Automan on DVD at last!

Monday, 08 October 2012 11:33
Posted in TV DVDs

Automan finally makes it to DVDAutoman has gained cult status since its original broadcast on BBC1, and so it’s long overdue to finally see it released on DVD. It’s what’s deemed a ‘high concept’ show, produced by Glen A Larson (Knight Rider, Magnum PI, Manimal) along with the original producers of the “Tron” movie. The show has never received a DVD release owing to music rights issues, which have now been resolved - so you now get the full four disc series as the director intended. It’s been expected to arrive on DVD for virtually the whole of 2012 (it was certified back in March 2012), but finally it’s here!

Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz Jr) is the Police Department’s resident computer geek. His immediate superiors think Walter’s place is behind a desk and not on the streets, but that doesn’t stop Walter dreaming of getting in on the action. Walter’s expertise in computer programming is unparalleled and he creates a special program, ‘Automan’ (Chuck Wagner) an artificially intelligent computer hologram that looks real, sounds real and given enough power can physically exist in the real world.

Together, Walter and Automan, along with Cursor, a small floating avatar that can create any object Automan needs, this mismatched duo battle crime on the city streets. Automan did have his limitations though. When the morning hours came around, and all of the toaster and kettles began to work, Automan's shimmering glimmer dimmed and he had to go back into Walter's computer during the daylight hours to conserve energy.

Many times you will hear people say that nothing quite matched the 1960s Adam-West-fronted TV series Batman for suspension of disbelief, bright and breezy plots and a knowing humour which just means that episodes are simply good fun to watch.  Automan, along with another recent release by Fabulous Films, Manimal, really deserve some re-evaluation in the 21st Century along these lines. No, it’s not high drama, but the performances are sufficiently po-faced and straight to merge into the “Airplane!”-style of credulity, meaning you’re just carried along on a cloud resting somewhere between nostalgia and anarchy.

On the effects side of things, Automan’s outfit was apparently easier to make than a “Tron” costume - it consisted of a blue body suit with tape reflectors, lit up by bright lights on-set, which were then toned down in post-production. The Autocar was actually a customized Lamborghini Countach, still the dream car for many of a certain age – having that dealt to you in a game of ‘Top Trumps’ made you virtually invincible! No computer wizardry was used to create the effects, only traditional animation and editing techniques. Yes, just imagine what they could do now on just a slither of the budget.

Chuck Wagner (‘Automan’), standing tall at 6’ 5”, went on to enjoy a twenty year career on Broadway, and recently turned his hand to protecting sea turtles in Florida after the BP oil spill. It has to be said, being a former convention organiser, Chuck is one of those guests that got away! His insight goes way beyond that of your usual actors involved in a television production, his comments in the documentary are perceptive and shrewd, and you have to wonder why he never got another starring role on the small screen. He did turn up in episodes of Dynasty, Matlock, and All My Children post-Automan, but that’s about it.

Desi Arnaz Jr (‘Walter’) was the son of Hollywood icons Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Despite the extremely influential parentage (their company ‘Desilu’ was responsible for the birth of such shows as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible), Desi confined his early work to TV movies and guest appearances on such shows as Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Mod Squad, The Love Boat, Police Story, and The Streets of San Francisco. An appearance on Matlock (“The Rat Pack”) in 1987 was a link to Linda Purl (‘Charlene Matlock’), who he was married to between 1980 and 1981 – although she doesn’t appear in the episode.  Desi has lived in Boulder City, Nevada, since 1986, where he owns the Historic Boulder Theatre and helps direct the non-profit Boulder City Ballet Company with his wife, Amy Arnaz.

Heather McNair (‘Roxanne Caldwell’), prior to Automan, had appeared in an episode of Legmen. Guest roles followed in the likes of Cover Up, St Elsewhere, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Probe, The Highwayman, and The Young Riders. She had a small role as Marion Davies in the Robert Downey Jr “Chaplain” on the big screen, before taking to running a beauty place in Illinois. She is currently back in the business, this time as a Director, Writer, Producer and a Production Designer for the 2010 animated short feature “Wonderland Hospital” which parodies the soap opera and medical drama genres. It won the Award for Short Film at the Seattle International Film Festival that year.

Robert Lansing does his usual scene-stealing work as the hard-boiled detective lieutenant Jack Curtis on Automan. A huge CV includes starring roles in the likes of 1962’s 87th Precinct (as Det Steve Carella), 12 O’Clock High (General Frank Savage), and The Man Who Never Was (Mark Wainwright/Peter Murphy) prior to Automan, but is probably best known for a role that followed, as handler ‘Control’ in Edward Woodward’s The Equalizer.

Lansing’s final role was in the first two seasons of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues as Paul Blaisdale. He died in November 1994 from cancer, and his last trio of episodes on that show were screened posthumously – the final one of all being screened as season two’s finale.

Completing the series regulars on Automan was Gerald S O’Loughlin as Police Captain E G Boyd. He also has a substantial screen career, stretching back to 1952’s Goodyear Playhouse, and taking in guest slots on the likes of Hawaii 5-0, The Young Lawyers and  Mission: Impossible before getting a 92 episode run on The Rookies as Lt Ed Riker from 1972 to 1976 (and he even got to direct an episode). He was later series regular Joe Kaplan, on Our House, and can count appearances on Riptide, TJ Hooker, Highway to Heaven, Cover Up, Murder She Wrote, ER, Chicago Hope and Judging Amy to his name.

Guest appearances to look out for include Patrick Macnee, Don Galloway and Doug McClure (Pilot Movie), Mary Crosby (“Staying Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever”), Richard Anderson (“Renegade Run”), singer Laura Branigan (“Murder MTV”), Joel Fabiani (“Murder: Take One”), John Vernon and James Morrison (“Zippers”), Lance LeGault and Anne Lockhart (“Death by Design”) and Dennis Cole (“Club Ten”).

The biggest extra of note on this DVD release is a substantial brand new documentary “Calling Automan – The Auto Feature” and includes interviews with Chuck Wagner, Glen A Larson, Desi Arnaz Jr, and Heather McNair. In that you’ll note that, at the time, it was one of the most expensive television shows ever made, and it was this rather than its fairly respectable ratings which was the reason for there being only half a season of 13 episodes made.

Also within this DVD set’s extras are a collectables gallery and a stills gallery, as well as the following text articles:

  • The Story of Automan
  • Feature Story
  • Original Cast and Crew Biographies.


All in all, given the development in special effects, this series has to be defined as pure escapism from days gone by. We have to thank the BBC for giving it such a high profile slot was back in 1984, one which ensured it had a profile – and an audience!  I can see this one being on many a parent’s own Christmas list – it’ll certainly assist the after-effects of turkey and the like come Boxing Day!

Automan – The Complete Series is out now from Fabulous Films.  With a ‘12’ certificate (unbelievably for “infrequent moderate language and violence” – tsk, tsk BBFC!), and a running time of 651 minutes approx, the RRP is £39.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Monday, 08 October 2012 11:37

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