Each show would begin with either a cold open or a preview clip, followed by a "Control Voice" narration that was mainly run over visuals of an oscilloscope. Using an Orwellian theme of taking over your television, the earliest version of the narration ran as follows:
A similar but shorter monolog caps each episode: We now return control of your television set to you. Until next week at the same time, when the control voice will take you to – The Outer Limits.
Later episodes used one of two shortened versions of the introduction. The first few episodes began simply with the title screen followed by the narration and no cold open or preview clip. The Control Voice was performed by actor Vic Perrin.
The Outer Limits was originally broadcast on the American television network ABC (1963–65). In total, 49 episodes were produced. It was one of many series influenced by The Twilight Zone and Science Fiction Theatre, though it ultimately proved influential in its own right. In the un-aired pilot, the series was called Please Stand By, but ABC rejected that title. Series creator Leslie Stevens retitled it The Outer Limits. With a few changes, the pilot aired as the premiere episode, "The Galaxy Being".
Writers for The Outer Limits included creator Stevens and Joseph Stefano (screenwriter of Hitchcock's Psycho), who was the Season 1 producer and creative guiding force. Stefano wrote more episodes of the show than any other writer. Future Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) wrote "The Chameleon", which was the final episode filmed for Season 1. Two especially notable Season 2 episodes "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier" were written by Harlan Ellison, with the latter episode winning a Writers' Guild Award. The former was for several years the only episode of The Outer Limits available on laser-disc.
Season 1 combined science-fiction and horror, while Season 2 was more focused on 'hard science fiction' stories, dropping the recurring "scary monster" motif of Season 1. Each show in Season 1 was to have a monster or creature as a critical part of the story line. Season 1 writer and producer Joseph Stefano believed that this element was necessary to provide fear, suspense, or at least a center for plot development. This kind of story element became known as "the bear". This device was, however, mostly dropped in Season 2 when Stefano left. (Two Season 1 episodes without a "bear" are "The Forms of Things Unknown" and "Controlled Experiment", the first of which was shot in a dual format as science-fiction for The Outer Limits and as a thriller for a pilot for an unmade series The Unknown. Actor Barry Morse, who starred in "Controlled Experiment", states that this episode also was made as a pilot for an unrealized science-fiction comedy series. It was the only comic episode of The Outer Limits.
Earlier Season 1 episodes with no "bear" were "The Hundred Days of the Dragon" and "The Borderland" made before the "bear" convention was established. Season 2 episodes with a "bear" are "Keeper of the Purple Twilight", "The Duplicate Man", and "The Probe". Bears appear near the conclusion of Season 2 episodes "Counterweight", "The Invisible Enemy", and "Cold Hands, Warm Heart".) The "bear" in "The Architects of Fear", the monstrously altered Allen Leighton, was judged by some of ABC's local affiliate stations to be so frightening that they broadcast a black screen during the "Thetan's" appearances, effectively censoring most of the show's last act. In other parts of the United States, the "Thetan" footage was tape-delayed until after the 11 o'clock evening news. In still others, it was not shown at all. (Unlike today where all film series are transferred to videotape for transmission, from the 1950s to about the mid-1980s all film series were broadcast directly off a film print via telecine.) Season 1 had music by Dominic Frontiere, who doubled as Production Executive; Season 2 featured music by Harry Lubin, with a variation of his Fear theme for One Step Beyond being heard over the end titles.
Like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits had an opening and closing narration in almost every episode. Both shows were unusually philosophical for science-fiction anthology series, but differed in style. The Twilight Zone stories were often like parables, employing whimsy (such as the Buster Keaton time-travel episode "Once Upon a Time") or irony, or extraordinary problem-solving situations (such as the episode "The Arrival"). The Outer Limits was usually a straight action-and-suspense show which often had the human spirit in confrontation with dark existential forces from within or without, such as in the alien abduction episode "A Feasibility Study" or the alien possession story "The Invisibles". As well, The Outer Limits was known for its moody, textured look in many episodes (especially those directed by Byron Haskin or Gerd Oswald, or photographed by Conrad Hall) whereas The Twilight Zone tended to be shot more conventionally – although there are, of course, notable exceptions to these rules of thumb on both series.
However, there is some common ground between certain episodes of the two shows. As Schow & Frentzen, the authors of The Outer Limits: The Official Companion, have noted, several Outer Limits episodes are often misremembered by casual fans as having been Twilight Zone episodes, notably such "problem solving" episodes as "Fun and Games" or "The Premonition".
The program sometimes made use of techniques (lighting, camerawork, even make-up) associated with film noir or German Expressionism (see for example, "Corpus Earthling"), and a number of episodes were noteworthy for their sheer eeriness. Credit for this is often given to the cinematographer Conrad Hall, who went on to win three Academy Awards (and many more nominations) for his work in motion pictures. However, Hall worked only on alternate episodes of this TV series during the first two-thirds of the first season. The program's other cinematographers included John M. Nickolaus and Kenneth Peach.
The various monsters and creatures from the first season and most props were developed by a loose-knit group organized under the name Project Unlimited. Members of the group included Wah Chang, Gene Warren and Jim Danforth. Makeup was executed by Fred B. Phillips along with John Chambers.
Many of the creatures that appeared in Outer Limits episodes have been sold as models or action figures in the 1990s and 2000s. A variety in limited editions have been as model kits to be assembled and painted by the purchaser issued by Dimensional Designs, and a smaller set of out-of-the-box action figures sold in larger quantity by Sideshow Toys. The former produced a model kit of The Megasoid from "The Duplicate Man", and both created a figure of Gwyllm as an evolved man from "The Sixth Finger".
A few of the monsters reappeared in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series later in the 1960s. The moving microbe beast in "The Probe" later was used as the 'Horta' in "The Devil in the Dark", and operated by the same actor, Janos Prohaska. The "ion storm" seen in "The Mutant" (a projector beam shining through a container containing glitter in liquid suspension) became the transporter effect in Star Trek. The black mask from "The Duplicate Man", is used by the character Dr. Leighton in "The Conscience of the King". The Megasoid, from "The Duplicate Man" and the Empyrean from "Second Chance" (1964) were seen briefly near Captain Christopher Pike in other cages in the Star Trek pilot "The Cage".
The process used to make pointed ears for David McCallum in "The Sixth Finger" was reused in Star Trek as well. Lead actors who would later appear in the regular cast of Star Trek included Leonard Nimoy, who appeared in two episodes ("Production and Decay of Strange Particles" and "I, Robot") and William Shatner who appeared (in the episode "Cold Hands, Warm Heart") as an astronaut working on a Project Vulcan. Actors who would subsequently appear in the regular supporting cast of Star Trek were Grace Lee Whitney (episode "Controlled Experiment") and James Doohan (episode "Expanding Human"). Roddenberry was often present in The Outer Limits' studios, and hired several of its staff, among them Robert Justman and Wah Chang for the production of Star Trek.
Harlan Ellison contended that inspiration for James Cameron's Terminator had come in part from Ellison's work on The Outer Limits. Cameron conceded the influence. Ellison was awarded money and an end-credits mention in The Terminator (1984), stating the creators' wish "to acknowledge the works of Harlan Ellison". Cameron was against Orion's decision and was told that if he did not agree with the settlement, they would have Cameron pay for any damages if Orion lost Ellison's suit. Cameron replied that he "had no choice but to agree with the settlement. There was a gag order as well."
Although plagued with poor writing in various episodes, the series earned a very loyal audience in the first season. So devoted, some were reported to take a TV set with them if they had to be away from home, so they would not miss an episode (as home video recording did not exist). However, the second season fared rather poorly in the Nielsen ratings after moving from Monday to Saturday night, going against Jackie Gleason. This was the main reason that producer Joseph Stefano chose to leave the show after the first year, he realized that competing against the more popular Gleason Show would kill his show (proven by its cancellation midway through the second season). However, the series retained a following for many years after its original broadcast. Many decades later, horror writer Stephen King called it "the best program of its type ever to run on network TV." In 2017, James Charisma of Paste (magazine) ranked the show's opening sequence #6 on a list of The 75 Best TV Title Sequences of All Time.
List of The Outer Limits (1963 TV series) episodes
A "platinum" version of the MGM/UA Library brand product of the video series was released.
MGM Home Entertainment has released both seasons of The Outer Limits on DVD in Region 1. In 2007, they re-released the series in three separate sets. In October 2008, MGM released a 7-disc box set featuring all 49 episodes of the series. The re-releases of Season 2 correctly claim three discs in the set on the outer packaging, whereas the individual slim cases with the DVDs inside rather confusingly claim only two.The DVDs include a revised version of the original intro, heard over the episode menus:
The episodes "The Invisible Enemy" and "Wolf 359" are erroneously listed on one DVD case ("The Outer Limits Volume Three The Original Series Disc 1 Episodes 33–40") in "The Outer Limits The Complete Original Series Volumes 1–3". Both episodes are actually only on Disc 2 included in the case for "The Outer Limits Volume Three The Original Series Discs 2–3 Episodes 39–49".
On June 20, 2014, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is developing a film version of The Outer Limits based on the "Demon with a Glass Hand" episode, with Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill writing and Mark Victor producing.