Outer space has been a setting for television shows for nearly as long as television shows have existed, but not all space-set series are created equally. Over the decades, many have come and gone without leaving much of an impression, but several have left a lasting impact on the science-fiction landscape. In this list, we’ll be looking at those series that forever changed the game when it came to sci-fi television, with our picks for the seven most revolutionary space-set TV series of all time.
1. Men Into Space
This series, which debuted in 1959 and lasted just one season, may not have been the first television show to be set in outer space — but it might have paved the way for actual humans to enter the cosmos. The series aimed to paint a realistic picture of human space travel, still science-fiction at the time, and even worked with Air Force scientists in its strive for accuracy.
2. Star Trek: The Original Series
Gene Roddenberry’s original series from 1966 was way ahead of its time, and it remains a cultural phenomenon today. By placing its characters far into the future at a time when mankind had put aside its petty differences, the series was able to depict the modern problems the audience dealt with — like, say, racism — through the lens of its future utopia, and showed just how far we had (and still have) to go as a society.
3. Space 1999
Space 1999 looks extremely ’70s today, from the costumes to the music, and many of its storylines probably could have taken place on Star Trek. But what made the show revolutionary, and what makes it a hoot to watch still, are its visual effects. This series was extremely expensive to produce for its time, and its special effects blew everything else on TV out of the water, showing that there was no reason why TV couldn’t compete with movies when it came to sheer spectacle.
4. Babylon 5
The idea of a five-season-long novel for television sounded totally insane and incredibly risky, and yet somehow, it worked. Babylon 5 did what it intended to do in telling a serialized story with a planned beginning, middle, and end, that played out exactly how it was supposed to. The 1994 series remains a masterpiece in storytelling today and was clearly an influence on the current “Peak TV” generation.
5. Stargate SG-1
When you hear the word “Stargate” today, odds are you’ll think of this 1997 series and not the 1994 film that inspired it. That’s a testament to just how good SG-1 was, and to the way the series was able to build out an incredibly rich television franchise (with four live-action series and counting) from a movie that, while relatively successful, didn’t really leave a huge impact on pop culture. Granted, it wasn’t exclusively set in space, but much of the action took place on other planets and in other galaxies. All that is thanks to one of the greatest storytelling devices ever created….the stargate itself.
These days, every property wants to create a franchise universe, but they should look to Stargate to see how it’s done.
The term “Space Western” gets thrown around a lot, so much that it’s considered an actual genre. Even Star Trek is often called a Space Western. But there is no show that encapsulates that term like 2001’s Firefly. There are horses and pioneers and bar fights and six-shooters — and it’s all in outer space! There had never been anything else to take the concept of the Space Wester to such literal extremes as Firefly.
7. Battlestar Galactica
Reboots are everywhere in Hollywood, and usually, they’re considered trash by fans of the original property. So for a show to reboot a classic TV series and be considered superior by just about everyone, you know you’ve got something special. And that’s what Battlestar Galactica is. The 2004 series not only served as a successful reboot, but it went places the original never dreamed, becoming one of the smartest shows to ever air on television. For that reason, many consider it to be the greatest science-fiction series of all time.
Like the shows on this list? Well, you’re in luck, because a number of them are free to watch on COMET TV! You can catch Stargate SG-1 twice every weekday at 3 pm and 11 pm ET/PT, and Men Into Space every Saturday and Sunday morning. But that’s not all. Coming this fall, COMET TV will be the new home for both Babylon 5 and Space 1999! Go here to check your local listings.