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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. Dan
    October 25, 2021 at 8:40 am

    Really interesting write-up! Looking forward to checking out the recommended episodes. (Especially The Haunted Inn)

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