Actually, Nickelodeon’s The Tomorrow People is the stuff of yesterday. Although the channel calls the show the first science-fiction miniseries for kids, the idea of sci-fi aimed at kids is really a return to those future days of yesteryear, when all TV sci-fi was for youngsters. In the rabbit-ears ’50s, science fiction was all over the airwaves, usually benign adventures encouraging kids to learn science — Commander Buzz Corey of Space Patrol always had time to give young Cadet Happy a lesson about light-years or weightlessness. Then, in the late 1950s — ironically just as real-life manned space travel became possible — the genre vanished.
Now, though, videos of a few futuristic favorites can help nostalgic grownups or curious kids travel back in sci-fi time. Space Patrol (ABC, 1950-55) is one of the few examples of the genre on home video; like most ’50s kids’ shows, it was aired live, and few kinescopes exist. Even if more did, they might not see the light of video: The stories are merely quaint, the costumes more car-hop than star-hop, and kids today see better special effects in school hygiene films. Still, for fortysomething adults, the three volumes of Patrol on Rhino Home Video and the one on Video Yesteryear have such an innocent, eager appeal, you just want to hug them.
Same with Video Yesteryear’s one episode of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (various networks, 1950-1955), in which a small-statured junior cadet, made fun of by his peers, turns out to be the only one who can rescue them. The same label has four volumes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (syndicated, 1954), which is less after-school special than space opera: Spaceship commander Jones worked under the auspices of the United Worlds, an organization devoted to protecting all civilized planets in the solar system.
Still lost in space, however, are half a dozen more intergalactic adventures, including Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers (CBS, 1953-54), which starred Cliff Robertson (and was produced by William Dozier, later responsible for the 1960s Batman series), and Buck Rogers (ABC, 1950-51) and Flash Gordon (syndicated, 1953-54), TV adaptations of radio and film serials that in 1979 and 1980 were re-reincarnated into yet another TV show and movie respectively. Alas, these series have disappeared into a black hole, but hey, maybe those Tomorrow People kids can figure out how to bring television shows back from the dead too.