The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1992)

65 episodes, all scripted by Bradbury and based on his stories.

Review Episodes

 

Review

The Ray Bradbury Theater began as a set of three adapatations of short stories for HBO broadcast in 1985. The following year a further three appeared.

For reasons unknown (but we can probably infer that ratings or costs were involved) HBO didn't want to take the series any further. USA Network evntually picked up the series, although it was nearly two years before the next episode appeared ("The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl").

The HBO episodes seem, for the most part, to have been shot in Canada (clue #1: when James Coco picks up a newspaper in "Marionettes, Inc.", it has a headline story about CBC). The new USA productions, though, were made in collaboration with companies from all over the English-speaking world. This has its benefits: actors, scenery, architecture form Canada, Britain, New Zealand can all help bring a variety to the show, and a touch of familiar-yet-alien. The downside is a distinct variability in production values, to the point where there is little or no stylistic continuity from one episode to the next.

The mid-1980s saw a mini-revival of anthology-format TV shows. RBT sat alongside the new Twilight Zone and the revived and colorised Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Compared to these, RBT often stood up well, largely because the source material was solid and proven. Strangely, though, RBT never quite seemed to manage the power of shows such as the original Twilight Zone, whose Bradbury pastiches such as "Walking Distance" could often prove to be as affecting as the real thing.

One of the originators of RBT was ex-CHiPs star Larry Wilcox, who feared that his track record from that show might harm the possibility of it ever being made. Bradbury didn't let this influence him however. In March 1986 he said, "You don't judge people by that sort of thing. Otherwise you would judge me by the fact that my first success was in Weird Tales at $20 a story. I was in there for years. I sold two hundred SF stories to pulp magazines long before I moved up to the big magazines. But what I was writing for the pulps was quality, you judge the story itself. And Larry Wilcox was a gentleman."

RBT was to bring Bradbury's first major involvement with series television for more than twenty years. Of this, he said, "I was reluctant. I had been spoiled by my experiences with Hitch and after he left TV more than twenty years ago, I did very little... [Wilcox] assured me he would be very protective. I would be in on casting, editing, and could write whatever I wanted to write."

On adapting his stories, Bradbury said "What I'm doing is respecting my younger self. I've published four hundred short stories that most people haven't read, and I'm using them. If you write things you love, and do it with love, you can't go wrong. It's exciting to translate those stories from the printed page to TV. It brings things out of your subconscious that are new and fresh... We try to relax and do a nice, easy show. It's my idea theater."

Making the show away from Los Angeles might be thought problematic, given Bradbury's reluctance to fly. However, the production team found ways around this. Bradbury said, "Larry Wilcox and Mark Masari have been my representatives going up to Canada... watch over everything and make sure everything gets done. The rough cut of each episode comes down from Canada and we all look at it together. I make notes, they make notes, then we compare them, and nine times out of ten the notes agree."

At one point, Bradbury seemed to be tempted into directing one or more of his stories (although he later changed his mind about this). "That's certainly tempting. Maybe, somewhere along the line. It would have to be something very simple because I really respect the job of directing. I respect everything that has to do with that job and the making of films. It's miraculous that any film is finished, that any film ever works. When you think about it, it's totally impossible, this incredible art form. Working in the theater is nothing compared to film. Theater is a challenge, but at least you're working together night after night, maybe for months. You get to know each other and it's easier to blend things and to correct on a night-to-night basis. I've done many plays and it's simplicity compared to film."

The music for Ray Bradbury Theater was composed by John Massari. Some of the themes for the show can be heard in audio and video clips on his website (click on the "MP3 2" button for audio clips, or on the "Video (QT)" button for video - and then look around for the Ray Bradbury Theater clips).

Information sources:
Goldberg, L. (1986) "This is...the Ray Bradbury Theater", Starlog 104, March 1986
Goldberg, L., Hutchison, D., McDonnell, D. (1986) "Ray Bradbury: At work in the business of metaphors", Starlog 110, September 1986

 

Variations on a Theme

In the UK, some episodes were broadcast under the title Twist in the Tale.

These featured different opening and closing titles, without Bradbury making an appearance.

Click here to learn more...

 

Behind the Scenes

In 1989, Ray Bradbury Theater producer Tom Cotter kindly answered some of my questions about the making of the series.

Click here to learn more...

 

Episodes

1. Marionettes, Inc.
2. The Playground
3. The Crowd
4. The Town Where No One Got Off
5. The Screaming Woman

6. Banshee

7.The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl - NEW!!
8. Skeleton
9. The Emissary
10. Gotcha!
11. The Man Upstairs
12. The Small Assassin
13. Punishment Without Crime
14. On the Orient, North
15. The Coffin
16. Tyrannosaurus Rex
17. There Was an Old Woman
18. And So Died Riabouchinska
19. The Dwarf
20. A Miracle of Rare Device
21. The Lake
22. The Wind
23. The Pedestrian
24. A Sound of Thunder
25. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone
26. The Haunting of the New
27. To the Chicago Abyss
28. Hail and Farewell
29. The Veldt
30. Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in your Cellar!
31. Mars is Heaven
32. The Murderer
33. Touched with Fire
34. The Black Ferris
35. Usher II
36. A Touch of Petulance
37. And the Moon be Still as Bright
38. The Toynbee Convector
39. Exorcism
40. The Day it Rained Forever
41. The Long Years
42. Here There Be Tygers
43. The Earthmen
44. Zero Hour
45. The Jar
46. Colonel Stonesteel and the Desperate Empties (based on "Colonel Stonesteel's Genuine Home-Made Truly Egyptian Mummy")
47. The Concrete Mixer
48. The Utterly Perfect Murder
49. Let's Play Poison
50. The Martian
51. The Lonely One (based on "The Whole Town's Sleeping")
52. The Happiness Machine
53. Tomorrow's Child
54. The Anthem Sprinters
55. By the Numbers
56. The Long Rain
57. The Dead Man
58. Sun and Shadow
59. The Silent Towns
60. Downwind from Gettysburg
61. Some Live Like Lazarus
62. The Handler
63. Fee Fie Foe Fum
64. The Great Wide World Over There
65. The Tombstone

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Page updated 14 August, 2009