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|Created by||Donald E. Westlake|
Earl W. Wallace
|Music by||Bob Cobert|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||9|
|Executive producers||Dan Curtis|
|Running time||45–48 minutes|
|Production companies||Dan Curtis Productions|
|Original release||February 7 –|
May 5, 1979
The series takes place on the Supertrain, a nuclear-powered bullet train that is equipped with amenities more appropriate to a cruise ship. It has luxuries such as swimming pools, shopping centers, a gym, library, medical center, and a discotheque. It is so big it has to run on very broad gauge track. Though it has a rated top speed of 250 mph (402.34 km/h), and cruises at 190 mph (305.78 km/h), the train takes 36 hours to go from New York City to Los Angeles; this would put the train's average speed at around 80 mph (128.75 km/h), slower than that of Amtrak's Acela Express and well below the speeds of bullet trains in Europe and Asia. (Some episodes state, however, that the train also stops in Chicago, Denver, a fictitious town in Texas and presumably other cities, which would extend the length of the run and thus would require faster speeds.)
Much like its contemporary The Love Boat, the plots concern the passengers' social lives, usually with multiple intertwining storylines. Supertrain was described in a 1979 Variety review, "It's a 'Love Boat' on wheels which has yet to get on track." Most of the cast of a given episode were guest stars. The production was elaborate, with huge sets and a high-tech model train for outside shots.
Supertrain was the most expensive series ever aired in the United States at the time. The production was beset by problems, including a model train that crashed. NBC paid $10 million for a total of three sets of trains, all different sizes.
There's a full size train with two story cars 64 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 22 feet high. There's a mid-size version built at a scale of 1 1/4 inches to the foot - a size large enough to create realistic medium-distance details. And for long shots, there's a baby Supertrain at 1/4 inch scale, here seen at its outdoor location in Los Angeles that may eventually be the greatest train set of all: acres of miniature towns and landscapes are being built around its 3,000-foot track.
While the series was heavily advertised during the 1978-1979 season, it received poor reviews and low ratings. The 2-hour premiere was out-rated by a 2-hour special of Charlie's Angels, and received a 21.8 rating and 32 share, ranking it 17th for the week. Despite attempts to salvage the show by replacing its producer, reworking the cast and the show's genre (even adding a laugh track in the ninth episode, turning the intended action-drama into something that more resembled a sitcom), it went off air after only three months. NBC, which had produced the show itself, with help from Dark Shadows producer Dan Curtis, was unable to recoup its losses from the high production costs. This, combined with the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics the following season (whose coverage NBC was to have carried, costing the network millions in ad revenue), nearly bankrupted the network. For these reasons, Supertrain has been called one of the greatest television flops. The show finished 69th out of 114 shows during the 1978-79 season, with an average 15.7 rating and 25 share.
Before the show aired in the U.S., NBC sold it directly to the BBC, the first foreign web to pick up the series. "For two runs, BBC reportedly coughed up more than $25,000 per hour seg, which if not a record series price in this market is close to it." The BBC was planning to air Supertrain in the fall of 1979, after the series premiered in the U.S. in February. By selling the show to international markets, NBC hoped to offset its own development costs. After the failure of the series in the United States, the BBC never aired the show.
In the May 19, 1979, edition of TV Guide, the show received criticism from Robert MacKenzie. He compares the futuristic train to his traditional ideas of a Pullman locomotive and describes the environment as "bigger, gaudier, and noisier, including the passengers." He goes on further to describe the amenities of the train and the "marvel, cinematically" of the set design and train itself. Mackenzie's flaw with the show was its reliance on the extravagant train to wow the audience, and the lack of character depth or entertaining plot. "When the early ratings proved disappointing, NBC took the series off the air for emergency surgery. The 'All New Supertrain' appeared April 14 looking remarkably like the old Supertrain", which shows NBC's attempts to fix the show's flaws mid-season. He summarizes his opinion on the newly changed episodes by stating, "This tale d-r-a-g-g-e-d even more than previous episodes despite the attempt to glamorize it with models in bikinis and Peter Lawford playing his usual shopworn sophisticate." In his annual television special later that year, comedian Alan King commented on the show's ratings failure: "It's a bird! It's a bomb! It's Supertrain!"
Supertrain was critiqued by the Telefilm Review in the February 9, 1979, edition of Variety. The article begins, "NBC's highly-promoted new Supertrain series features a slick new train of tomorrow, with a script from yesterday...it seeks to overwhelm, but underwhelms instead." By emphasizing the train as the main character, the character plots and stories of each episode seem like more of a second thought. Telefilm predicted the show's failure in its review: "Without better scripts, the train's trek may well end in 13 weeks. More emphasis on characters, less on the train, is in order." The show lasted just over 12 weeks. The choices of the producer, Dan Curtis, were harshly criticized, saying he was "neglecting characterizations for the sake of camera angles, and his contribution is a sorrowful one."
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|1||"Express to Terror"||Dan Curtis||Earl W. Wallace,|
Donald E. Westlake
|February 7, 1979|
Mike Post (Steve Lawrence), a passenger with a large gambling debt, finds himself the target of an unknown assassin on the train. A woman travels with her abusive boyfriend, who is hiding a dangerous past. Social director David Noonan (Patrick Collins) tries to stay clear of the amorous granddaughter of Supertrain's chairman and creator.
Main Cast: Edward Andrews as Harry Flood, Patrick Collins as Dave Noonan, Harrison Page as George Boone, Robert Alda as Dr. Dan Lewis, Nita Talbot as Rose Casey, Aarika Wells as Gilda, Bill Nuckols as Wally (credited as William Nuckols), Michael DeLano as Lou Atkins (credited as Michael Delano), and Charlie Brill as Robert.
Guest Stars: Steve Lawrence as Mike Post, Char Fontane as Cindy Chappel, Don Stroud as Jack Fisk, Keenan Wynn as Winfield Root, Deborah Benson as Barbara Root, Ron Masak as Fred, Don Meredith as Rick Prince, Vicki Lawrence as Karen Prince (credited as Vickie Lawrence), George Hamilton as David Belnik, Stella Stevens as Lucy, and Fred Williamson as Al Roberts.
Other Guests: John Karlen as Quinn, Frank Christi Tony Packoe (credited as Frank R. Christi), H.M. Wynant as Fairmont, Anthony Palmer as T. C. Baker, Howard Honig as Sam Howard, Allen Williams as Riley, Parley Baer as Heaton, Sid Conrad as Whittington, Robert Karnes as Martin, Cameron Young as Fenner, Sylvester Words as Porter, Orin Cannon as Stationmaster, Chuck Mitchell as Big Ed, and Bert Conway as Workman.
Note: The pilot episode was a two-hour special.In the opening credits, Winfield Root, the chairman of the fictitious company Trans Allied Corporation, mentions they will create an "atom-powered steam turbine machine capable of crossing this country in 36 hours." The maiden voyage left Grand Central Terminal in New York City 22 months later en route to Los Angeles. The Supertrain stops a few times, including somewhere in Texas, before arriving in Los Angeles at the end of the show.
|2||"And a Cup of Kindness, Too"||Rod Amateau||Shimon Wincelberg||February 14, 1979|
A man (Larry Linville) frantically tries to catch Supertrain, where a professed hitman (Dick Van Dyke) is targeting his soon-to-be late wife (Barbara Rhoades). Meanwhile, the spoiled great-grandchildren of Supertrain's chairman of the board make life miserable for the crew by playing practical jokes.The Supertrain stops in Chicago at the end of the show.
|3||"The Queen and the Improbable Knight"||Charles S. Dubin||Brad Radnitz||February 21, 1979|
A young travel reporter falls for a mysterious young woman riding on Supertrain, but both are unaware that she is the heir to a throne and the target of a kidnapping plot.
The Supertrain stops in Denver at the end of the show.
Guest Stars: Paul Sand as Barney Sweet, Mary Louise Weller as Ali (Alexandra Peters, future Queen of Montenegro), Michael V. Gazzo as Menkton, Nehemiah Persoff as Max (Ali's uncle), Steve Franken as Fleck (credited as Steven Franken), Fred Sadoff as unknown, and Kenneth Mars as Turley.Other Guests: Alba Francesca as "Alexandra Peters", Paul Tuerpe (credited as Paul Tuerpé), Shauna Sullivan, Annie Starr as Theresa, and David Wiley.
|4||"Hail to the Chief"||Barry Crane||Robert I. Holt||February 28, 1979|
|A man knocks out and takes the place of his twin brother, a leading presidential candidate, on the eve of the election. But his deception becomes even more difficult when his campaign manager invites his estranged wife to help during the final campaign swing on Supertrain.|
|5||"Superstar"||David Moessinger||Larry Alexander||March 14, 1979|
|A has-been Hollywood producer sneaks onto Supertrain to convince his ex-wife, a famous actress, to star in his comeback film. At the same time, he has to avoid two hit-men searching for him on the train, sent by the underworld figure who bankrolled the movie. Only an elderly woman is willing to believe and help him.|
|6||"Pirouette"||Barry Crane||Jeff Wilhelm||April 7, 1979|
|A bashful doctor finds himself rooming with an heiress who is hiding from kidnappers. Guest stars: Bernie Kopell, Joyce DeWitt, Isabel Sanford, Mako Iwamatsu and Tony Danza.|
|7||"A Very Formal Heist"||Barry Crane||Jeff Wilhelm,|
|April 14, 1979|
|Supertrain's newest crew members, Wayne Randall (Joey Aresco) and Penny Whitaker (Ilene Graff), attempt to track down a jewel thief who has stolen a socialite's necklace.|
|8||"The Green Girl"||Cliff Bole||Stephen Kandel||April 28, 1979|
|Supertrain's latest promotion, the International Poker Championship, is dealt a bad hand when one of the participants buys in with counterfeit money.|
|9||"Where Have You Been Billy Boy"||Barry Crane||Brad Radnitz,|
|May 5, 1979|
|Barry Gordon and Rue McClanahan guest star in a bizarre comedy of errors about a weak-willed young man who holds some Supertrain passengers hostage while trying to plan his escape from the police.|
- Breitspurbahn — broad-gauge railway planned by Nazi Germany.
- Snowpiercer — A 2013 science fiction film about a cruise ship-like train (with an aquarium and a swimming pool) that went around the world serving as the last resort of humanity in a new ice age.
- The Big Bus — A 1976 comedy film that follows the maiden cross-country trip of an enormous nuclear powered bus.
- "Supertoy." TV Guide, 17 Mar. 1979, p. 2+. Fine Arts and Music Collection, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A1232136/PPFA?u=uga&sid=PPFA&xid=c4ad295d. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.
- Telefilm Review: Supertrain. (1979). Variety, (46), p.18.
- Weekly Rating Scorecard. (1979, February 14). Variety, 294(2), 68.
- "Heavily promoted shows that turned out to be huge flops | KiwiReport". KiwiReport. 2018-06-21. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
- "7 Of The Most Expensive Flops In Television History: 1. Supertrain." www.businespundit.com, January 31, 2010. Retrieved February 1, 2010.
- 'Supertrain' Sold to BCC Directly by NBC. (1979, January 31). Variety, 293(13), 39.
- TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. pp. 181. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.
- MacKenzie, Robert. "Supertrain." TV Guide, 19 May 1979, p. 1. Fine Arts and Music Collection, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A1282359/PPFA?u=uga&sid=PPFA&xid=91d89e0b. Accessed 29 Apr. 2019.
- Supertrain Unofficial Site Supertrain series information including episode guide and airdates.
- Boxcutters ep 270 The Boxcutters podcast takes a look back at Supertrain (includes archive interview material).
- Supertrain at IMDb
- Telehell ep 4 The Telehell Podcast looks at the history of the show, and covers the events of the Pilot episode