Supertrain (pilot)

SupertrainWinfield Root, chairman of the board and founder of Trans-Allied Corporation, announces a bold plan to reinvigorate American passenger rail service with a new breed of train, Supertrain. Running from New York City to Los Angeles in a matter of hours, Supertrain is an atomic-powered steam locomotive with the amenities normally associated with luxury cruises. Root finds little support among his executive board, but the plan will proceed anyway.

Supertrain pulls out of Grand Central Station on its inaugural voyage with a full complement of passengers aboard, among them Michael Post, a man up to his eyeballs in debt to all the wrong people; Cindy Chappell, married to a man who spends the entire trip complaining about her presence (and yet doesn’t want her to leave his sight); Hollywood movie director David Belnik, heading to L.A. with his entourage to begin his next project; and at least one man who is on the train solely for the purpose of killing Michael Post. Winfield Root is aboard too, along with his granddaughter, who is almost disturbingly attracted to a member of Supertrain’s on-board crew.

The dazzling luxuries aboard Supertrain, from its sauna room to its discotheque, become the sites of attempts on Post’s life. When one of those attempts goes awry, resulting in a seemingly random murder of which Post is suspected of being the killer instead of the intended victim, the train is brought to a stop so an FBI agent can be brought aboard. Post pleads innocent to the murder, but confides in the circumstances that have him worried about his continued survival. But he soon discovers that he is no safer on Supertrain with an FBI agent on his tail than he is anywhere else…

teleplay by Earl W. Wallace
story by Donald E. Westlake & Earl W. Wallace
directed by Dan Curtis
music by Bob Cobert

SupertrainCast: Steve Lawrence (Mike Post), Char Fontane (Cindy Chappell), Don Stroud (Jack Fisk), Keenan Wynn (Winfield Root), Deborah Benson (Barbara Root), Ron Masak (Fred), Don Meredith (Rick Prince), Vicki Lawrence (Karen Prince), George Hamilton (David Belnik), Stella Stevens (Lucy), Fred Williamson (Al Roberts), Edward Andrews (Harry Flood), Patrick Collins (David Noonan), Harrison Page (George Boone), Robert Alda (Dr. Lewis), Nita Talbot (Rose Casey), Aarika Wells (Gilda), William Nuckols (Wally), Michael DeLano (Lou Atkins), Charlie Brill (Robert), John Karlen (Quinn), Frank R. Christi (Tony Packoe), H.M. Wynant (Fairmont), Anthony Palmer (T.C. Baker), Howard Honig (Sam Howard), Allen Williams (Riley), Parley Baer (Heaton), Sid Conrad (Whittington), Robert Karnes (Martin), Cameron Young (Fenner), Sylvester Words (Porter), Orin Cannon (Stationmaster), Chuck Mitchell (Big Ed), Bert Conway (Workman)

SupertrainNotes: Intended to be a sort of futuristic version of The Love Boat, Supertrain was a dazzlingly expensive disaster for NBC. It was initially produced, and its pilot directed, by Dan Curtis, producer and director of such TV cult classics as Dark Shadows and the pair of TV movies that led to Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Supertrain’s impressive-for-the-time miniature model work and its matching full-size “futuristic train” standing sets made it the most expensive television series in history to date, but its plunging post-pilot-movie ratings saw NBC pulling the plug after multiple attempts to retool and reschedule. This by itself would’ve simply been expensive, but when paired with the extravagant money that NBC put on the table for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 1980 Summer Olympics (a cost it then had to eat when the United States boycotted the Olympics, held that year in Moscow), it nearly bankrupted the network. SupertrainHad Supertrain run to a full season, the expense involved in the sets and miniatures would have been amortized over the budgets of 20-odd episodes. As it is, the show lasted ten hours, meaning that fully half a million dollars of each episode’s budget was spent on those sets and effects. The custom model footage shows Supertrain running on wider-gauge tracks than a standard railroad, though many of the railroad POV shots were obviously filmed on a normal-gauge railroad. Additionally, though the “running firefight atop the cars of a moving train” is a staple of American TV and cinema, the tornado-speed movement of Supertrain should make such a scenario physically impossible (unless, of course, the script calls for it). Supertrain!

LogBook entry by Earl Green