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6 Sci-Fi TV Shows You Probably Didn't See

As any self-respecting geek would know, there have been some pretty wild ideas for science fiction TV shows. It must have taken a certain warped genius to come up with Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Lost or The 4400. Of course, those were hits. But some weird ideas didn't catch on so well. Take K-9000 (1990), about a cop who is telepathically linked to a talking, bionic police dog. Or L.A.X. 2194 (1994), a sitcom starring the not-yet-famous Matthew Perry and Ryan Stiles as baggage handlers at Los Angeles Airport, 200 years into the future. Strangely, neither of those made it beyond a pilot episode. The following shows didn't last so long, either. But when you read about them, you can't help thinking "What a wild idea!" (or perhaps "How did they expect anyone to watch that one?")

1. My Living Doll (1964-1965)

How's this for an idea? Build a shapely female robot and give her to a lady-killing military psychiatrist so he can teach her how to be (ahem) a perfect woman. Despite that foolproof concept, this sitcom about Rhoda (played by Julie Newmar, TVs first Catwoman), who lives with Bob McDonald (Robert Cummings) and avoids the lecherous advances of their neighbour, Peter Robinson (Jack Mullaney), only lasted one season. It was long enough for Bob to leave the series, so that Rhoda was placed in the care of"¦ Peter! Naturally, the best man for the job is the guy who spent all his time leering at her. Of course, the joke was on him. How could you have a relationship with a machine? (Of course, as this was a sixties sitcom, they never really covered that"¦)

2. Alternative 3 (1977)

altntv3.jpgEven in the seventies, people were worried about global warming. With this in mind, Alternative 3 was about a secret colony on Mars, built by American and Russian scientists because planet Earth was a lost cause. (The title came from the three alternatives: cut population, cut consumption, or the one they eventually chose: cut and run.) Not a bad idea for a TV series, perhaps. But no, the makers of this one-off British special decided to do it as a mockumentary. The result: thousands of panicking viewers phoned the production company, demanding to know how long they had left to change planets. Writer David Ambrose was unrepentant, saying that he was "constantly amazed at the gullibility of people." American networks turned it down, remembering the panic that happened when Orson Welles scared the U.S. public with his 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

3. The Ultimate Impostor (1979)

impostor.jpgAnother pilot that didn't hit the big time. In this one, a secret agent's brain is erased by the Russians. As a replacement, a computer is implanted into his skull that programs him with a new personality each week. But he has limited time to use each personality, as they fade after 72 hours. If this had been a series, it might have been a great role for a versatile character actor, who would basically get to play a different character each episode. As it was, it didn't turn lead actor Joseph Hacker into a star "“ and neither did anything else. Still, he's been busy ever since, playing numerous character roles. So maybe he could have done it"¦

4. Cold Lazarus (1996)

cold-l.jpgDennis Potter was known to many in Britain as the Shakespeare of television writers. His miniseries, like Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective (both turned into Hollywood movies), were critically acclaimed—and to be honest, downright weird. But his last miniseries (filmed after his death) was possibly the weirdest. Set 400 years into the future, it was about a virtual reality environment created from the visions and memories of playwright Daniel Feeld (Albert Finney). The thing is, Feeld has been dead for years, so the scientists take all of his visions from his disembodied and cryogenically frozen head. Raising the question: did Potter intend to put his own head in deep freeze?

5. Day Break (2006)

day-break.jpgRemember Groundhog Day, the classic 1992 comedy in which Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again? How about Groundhog Day: The Series—minus the laughs. Yes, really. In Day Break, Taye Diggs played a police detective framed for a murder, who relives the same day in each episode, always getting closer to finding the real murderer. You might not think that this idea can sustain a whole series"¦ and you might have a point. It was pulled after six episodes due to dismal ratings. The ABC put the remaining seven episodes on its website, so that fans (few as they were) could relive the day a few more times.

6. Gilligan's Planet (1982-1983)

Everyone knows Gilligan's Island, that 1960s sitcom about seven people stranded on a desert island. Sadly, while they seemed to know their location, none of them—not even the Skipper or the all-knowing Professor—was able to build a boat. An animated sequel, however, made a logical suggestion: they built a spaceship (out of trees, coconuts, the usual stuff) and blasted off, hoping to return home. Instead, they went off-course, crashing on an alien planet, where they would be stranded. Hoo boy. Strangely, this possibly wasn't the dumbest idea for a cartoon based on a sitcom. It might come a close second to The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (1980), in which Richie, the Fonz and their pals get stuck in a time-machine and have adventures in different times while trying to return home to the Milwaukee of 1957. Yeesh!

Don't believe us? Here's a clip:

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia, with books, scripts and countless articles to his credit. Learn more at markjuddery.com.

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Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
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Getty Images

The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko, but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).

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The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did actual bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint. According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.

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Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors
Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's hard to walk down the aisle of a liquor store without running across a bottle bearing someone's name. We put them in our cocktails, but how well do we know them? Here's some biographical detail on the men behind your favorite tipples.

1. Captain Morgan

FromSandToGlass, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Captain wasn't always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer. Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671. Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

Kevin Chang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Walker, the name behind the world's most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie's son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father. Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with "Old Highland Whisky," which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

LeeRoyal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper. One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn't get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery's proprietor? Daniel's own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

4. Jose Cuervo

Shane R, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1758, Jose Antonio de Cuervo received a land grant from the King of Spain to start an agave farm in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Jose used his agave plants to make mescal, a popular Mexican liquor. In 1795, King Carlos IV gave the land grant to Cuervo's descendant Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo. Carlos IV also granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila, so they built a larger factory on the existing land. The family started packaging their wares in individual bottles in 1880, and in 1900 the booze started going by the brand name Jose Cuervo. The brand is still under the leadership of the original Jose Cuervo's family; current boss Juan-Domingo Beckmann is the sixth generation of Cuervo ancestors to run the company.

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam, the namesake of the world's best-selling bourbon whiskey, didn't actually start the distillery that now bears his name. His great-grandfather Jacob Beam opened the distillery in 1788 and started selling his first barrels of whiskey in 1795. In those days, the whiskey went by the less-catchy moniker of "Old Tub." Jacob Beam handed down the distillery to his son David Beam, who in turn passed it along to his son David M. Beam, who eventually handed the operation off to his son, Colonel James Beauregard Beam, in 1894. Although he was only 30 years old when he took over the family business, Jim Beam ran the distillery until Prohibition shut him down. Following repeal in 1933, Jim quickly built a distillery and began resurrecting the Old Tub brand, but he also added something new to the company's portfolio: a bourbon simply called Jim Beam.

6. Tanqueray

Adrian Scottow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When he was a young boy, Charles Tanqueray's path through life seemed pretty clear. He was the product of three straight generations of Bedfordshire clergymen, so it must have seemed natural to assume that he would take up the cloth himself. Wrong. Instead, he started distilling gin in 1830 in a little plant in London's Bloomsbury district. By 1847, he was shipping his gin to colonies around the British Empire, where many plantation owners and troops had developed a taste for Tanqueray and tonic.

7. Campari

Michael, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Gaspare Campari found his calling quickly. By the time he was 14, he had risen to become a master drink mixer in Turin, and in this capacity he started dabbling with a recipe for an aperitif. When he eventually settled on the perfect mixture, his concoction had over 60 ingredients. In 1860, he founded Gruppo Campari to make his trademark bitters in Milan. Like Colonel Sanders' spice blend, the recipe for Campari is a closely guarded secret supposedly known by only the acting Gruppo Campari chairman, who works with a tiny group of employees to make the concentrate with which alcohol and water are infused to get Campari. The drink is still made from Gaspare Campari's recipe, though, which includes quinine, orange peel, rhubarb, and countless other flavorings.

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