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N Entries
Noel Neill
Kurt Neumann
John Newland
Julie Newmar
Nichelle Nichols
Jack Nicholson
Leonard Nimoy
 
NEWLAND, JOHN
(1917–2000). American actor and director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Produced, directed, and hosted: Alcoa Presents [syndicated as One Step Beyond] (tv series) (1959-61); Next Step Beyond (tv series) (1978).

Appeared in and directed: "The Sacred Mushroom," episode of One Step Beyond (1961); "The Return of Andrew Bentley," "Portrait without a Face," episodes of Thriller (1962).

Directed: "Pigeons from Hell" (1961), "Man of Mystery" (1962), episodes of Thriller (1961); "The Double Affair" (1964), episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; The Spy with My Face (1965); "Errand of Mercy" (1967), episode of Star Trek; "There Aren't Any More MacBanes," episode of Night Gallery (1971); The Legend of Hillbilly John (1973); Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (tv movie) (1973); "The Man Who Could Not Die" (1979), "Phantom of the Rollercoaster" (1979) (two-part episode), episodes of Wonder Woman; "Red Star Rising" (1983), episode of Whiz Kids.

Also directed: episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Sixth Sense, and Fantasy Island.

Produced: Time Stalkers (tv movie) (Michael Schultz 1987).

 
By the time of his death in 2000, John Newland was almost entirely forgotten; but forty years earlier, he had been a star, the major competitor to Rod SERLING as the host of another outlandish anthology series, Alcoa Presents (syndicated under the more appropriate title One Step Beyond). The fact that his major work has not endured as well as Serling's offers two lessons.

One of them has long been understood, but was not yet apparent in 1960: in television, the nexus of creative control is the writer, not the director. The distinctive elements of a series episode must be in the script, since the frantic pace of television production makes the director more of a traffic cop than an auteur. Serling produced and wrote numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone, imposing a distinctive personality on the series; Newland produced and directed every episode of One Step Beyond without achieving that sense of artistic unity.

This might relate, admittedly, to the second lesson conveyed by the work of Serling and Newland—that in science fiction and fantasy, there is a vast difference between entertaining and persuading. Serling unambiguously presented himself as a storyteller, offering artfully polished fables with pithy morals for our modern age. Newland presented himself more as a journalist; he apparently had a genuine interest in unexplained phenomena, and he repeatedly assured viewers that the stories staged for One Step Beyond were all based on true events. To my knowledge, no one has proven this by means of persuasive research, but the very claim required each episode to seem unstructured and ragged, more like documentaries than dramas, often ending indecisively and lamely with questions left unanswered. A heavy reliance on unknown and usually unremarkable performers, perhaps influenced by budgetary considerations, reinforced this atmosphere of rough-hewn reality. As a result, episodes of One Step Beyond might be unsettling and thought-provoking—could such a thing really happen? what could possibly explain it?—but they rarely qualified as memorable filmmaking, which explains why One Step Beyond only lasted two seasons, and why its later successor Next Step Beyond expired even more quickly, in contrast to the longevity of The Twilight Zone. It was not until the 1990s that Chris CARTER's The X-Files demonstrated that a series delivering a message about strange goings-on in our midst could only succeed by integrating Serling-like craftsmanship with its Newland-like sincerity.

Despite his weekly appearances on One Step Beyond, he made no effort after its cancellation to revive his intermittent acting career, concentrating instead on directing and producing. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Newland directed a few films, but he otherwise restlessly roamed from series to series, never settling into regular employment; and despite several assignments for mundane series, he continued to demonstrate a special preference for fantasy and science fiction. He directed for the best series—Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek—for the worst series—The Sixth Sense, Fantasy Island, Whiz Kids—and for series that fell between those extremes—Thriller, Wonder Woman; he even worked for former competitor Rod Serling on an episode of Night Gallery. Despite the aforementioned limitations on the powers of a television director, there is sporadic evidence of unusual talent: his episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Double Affair," was expanded for theatrical release as The Spy with My Face; his Star Trek episode, "Errand of Mercy," employs omnipotent aliens to singularly critique both William SHATNER's Captain Kirk and his Klingon counterpart as childish belligerents; many found his unfortunately-titled film The Legend of Hillbilly John haunting and lyrical; and a television movie he produced, Time Stalkers, was a complicated but cohesive time-travel adventure. But someone undertaking the task of making a case for Newland would also confront the paradox of other productions that displayed no special virtues.

Overall, then, one sees eerie resonances between the lives and the television series of both Rod Serling and John Newland. Serling's career fit the classic pattern of a great man's rise and fall, an aesthetically pleasing narrative suitable (as noted elsewhere) for summing up in the manner of an episode of The Twilight Zone. Newland's career appears to fit no pattern, progressing in fits and starts before fading from view, but it offers disquieting hints of a hidden truth as yet unrevealed, in the manner of an episode of One Step Beyond. The truth may or may not be out there.

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