Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond
Mystery Drama Anthology 1959-1961
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Through the 1940s and 1950s John Newland had been a prolific television director and actor having previously honed his skills in the theater. Some of the science fiction and mystery of tv series like Inner Sanctum, Eye Witness and Tales of Tomorrow in which he acted and/or directed must have had some influence on him. He had acted in three shows in the Armstrong Circle Theatre series. The scripts for these shows were based on real life stories. He fused ideas that he had gathered from these shows and bounced them off of his friends, scriptwriter Merwin Gerard and producer/writer Collier Young. They came up with the idea of a fantasy tv show based on real life psychic phenomena.
After recruiting experienced screenwriter Larry Marcus (his film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution was widely seen as a masterpiece), they filmed the pilot episode The Bride Possessed in 1959. After viewing the episode, aluminium manufacturer Alcoa agreed to sponsor the show on the understanding that John Newland was the main face of the show. John obliged and was also the series director.
His major achievement was the efficiency and speed with which he managed to pull together the different casts and such a variety of screenplays within a tight budget and timescale. Whereas a regular show with the same actors, regular sets and locations could achieve efficiencies using a near production-line approach, Newland was producing an anthology of self-contained productions, each with new challenges - but still keeping to his tight budget.
What made this show even more of an achievement was the wide variety of story locations, not to mention the occasional historical episodes such as a new spin on the Titanic disaster, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and President Lincoln's assassination. In episode 4 of season 2, Doomsday opens in a magnificent castle complete with all the required historical trappings.
One Step Beyond was a stopping-off point for many contemporary and future tv and movie stars, such as Jack Lord, William Shatner and Warren Beatty.
Although it started its life before Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, the two shows were, and have always been, compared. When Serling was formulating his ideas for The Twilight Zone, he met with John Newland to assure him that his show would not be a copycat of One Step Beyond. It seems the comparisons were being made at a very early stage.
All the stories from the first two seasons were filmed at MGM studios in Hollywood, however all but one the 3rd season's episodes were filmed in Borehamwood, England. The stories varied from visions of impending doom, hauntings, psychic connections across space and time and many other bizarre happenings. Many of the stories had a twist in the tale. All were claimed to be based on true life experiences.