The New People
A diverse group of college age students in 1969 crash land on an abandoned island and with no hope of being rescued must learn to work together or perish.
In 1969, a group of young college students are sent on a “Good Will Tour” across Southeast Asia by the U.S. State Department to showcase what American youth were like. The group is composed of a diverse selection of students from around the country with a wide range of social and political views. The government wasn’t prepared for what the American youth of the late 1960s were really like and the tour is disrupted by several of the students demonstrating and protesting the inequalities they have witnessed throughout the world. The tour is cut short by their new chaperone, Hannichek (Richard Kiley) when the students will not promise to stop their disruptive activities. While on the way back to Manilla, their plane hits a storm driving them way off course and eventually causing them to crash landing on an unknown island. Hannichek is the only adult to survive, although he is gravely injured, and several students also perish. In the first episode, they discover that they are on a nuclear test site that was never used and eventually abandoned. This puts them far away from any flight paths or shipping lanes making rescue unlikely. This group of kids must now learn how to work together to survive, and they have a chance to create a society fixing all the wrongs that they view the previous generations committed. Can a group of wildly diverse college students create a new society and learn to survive, or will they eventual devolve and kill each other off?
The New People premiered on ABC on September 22, 1969, and ran for one season with seventeen episodes. It is also one of the rare shows that was only 45 minutes long instead of the normal hour. The series reflected the youth-oriented counterculture of the time period representing the distrust in government and the establishment rules, looking for a more peaceful way for the people of the world to coexist. It is important to remember what was happening in this time period, the U.S. was still fighting in Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement, and the death of Martin Luther King Jr. was only the year before. This is not the first, nor was it the last to highlight the rebuilding of society by the youth when separated from the general population or about people surviving on a strange island after a plane crash.. The novel, Lord of the Flies and the television series Lost are probably the best examples of this, but throughout the years there have been many others.
I was only able to view the first episode, but I was stung by how relative many of the themes still are today. The trauma from war and racial inequalities were definite influences on the series and these issues were being tackled head on with no subtlety at all. I was also surprised at the very poetic nature of the dialogue, but when viewing the credits and seeing who wrote the pilot, it made a lot of sense. The great Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, developed the series and wrote the pilot giving it a lyrical and yet truthful feel. The script wonderfully exemplified the ugliness of society, the beauty of people and the destructive nature of a mob. The visual composition of the pilot was also masterfully done, with some shots feeling theatrical and symbolic. The performances are all very good and the characters are all diverse, some are more likeable than others but all of them seemed empathetic and relatable. One character stood out for me, and I feel Rod was using him as the voice of reason but also as the eloquent voice of the new generation. George Potter (Peter Ratray) is an ex-marine who fought in Vietnam and is traumatized by having to kill a young girl who was planting a bomb. He is reserved and a bit intense but also harnessed a type of control and calmness. In a particularly good scene between him and Hannichek, he illuminates by using many of the students as examples of how society made their generation, not only letting us know who they are, what they are fighting for, but also their frailties and faults.
Having never heard of this series before (I would be born on the same day episode 10 premiered), I was happily surprised at how good it was and disappointed that the U.S. has not progressed further in the 50+ years since this series premiered. I would highly recommend giving it a watch. The pilot episode reviewed here can be found on You Tube.
Forgotten Television: The New People
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Production - 8/108/10