also converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. Dropping out of school in 10th grade, he married his high school sweetheart when they were both 15 years old. Sellier became a technician and salesman for a film supply company in Denver, and by 21 was earning an incredible $65,000 salary (the equivalent of over $500,000 today.) In later years, he claimed to have become fascinated with the new world of information processing being made possible by computer technology during this time. [1]


At 26 he formed his own company, Creative Visual Dynamics, making industrial films, TV commercials, and travelogues. Two years later, CVD constructed a production facility in a Denver suburb that enabled them to do in-house commercial film editing and processing at one-fifth the average national cost. [2] Sellier eventually tried his hand at making a theatrical motion picture using funds from private investors. The Brothers O’Toole, a comedy western starring John Astin and Lee Meriwether, began filming near Canon City, Colorado in October 1972. [3]

John Astin had kind words for CVD: “I really can’t say enough kind things about these people and their film. Somehow, I feel that CVD is going to revolutionize the movie industry and I’m happy to have been a little part of it.” [4] With positive press and a theatrical film on the way, Sellier was able to swing a $6 million 12 picture deal with a New York investment firm. The films would be G-rated, feature length, shot on location in Colorado, and would be produced over the next two years. [5]


In April 1973, during post-production of Brothers O’Toole, Sellier's CVD company was acquired by Salt Lake City studio American National Enterprises. [6] Not to be confused with American International Pictures, known for teenage exploitation films and sci-fi monster movies in the 1950s and 1960s, ANE were primarily known for such films as Alaskan Safari and Cougar Country, nature documentaries told in a narrative style, marketed under the banner Rainbow Adventure Films. ANE was also known for a particular non-traditional theatrical distribution practice we’ll examine shortly.


Prior to Sellier coming onboard, ANE had also dipped its toe into pseudo-documentaries such as Bigfoot: Man or Beast?, which notably introduced the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film to audiences; and Encounter with the Unknown, narrated by Rod Serling. After merging with ANE, Sellier signed a second production deal, this time with Vidtronics for a 12-picture combination theatrical and television syndication package. These films would continue ANE’s exploration of the paranormal, with each film named after a sign of the Zodiac and focusing on a different paranormal topic. [7]  


Meanwhile, The Brothers O’Toole opened in May in Colorado, and also played in Utah, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, and a cluster of New England states during its initial run. Characterized in puff pieces at the time as a hit film, I can find no box office information on it at all, and years later, Sellier expressed disappointment at its performance, as he told researcher Gary Edgerton in 1982: 

“What I discovered is that there is a lot more to making a theatrical picture than a script, a location and some actors. I just discovered that there is a lot more to the movie business than met the eye.... Obviously, my first picture was a failure, a very painful failure to me because it cost a lot of money, and I raised a lot of money on it...I was interested in not having it happen again, it was such a negative experience for me ... so I began to analyze the elements of what is a film, and what are you trying to achieve, and so forth. Well, that became a very complex thing, it took me many, many years...“ [8]


Sellier thus became quite interested in pre-release audience testing and research, something Hollywood had done in one form or another since the days of silent film, but he had plans to apply this type of research before a film even began production. One benefit now available to Sellier was ANE’s research and marketing department, which began to adopt the use of computers for not only keeping daily accounting records of production expenses, but also to tabulate the extensive pre-production research he began implementing. By the beginning of 1974, Sellier claimed of ANE: "We're the only ones in the business to use computers. It tells us how much we can spend, who our potential audience is, what time of year is best to release a movie and what to expect in grosses from different theaters in an area.” [9]


Sellier was excited to apply his methods of research to his next project, the docudrama Pieces of Eight, to be filmed in Florida in the summer of 1974; [10] but he found himself snatched from ANE by rival Utah film studio Sunn Classic Pictures. [i]


The history of Sunn Classic is also tied to ANE. In 1971, Rayland Jensen, who had managed film distribution for ANE, broke off and joined a competing studio. Mel Hardman Productions (MHP) had been founded by Mel Hardman in 1965. Hardman had worked as the cinematographer for ANE’s Cougar Country. Together with Hardman, Jensen formed Sun International, initially as a distribution company subsidiary of Mel Hardman Productions.  


One financier of MHP, Patrick Frawley, increased his stake in the company to the point of becoming majority shareholder, owning 80% of company stock. [11] Frawley, a staunch anti-communist Catholic and supporter of far right-wing causes, had used his profits from developing the Paper Mate ballpoint pen to purchase controlling interest in everything from the Schick razor company to Technicolor- the very company who had pioneered a proprietary three-color process of film development and provided this service to Hollywood studios.  


Patrick Frawley’s acquisition of MHP was part of his burgeoning media empire; he had founded the Twin Circle Publishing Co. as a subsidiary of Schick. Twin Circle published Faith & Family, a Catholic magazine that promoted marriage and motherhood, as well as two Catholic newspapers, and distributed a 5-minute daily radio program and weekly half-hour television show; all of these promoting traditionalist Catholic views. He also acquired the Classics Illustrated brand, known for its comic book adaptations of literary classics. Frawley immediately began to insert his political and personal views into MHP films in a ham-fisted manner, prompting the resignation of founder Mel Hardman. [12]


With Hardman gone, Frawley changed the studio’s name to Sunn Classic Pictures - initially spelled with one ‘N,’ and later with two - interestingly enough - to differentiate themselves from a producer of pornography. [13] (They also did business as Schick Sunn Classics.) Frawley’s conservative worldview would set the tone for the early productions of Sunn Classic; several of which would depict a strong White male character surviving alone in the North American wilderness against all odds. 


Sunn was also known for something else they borrowed from ANE, which was touched on earlier. Sunn practiced ‘four-walling,’ a film distribution strategy where a studio would rent individual theaters, usually in smaller town markets for a limited exhibition – typically a week at most - and keep virtually all the revenue from ticket sales, while the theater kept the concession revenue, the real profit center for movie theaters. In traditional wide-release theatrical distribution, a movie booking agent would be used to get a film exhibited and shipped to as many theaters in major markets as possible, with the theater’s and agent’s percentages as well as film print replication, shipping, and national marketing all eating into the studio’s box office revenue. A four-walled film release would get by with far fewer film prints that travelled regionally over many months, and the studio would saturate each local market with advertising along the way. This was a favored distribution method used by exploitation film promotor H. Kroger Babb in the 1940s and 50s; and notably used by actor Tom Laughlin when he bought his film Billy Jack from Warner Brothers after a lackluster standard release and four-walled it to the tune of a $32 million gross. [14] Several of the former employees of ANE, now at Sunn, were the very ones who helped develop ANE’s four-walling strategies.  


Four-walling enabled small studios like ANE and Sunn to target the audience in areas they felt would be most responsive to the types of films they offered – an audience demographic that had largely stopped going to theaters. The beginning of the 1970s had seen a slump in the movie business, and at least some of that downturn had been a result of a portion of the moviegoing public avoiding what they perceived as an increase in profane, sexual, violent, and occult content in mainstream Hollywood films. The recent institution of the movie ratings system was also no guarantee that these largely religious audiences wouldn’t still find objectionable material even in films given a mild rating. [ii]


In addition to their films being rated G, Sunn Classic’s reassuring motto was “wholesome family entertainment always” and their first effort set the archetype for the ‘wilderness’ genre of film they would first find success with: 1971’s Toklat. Starring and narrated by long-time character actor Leon Ames, he recounts the entertaining story of a grizzly bear cub growing up first in the wild, then after being rescued by a nameless aging mountain sheepherder firmly aware that man was the intruder of Toklat’s domain. Years later, when a grizzly preys on the sheep of the old man’s brother who is injured in the process, the old man is reluctantly charged with hunting down the 1,000-pound bear, which the narrative reveals to be none other than Toklat.



Toklat was filmed in Utah’s Uinta Mountains and the film’s title was taken from an Inuit word meaning “a valley formed by a glacier.” During the film’s promotion however, the producers said the title was derived from an Indigenous word meaning ‘ferocious.’ [15] Animal handler and outdoorsman Dick Robinson contributed to the cinematography and acted in the filmRobinson, who had evolved his parking lot animal show into a career providing animals for various productions including TV’s Wild Kingdom, Lassie, and The Wild Wild West, [16] was co-owner of the nascent studio’s Springdale, Utah menagerie of 125 animals including the real star of Toklat, Willie the grizzly bear. [17] The film contained footage shot over five years as Willie grew into an adult. Released during the very early days of Sunn when it was still using the Mel Hardman name, it was on this film that Patrick Frawley, a recovered alcoholic, attempted to insert an anti-alcohol message Hardman insisted didn’t belong in the film. Frawley also objected to a song about ecology that Hardman used in the film, calling it ‘communist dogma.’ [18]


Toklat grossed $3.9 million in its first year of release. It was never released on any form of home video but did enjoy some TV airings on local stations throughout the 1980s, and was shown on the Disney Channel in 1990, then completely disappeared. Until someone produces a film print or uploads a recording, Toklat is apparently a lost film.


The following year’s Trap on Cougar Mountain featured young Eric Larson, son of actress Vera Miles and writer/director Keith Larsen. 12-year-old Erik was the ultimate 70s free-range kid-roaming the countryside of Virgin, Utah alone on his three-wheeler saving wildlife from traps and interfering with hunters with little regard for his own safety.  Also released in late 1972, Brother of the Wind with Dick Robinson now in the lead role, depicted a modern-day mountain man in the Canadian Rockies saving four wolf cubs after their mother dies. Filmed in southern Alberta, Brother notably featured long, long stretches of wildlife shots interspersed with scenes relating the narrative. All of these were low-budget productions shot entirely on location with largely non-union crews and actors, many of which had little prior film experience, and notably filmed on 16mm without location sound, having soundtracks post-produced in their entirety. However, Sunn’s first release in 1974 wasn’t a wilderness film, but an additional genre they would become known for.

Yes, it was Chariots of the Gods, the highly questionable 1970 German ‘documentary’ based on the 1968 Erich von Däniken book that introduced ‘ancient alien’ theory to the world. Chariots had already been shown on US television in January 1973, repackaged as In Search of Ancient Astronauts and narrated by Rod Serling; but this didn’t stop Sunn from picking up U.S theatrical distribution rights and running it using ANE’s tried and true four-walling technique, collecting a cool $12.5 million. Sunn also snatched the distribution rights for the 1971 Richard Winer film The Devil’s Triangle, narrated by Vincent Price; often running it with Chariots as a double feature.


This is when Charles Sellier along with several others left ANE and moved from Denver to Salt Lake City to join Sunn Classic in June 1974. [19] Bringing with him his newfound obsession with audience concept testing, Sellier immediately went to work, having computers installed at Sunn (four years before Jimmy Carter would install any at the White House) and analyzed what moviegoers were buying tickets for Chariots. When their data showed uneducated adult males were the most interested, they focused television advertising on programs they felt that met that demographic, such as The Six Million Dollar Man. Also finding a great deal of public fascination in a variety of unexplained phenomena, this would heavily influence a shift in the types of films they would be known for releasing. [20]  


But those would have to wait, as Sellier’s first film project for Sunn would be none other than The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. In the summer of 1973, on the heels of the success of Brother of the Wind, experienced animal handler Dick Robinson had signed with Sunn to create two Grizzly Adams films, featuring himself in the title role. Robinson, who was making films for both ANE and Sunn, had worked with Sellier making the coyote film Birth of a Legend, when Sellier was still at ANE. When a three-hour assembly cut of Robinson’s footage was screened, Sunn executives seemed not to be pleased with what had been filmed, resulting in Sellier completely taking over the Grizzly Adams production, filming an entirely new version featuring an animal handler that had been ‘discovered’ by Patrick Frawley on a film being shot in Alberta. 


When the North Wind Blows, a continuation of Sunn’s ‘wilderness’ formula, broke in mid-November in smaller Pennsylvania and Ohio markets. For this film, Sunn enlisted Stewart Raffill, who had supervised the wild animal sequences in Disney’s Lt. Robinson Crusoe, U.S.N., Doctor Doolittle, and the Ron Ely Tarzan series. Also appearing in North Wind was an unknown actor and animal trainer that had appeared in a handful of biker films by the name of Dan Haggerty, who would be enlisted as Sunn’s new Grizzly Adams.  


While Sunn would release a couple more ‘wilderness’ films; The Adventures of Frontier Fremont in 1975, again with Haggerty, and Guardian of the Wilderness in late 1976, starring Denver Pyle; the remaining majority of their 1970s film lineup would represent a shift to what Variety would call ‘speculation’ films. Taking a cue from the enormous success of Erich von Däniken’s book, Sellier shrewdly managed to retain the rights to adapt each screenplay he produced into a book. Thus, a tie-in paperback from Bantam books was released in conjunction with most films Sunn produced or distributed, starting with Grizzly Adams going forward. While these books would carry Sellier’s name as author, and often give the impression that the movie was based on the book, proclaiming ‘now a major motion picture’; they were in fact ghost-written adaptations of screenplays already in production. [21]


Sunn next picked up theatrical distribution for 1975’s The Outer Space Connection. Hosted by Rod Serling and written and produced by Alan Landsburg, who had created In Search of Ancient Astronauts and In Search of Ancient Mysteries for television in the prior two years.  Two years later, Landsburg continued exploring mysterious phenomena on television, with the popular syndicated series In Search Of...With Rod Serling passing away before production started, the series was hosted by Leonard Nimoy. 


Also in 1975, Sunn finally produced their own pseudo-documentary on one of the topics ANE had already visited. Bigfoot: The Mysterious Monster featured Peter Graves examining the alleged sightings, photos, and footprints left by America’s popular cryptid, as well as others such as the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti. The Patterson-Gimlin footage that had debuted in ANE’s Bigfoot: Man or Beast? was used, over which they were promptly sued by ANE, alleging film piracy, based on their claim that the footage had been exclusively licensed to them. [22] The film was quickly retitled The Mysterious Monsters in the wake of the suit, likely to avoid confusion with ANE’s film. The lawsuit was settled, but ironically ANE were themselves being sued by Robert Gimlin, who had been left out of negotiations when Patterson licensed the footage to ANE. It didn’t end there; the legal history of the Patterson-Gimlin film is incredibly complex and went on for another seven years. Meanwhile, Monsters scared up $11 million of ticket sales. 

There was The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena released June 1976. But probably no film epitomized this era of Sunn Classic Pictures more than their next release. When their research repeatedly showed the topic of Noah’s ark to be a high-testing film concept, spurred by accounts in popular media such as the childhood recollections of Armenian-American Georgie Hagopian as well as several recent reports from people that claimed to have found the ancient vessel, Sunn began work on a film that would prove as much a money-maker for the studio as
Grizzly Adams...
1976’s In Search of Noah’s Ark. In true Sunn fashion, host Brad Crandall mixed fact and fiction to present an intended narrative that Noah’s ark from the Biblical account of Genesis had indeed been found on the slopes of Mount Ararat in what is now Eastern Turkey.  

However, Sunn was again treading on ground already covered by competitor ANE, who had released the admittedly less engaging The Ark of Noah the prior year, but undoubtedly had primed audience interest in the topic. Unlike ANE’s drier version, Sunn’s $360,000 production filmed dramatic recreations of the Biblical account, using their menagerie of animals, as well as some 40-50 actors. [23] Sunn’s Search would find about $26 million in box office revenue. To put that in perspective, this places it ahead of hit films Network, Logan’s Run, and Carrie, all also released that year. [24]


Fast forward some 17 years later and the film’s topic was revisited in the Sellier-produced 1993 CBS TV special The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, hosted by Darren McGavin. During the production of this TV special, Sellier’s production company found itself the victim of what we would now call a troll. Presented uncontested in the special were the claims of George Jammal, who showed what he called "sacred wood from the ark,” the supposed product of a tragic expedition said to have claimed the life of his friend. Just over four months later, Jammal was revealed to be an out-of-work Israeli actor from Long Beach who had never been to Turkey, and the "sacred wood" were actually pieces of railroad tracks he had collected near his California home that he baked in his oven with barbeque and teriyaki sauce.    


The story behind the hoax is equally absurd, and it turned out it was all part of a years-old practical joke that stemmed from a creation/evolution debate Jammal had heard on KABC radio in 1985. Jammal fabricated the account of his expedition to Turkey’s Mount Ararat and sent it to the Institute for Creation Research, who had participated in the debate. In his story, the outrageous Jammal used names he felt were obviously preposterous such as ‘Mr. Asholian,’ ‘Vladimir Sobitchsky,’ and ‘Allis Buls Hitian.’ Ironically, Jammal watched 1976’s In Search of Noah’s Ark in preparing his false account. Years passed, and the ICR had sent Jammal’s story to Sunn Classic. Coached by Gerald Larue, a USC professor of religion and archaeology who felt he had been misrepresented on previous Sunn productions, Jammal was interviewed for 1993’s Incredible Discovery special. [25] 


When Larue revealed the hoax, he was rightly critical of Sunn’s failure to vet evidence presented on their programs. Even after being revealed, Charles Sellier was incredulous that Sunn had been hoaxed at all, seemingly not comprehending that Jammal’s original eight-year-old story had been fabricated. The whole account was thoroughly investigated in a 1993 issue of Skeptic magazine, which also pointed out other inaccuracies, omissions, and misrepresentations contained in the 1993 special. [26] This resulted in CBS heavily vetting an upcoming already-produced special Mysteries of the Ancient World but scrapping any future projects with Sunn. [27]


Back in 1977, Sunn’s researchers were working on their next project. When concept testing two years earlier had revealed strong interest in political conspiracies, among the film concepts Sunn tested was one that would explore if there had been a conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Sunn head researcher David Balsiger put their investigators to work, spending some $200,000 in research assembling their own alternate history surrounding the presidential assassination, based in part on a supposed transcript of the 18 pages said to be missing from the diary of John Wilkes Booth.  

The product was The Lincoln Conspiracy, produced for a total of $1.2 million, a monumental budget for Sunn. So sure were they of their audience research, Sunn dropped their typical gradual four-wall distribution in favor of a wider release, demanding upfronts from theaters, and spending a massive $5 million on marketing – including an agreement with 7-11 convenience stores to display the tie-in paperback, as well as prolific television advertising for its October 1977 release. Lincoln was Sunn’s first clear box office falter, earning only $5.6 million, and was quickly sold to TV partner NBC to air on broadcast television only seven months after theatrical release. [28]


Sunn produced several specials for NBC, such as 1977’s Last of the Mohicans, and their version of The Time Machine in 1978, both presented under the Classics Illustrated brand. Greatest Heroes of the Bible was a limited series NBC aired during National Bible Week in November 1978 as 10 episodes airing across five nights. The series would return in late spring with seven more one-hour installments. Classic TV fans that seek out the episodes will be delighted to see Mark Lenard, Frank Gorshin, Robert Culp, Gene Barry, David Birney, Victoria Principal, Barry Williams, Eve Plumb, Don Most, and William Daniels all make appearances. 

A comment left by a Mike M. at the bottom of a Diabolique article on Sunn Classic gives us an idea what it may have been like on this Sunn production. “I worked on a Sunn Classic production ‘Greatest Heroes of the Bible’ in Utah and Arizona in the late 1970’s. Was an extra in several segments, made $25 a day. I didn’t really know it at the time, but it was the cheapest production you could imagine and us extras were put into danger on a regular basis, things that might have gotten a production shut down now were shrugged off because it was the 70’s and people needed the money. Half the extras were Navajos and maybe a 1/4 were rural Mormons. Interesting times!” [29]

Two of their late-70s entries are still remembered by some as nightmare-inducing. 1978’s Beyond and Back was a Sunn Classic look at 'near death experiences,’ then a recently coined term. Called a "death-sploitation flick" by some critics, [30] based partly on evangelist Ralph Wilkerson’s 1977 book, and authoritatively narrated by Sunn regular Brad Crandall, Beyond re-enacted NDE accounts – one of which depicted a suicidal woman’s frightening decent into Hell. The film was incredibly still given a G-rating. The following year’s Beyond Death’s Door was a scripted narrative rated PG, the first Sunn film to receive this rating. Of course, all the NDEs related were consistent with the popular Christian narrative of the afterlife. 

Sunn’s two 1979 offerings were their by-now typical mix of the paranormal and the religious. January’s The Bermuda Triangle rehashed Charles Berlitz’s highly specious 1974 book as well as prior film and TV efforts to the tune of $10.8 million. Sunn’s August release was In Search of Historic Jesus. Heavily promoting the authenticity of the religious relic known as the Shroud of Turin, the film recycled scenes produced for Greatest Heroes of the Bible and presented a narrative about Jesus Christ consistent with Mormon teachings. Both the film as well as Sunn’s advertising and distribution methods were absolutely excoriated by Siskel and Ebert in Sneak Previews. Still, the film earned $10.6 million at the box office. They didn’t know it at the time, but this film would effectively mark the end of Sunn Classic Pictures as it was known.  

Yes, there were more films; Sunn's Hangar 18, released in June 1980, was perhaps the most mainstream of their non-wilderness films. Also rated PG and released alongside the typical tie-in novelization by Bantam, the film purported to tell the story of a government cover-up regarding a UFO observed by the space shuttle crew that subsequently crash landed in the Arizona desert and was taken to an Air Force Base in Texas and tucked away in Hangar 18. True to form, what was real and what was fiction was intentionally blurred and the trailers gave the impression that the film was based on real events – even though it pre-dated the first manned flight of the space shuttle. The fact that the marketing plays up the film in documentary style is hardly surprising, given the fact that the film was borne out of pre-production research for yet another of their documentaries. When Sunn researchers found insufficient evidence for a Texas Air Force Base hanger housing extra-terrestrial spacecraft, they took the concept and turned it into a screenplay. [31]


Starring recognizable actors Gary Collins, Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, and several others, the film took decades of UFO lore and [spoiler alert!] combined it with Chariots of the Gods-style ancient alien theory. Straying out of Utah for this one, filming at the defunct Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas ran over schedule and cost more to produce than Sunn initially planned.
[32] [33] Wrapping the first week of April, the film was playing in theaters only 12 weeks later.

Relying on their typical practice of TV ad saturation, they didn’t even seem to release a press kit with artwork for the film, with all newspaper theater listings simply listing the film in plain text; and the one-sheet movie poster was a very lackluster design. Even though Sunn had commissioned accomplished artist Tom Chantrell to do full movie art for the print materials, they only used the single element of three of the actors peering into what is perceived to be the door to the UFO, surrounded by a sea of black and large credits emphasizing the lead actors. Chantrell’s full artwork was seen on the UK quad sheets and years later on DVD covers.


Perhaps Sunn bit off more than they could chew with Hangar 18, or its UFO conspiracy theme didn’t appeal as much to their typical audience. Or it was simply steamrollered by box office competitors The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane, and Urban Cowboy; as well as the near-universal bad reviews. But by now, the studio was in serious decline due to several factors. Yes, there was the financial failure of Hangar 18 – but for years advertising costs had started to eat into their business model, which depended heavily on TV ad saturation. Sunn EVP Clair Farley had complained as early as 1977 that TV advertising rates had gone up 26%. [34] There was also a little-publicized legal battle with Dick Robinson over the Grizzly Adams brand that had dragged on for some six years, which is its own story. [35] And perhaps most importantly, in yet another serious blow to their business model, theaters began realizing they were getting the short end of the stick with Sunn’s four-walling strategy, and many had stopped participating. [36] The same summer Hangar 18 was released, Sunn and an interest in future releases of their film library were acquired by multimedia conglomerate Taft Broadcasting in a $5 million deal. [37]


Taft proceeded to dust off properties from Sunn’s library. 1981’s Earthbound with Burl Ives and Whiz Kids’ Todd Porter in likely his first role, featured an old man and his grandson hiding a crash-landed extra-terrestrial family with a green monkey from the government. Filmed two years earlier, Earthbound had been a TV movie pilot delivered to NBC in the fall of 1979, with the hope of a 13-episode mid-season order. [38] Shelved when rejected by the network, it was later pulled out of the Sunn catalog and released theatrically to generate revenue. Surprisingly, Earthbound included a mild profanity, as well as the name of Jesus Christ used as an expletive, both seemingly inserted in post to obtain a PG rating for the theatrical release. 


In September 1981, Taft resurrected the Grizzly Adams franchise, selling NBC on the TV special The Capture of Grizzly Adams, which aired the following February. The TV movie performed moderately well in the weekly ratings and there were plans for a two-hour Christmas special for 1982, but this never materialized. [39] However, several Grizzly Adams episodes were patched together into a 93-minute VHS release called Legend of the Wild, which was released theatrically in overseas markets.

The 1981 R-rated horror film The Boogens produced by Sellier under Taft/Sunn, as well as the racy and even then-highly problematic Private Lessons (in which an adult European housemaid seduces a 15-year-old boy, distributed under recently formed subsidiary Jensen Farley Pictures after no mainstream Hollywood studio would touch it) both represented a complete departure from their previous G-rated wholesome studio identity. [40] The fact that during filming of The Boogens, a propane-fueled pyrotechnic device ignited a fire which burned down the building they were filming in perhaps adds additional symbolism here. The Sunn Classic Pictures that once promised “wholesome family entertainment always” was no more. [41]


I’ll conclude this examination of Sunn Classic with Sellier’s 1981 film The President Must Die. In researching this documentary that purported to expose a cover-up of the JFK assassination, I found that Sunn performed their usual audience concept testing and, like The Lincoln Conspiracy, found the subject matter to be highly rated with their testing participants. When it came to ticket-buyers, however, the film fell far short of expectations when played in the initial release markets of Arizona and Virginia in January. The film was then completely shelved by Taft/Sunn, never to be seen again. Evidence for the existence of this film seems to only exist on IMDB and in surviving copies of the incredibly rare tie-in Bantam paperback (released as Conspiracy to Kill a President.) The fact that there was a competing book released that year sharing the film’s title and the extremely unfortunate timing of an assassination attempt on then-President Reagan that March almost certainly killed any ability to further market the film.


However, discussing this film, screenwriter Brian Russell was unusually frank regarding Sunn’s research and writing process in an interview with journalist Patricia Morrisroe: “After feeding our data into the computer, we went with the conspiracy theory – the premise that was closest to what the majority believed.” When asked what if their data had shown the majority of the public believed the official report that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone and not part of a conspiracy? “We would have gone with that angle instead. We’re interested in drama, not politics.” [42]


Yes-Russell admitted Sunn allowed their audience research to shape the narrative of films they presented to the public as documentaries. Much the same was later confirmed by James Conway, director of The Lincoln Conspiracy in a 2018 interview for Diabolique Magazine: “In my mind we were making a docudrama. I never minded the criticism because we weren’t trying to make a pure documentary story...There was no authentication process.” [43]


This harks back to Sunn lead researcher David Balsiger’s simple response to criticisms of their 1993 Noah’s Ark TV special: “This is an entertainment show." [44]

[1] Edgerton, Gary (1982) “Charles E. Sellier, Jr. and Sunn Classic Pictures.” Journal of Popular Film and Television, 10:3, 106-118

[2] “Growth Unlimited Focus Is on Self-Development.” Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph 01 Aug 1971, Sun · Page 55

[3] “CVD Studios Begin Filming of Western.” Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph 18 Oct 1972, Wed · Page 24

[4] “’G’ Film Gambles on Humor.” Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph 11 Nov 1972, Sat · Page 57

[5] “CVD to Produce 12 Films Under $6 Million Deal.” Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph 08 Feb 1973, Thu · Page 26

[6] “Utah Firm Acquires Colorado Company.” Deseret News 02 Apr 1973, Mon · Page 32

[7] “CVD Signs Film Pact For TV.” Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph 23 Jun 1973, Sat · Page 84

[8] Edgerton, Gary (1982) “Charles E. Sellier, Jr. and Sunn Classic Pictures.” Journal of Popular Film and Television

[9] Wright, Christopher. “He Produces Films by Computer.” The Tampa Tribune 06 Feb 1974, Wed · Page 49

[10] Ibid. 

[11] “Lights, Camera, Action-S.L. ‘Firm’ Rolling.” The Salt Lake Tribune 07 Nov 1971, Sun · Page 49

[12] “Internal Dissension Splits S.L.-Based Movie Firm.” Deseret News 19 Feb 1972, Sat · Page 8

[13] Barth, Ray. “State-born Author Finds a Plot Against Lincoln.” The Capital Times 04 Oct 1977, Tue · Page 33

[14] Wasser, Frederick. “Four Walling Exhibition: Regional Resistance to the Hollywood Film Industry.” Cinema Journal, Winter 1995, Vol. 34, No. 2, p. 57

[15] “Utah’s ‘Toklat’ Premieres Wednesday.” The Salt Lake Tribune 01 Nov 1971, Mon · Page 9

[16] Robinson, Dick. “Never Kick a Bear In Your Bedroom Slippers.” Osmond, 1980. Chapters 11, 17, 19.

[17] Esplin, Fred. “Utah Wild Animal Compound Lists Film, TV ‘Stars.’” The Salt Lake Tribune 24 Jan 1971, Sun · Page 32

[18] “Internal Dissension Splits S.L.-Based Movie Firm.” Deseret News 19 Feb 1972, Sat · Page 8

[19] Robinson, Dick. “Never Kick a Bear In Your Bedroom Slippers.” Osmond, 1980. P. 312.

[20] Kilday, Gregg. “Film-Making by the Numbers?” The Los Angeles Times 29 Mar 1975, Sat · Page 33

[21] O’Malley, David. Email interview with author, Nov. 2022.

[22] “Lawsuit Alleges Piracy of Films.” Idaho State Journal 30 Nov 1975, Sun · Page 9

[23] Cantwell, Becky. “Film Proves Ark Exists.” The Park Record 15 Jan 1976, Thu · Page 7

[24] Thomas, Bob. “Find out what the People Want to see…” The San Francisco Examiner 01 Jun 1977, Wed · Page 30

[25] Cerone, Daniel. “Admitting ‘Noah’s Ark’ Hoax.” The Los Angeles Times 30 Oct 1993, Sat · Page 59, 71

[26] Lippard, Jim. “Sun Goes Down in Flames.” Skeptic Magazine, Volume 2 Number 3

[27] Rosenburg, Howard. “CBS’ Credibility Sinks in Wake of Hoax.” Record Searchlight 04 Nov 1993, Thu · Page 33

[28] Knoedelseder Jr, William. “Sunn Classics: Risk Reducers in a Chancy Business.” The Los Angeles Times 06 Nov 1977, Sun · Page 345

[29] Skvarla, Robert. “Mormons, Aliens, and Dan Haggerty: The (Mostly) True Story of Sunn...” Diabolique Magazine, 5 July 2018,

[30] “Beyond and Back (1978).” Video Detective,

[31] Knoedelseder Jr, William. “Sunn Classics: Risk Reducers in a Chancy Business.” The Los Angeles Times 06 Nov 1977, Sun · Page 344

[32] Kientz, Renee. “Collins Content not to be at Top of Hollywood Heap.” San Angelo Standard-Times 04 Apr 1980, Fri · Page 15

[33] “Big Spring Filming Date Nears for ‘Hangar 18.’” Abilene Reporter-News 20 Jan 1980, Sun · Page 29

[34]Sunn's 7-8 a Year: TV Blurb Cost up 26% of Late.” Variety March 23, 1977, p. 28

[35] MEL HARDMAN PRODUCTIONS, INC. v. ROBINSON, 604 P.2d 913 (Utah 1979)

[36] “Director James L. Conway.” Movie Geeks United podcast, Mar 22, 2020.

[37] “Taft, Schick Sunn Sign Contract.” The Cincinnati Post 29 May 1980, Thu · Page 18

[38] Ligon, Betty. “TV Series May be Shot in El Paso.” El Paso Herald-Post 07 Nov 1979, Wed · Page 11

[39] Moulder, Marsha. “’Grizzly’ Anything But.” Victoria Advocate 21 Aug 1982, Sat · Page 1, 12

[40] “’Private Lessons’: How it Went From Bomb to Blast.” The Los Angeles Times 04 Oct 1981, Sun · Page 311-312

[41] “Taft’s Filming of ‘The Boogens’ Brings Down the House.” The Newspaper 05 Feb 1981, Thu · Page 1

[42] Morrisroe, Patricia. “Making Movies the Computer Way.” Oakland Tribune 03 Feb 1980, Sun · Page 174

[43] Skvarla, Robert. “Mormons, Aliens, and Dan Haggerty: The (Mostly) True Story of Sunn...” Diabolique Magazine, 5 July 2018,

[44] Lippard, Jim. “Sun Goes Down in Flames.” Skeptic Magazine, Volume 2 Number 3

[i] Although IMDB and multiple sources list a 1973 release for Pieces of Eight, I never found any theatrical listing for the film, but it was listed in a trade ad for a television syndication package later sold by Gold Key Entertainment, and I found several 1981 TV airings. News articles about the film’s production also give conflicting information. This cited Tampa Tribune article called it Sellier’s “next picture” to be filmed in the Tampa Bay area with underwater footage to be filmed off the Bahama Islands and put out a call for local talent to work on the film. Admittedly, this is a difficult one to research since the film’s title is a common phrase, and that it shares a title with several books and other films.

[ii] Four-walling also benefited other studios in this era, including (perhaps ironically) the infamous Deep Throat, the first well known pornographic film in the U.S., which introduced pornography to mainstream audiences. This method of distribution ended up causing disputes over the copyright to this film which extended into the 21st century.