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THINGS UNSEEN: Recalling TV’s “The Next Step Beyond” (1978)

The 1970’s TV series “The Next Step Beyond” is not to be (completely) confused with the 1959-1961 series “One Step Beyond” and its weekly tales of real-life, “documented” psychic phenomenon. “Next Step” was that show’s remake/sequel/revival—a one-season wonder, made for first-run syndication, and once again hosted by John Newland. Twenty-five 30-minute episodes were produced and distributed by Worldvision Enterprises; they were deployed to local stations beginning in late 1978.

And though “Next Step’s” parent show, “One Step Beyond,” has become a syndicated classic that can now be readily found on DVD and online, “The Next Step Beyond” has all but vanished—almost as if it were a psychic apparition itself.

Majel Barrett in the episode “Drums at Midnight”

Although “Next Step Beyond” is a nearly forgotten footnote to its far more successful predecessor’s legacy, the video vaults of the Library of Congress bear witness to its existence. The Library’s Packard Campus facility in Culpeper, Virginia, contains every episode of this latter-day “lost” series. In the 1970s, they were registered for copyright on videotape and, subsequently, have been preserved by our Video Laboratory.  They can be viewed in the Library’s Moving Image Reference Center in Washington, DC.

There are, perhaps, many reasons why “NSB” is less famous than its now-classic parent.   First, the revived series was unsuccessful in its syndicated state; it ran only 25 episodes and, when reviewed, the reviews were not kind.

Second, due to budget constraints, the show was shot completely on videotape, therefore giving it a rather cheap, rushed looked.

Also not helping the second series was the fact that many of the original show’s die-hard fans  blanched at this one-year resurrection from the start, disowning it with a particular passion. “One Step” loyalists greatly prefer the filmed look and black-and-white of the earlier series.

But, mostly, they objected (rightfully?) to the second series’s tendency to–again, due to budget concerns–quite literally, recycle scripts from the original series. For the revival, the show’s producers simply updated some old episodes, changing the proper names, places and episode titles before putting them before the cameras and calling them “new.” Cases in point: “Next Step Beyond’s” debut episode, “Tsunami,” was a revision of “One Step’s” episode “Tidal Wave.” The “new” episode “The Return of Cary DeWitt” was a rehash of the earlier “The Return of Mitchell Campion.”  And so on.

But, when viewed today at the Library of Congress, despite this second series’s handful of demerits, “Next Step” is not without its strengths and charms, especially when taken on its own terms.

Robert Walker, Jr. (right) in the episode “Other Voices”

John Newland, who hosted the original “One Step Beyond,” also hosted the new series, always with an informed calmness, and also directed most of the episodes. Newland was skilled and prolific behind the camera; his small screen directing credits date from 1955 to 1983 and include a wide assortment of episodic titles including installments of “Peyton Place,” “Wonder Woman,” “Police Woman,” “Thriller,” “The Loretta Young Show,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

At the helm of “Next Step Beyond,” Newland had a deft eye and a way with actors; he was able to coax some vivid performances from his eclectic but talented guest cast. During its single season on the air, “Next Step” featured such cult performers as James Keach, Lana Wood, Majel Barrett, Martine Beswick, William Campbell, and Robert Walker, Jr., among others.

While some episodes of the series have, admittedly, not aged well, crippled by some horribly-dated ‘70s slang and their rushed production schedules, others are well and vividly told:

–episode #19, the non-remake “The Haunted Inn,” starring James Keach and featuring a truly     unexpected ending, is surely as chilling as anything Hitchcock or Serling ever brought to the airwaves;

–the episode “Ghost of Cell Block Two” has an innovative use of the camera and camera tricks, and an  outstanding lead performance by Lana Wood;

–the episode “The Pact” centers on three adults whose lives are haunted by a fortune teller’s vision from years ago; its denouement is devastating;

–finally, the unexpected, closing image from the episode “Ghost Town” is deeply haunting.

This re-watching turned reevaluation of “Next Step”—unencumbered by the specter of the prior series and completely on its own terms—not only helps unearth an obscure series but reflects the breadth and depth of the television holdings of the Library of Congress. One wonders then what else also awaits, and beckons, not only from the past but from the Library shelf.

         Your host, once again, John Newland

All photos courtesy: Worldvision/CBS/CTD









From the National Film Registry: Home Movie Day

Today, we honor National Home Movie Day by not only highlighting the importance of home movies as historical and cultural documents, but also as a personal reflection that we are often more alike than different. At least four home amateur films are in the National Film Registry and many more can be viewed in the […]

Buck Canel–The Voice of Beisbol, Boxeo and FDR

  “…millions this week listened to Buck Canel, a swashbuckling New Yorker, as he broadcast his 27th World Series in Spanish” –Robert H. Boyle, Sports Illustrated, October 14, 1963. “No se vayan que esto se pone bueno!” (“Don’t go away, this is getting good!”) –Buck Canel, during many, many baseball broadcasts Sportscaster Buck Canel’s voice […]

The Ongoing Mystery of “ABC’s Wide World of Mystery” (1973-1976)

Sadly, in the Library of Congress’ Moving Image and Recorded Sound sections, we are no stranger to the concept of “lost” media.  Though our vast archives are a testament to all the movies, TV shows, music and other sounds that have been created and have endured to the present day, sprinkled throughout film/sound history are […]

Film Loans from the Library of Congress — October 2021

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Opening the Treasure Chest: National Silent Movie Day

Today we celebrate National Silent Movie Day by opening the treasure chest and sharing some of the resources that the Library of Congress offers to research and expand your interest in these classic and iconic motion pictures. The American silent feature film era lasted from 1912 to 1929 with nearly 11,000 feature films produced, but […]

From the Recording Registry: “Born to Run” (1975)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE BOSS!  In honor of Bruce Springsteen’s birthday today, author Tyler Hayes pays tribute to Springsteen’s legendary album “Born to Run,” added to the National Registry in 2003.  Two albums into his career, Bruce Springsteen’s music trajectory was not set to contain notoriety. He was on a path that would soon see […]

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The National Recording Registry: DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!

IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO NOMINATE YOUR FAVORITE RECORDINGS FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL RECORDING REGISTRY The Library of Congress invites you to submit your recommendations for the 2021 National Recording Registry. Every year, the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the National Recording Preservation Board, annually selects 25 titles/works that are deemed “culturally, historically or […]

From the Recording Registry: Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition Speech of 1895

Today, on the anniversary of Booker T. Washington’s historic Atlantic speech, we look back at the recording Washington made of it in 1908, so that his words would not be lost to history.  Professor Jacqueline M. Moore does the honors for the recording added to the National Registry in 2002. Booker T. Washington’s 1895 Address […]