I first discovered Nimoy, who died today at age 83, as the host and narrator of In Search Of…, a weekly “documentary” series focusing on paranormal, mysterious, or unexplained events. Though the syndicated series scared the daylights out of me as an impressionable 7-year-old, it had me hooked almost immediately upon its premiere in April of 1977.
That spring was the calm before my sci-fi storm; weekly Star Trek reruns on my local independent station had not yet captured my attention, and the STAR WARS tractor beam was still a few months away from sucking me in for life. But I was always up for a good scare, and everything about In Search Of… creeped me out.
Created by Alan Lansburg, producer and writer of Biography, The World of Jacques Cousteau, and the National Geographic specials, In Search Of… was arguably one of TV’s first reality shows, if your definition of “reality show” is a slightly exagerated take on an actual person or event, and not the Kabuki theatrics of The Real Housewives.
Each week – it aired on Saturday nights in New York – In Search Of… would take on a sensational, often zeitgeist-capturing topic, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or UFOs, and attempt to explain it with a combination of talking head interviews, actor reenactments, news footage, spooky music and a heavy dose of “conjecture” (as the opening montage confessed). Nimoy lent the often hyperbolic proceedings a necessary gravitas, delivering his lines in his best Spock deadpan. Think Robert Stack in Unsolved Mysteries, but with fewer trenchcoats and more turtlenecks (and ghosts).
Nowadays, cable TV is littered with programs that blur the widening line between truth and bullshit, but such was not the case in the pre-SPINAL TAP dark ages of 1977. Documentary parodies existed on sketch shows like Monty Python and Saturday Night Live, but experts speaking seriously on fantastic topics were a rare thing. And they held a lot of weight, particularly if you were young, impressionable, and desperate to believe that there were other forces at play in the natural world.
And that was the thesis of In Search Of…, that unexplainable things were unexplainable simply because society wasn’t prepared to accept the explanations. The truth was out there in 1977, and it was thanks to Leonard Nimoy.
In Search Of… began as a series of three, hour-long documentaries airing between 1973 and 1975, all hosted by Rod Serling. Sadly, The Twilight Zone host died by the time Lansburg had sold the series, so Nimoy was transported into the host role. He’d go on to emcee all 144 episodes, until the success of the STAR TREK reunion films insured that Leonard Nimoy was, once again, Spock. (Appropriately, his second autobiography, published in 1995, is entitled I Am Spock.)
Happily, all 144 episodes of In Search Of… are available un-cut on DVD from VEI, both as individual season sets and a complete series box (which includes the Rod Serling specials, and 2002 re-boot hosted by The X-Files star Mitch Pileggi). And, while the show is not currently streaming legitimately, all six seasons are available on YouTube thanks to a mysterious phenomena known as “piracy.”
If you’re so inclined, I’d suggest you begin your Search with the Bermuda Triangle episode (original airdate April 17, 1977). This show made me fearful of flying for years, and I still think of it whenever I board a plane.
Thanks, Mr. Nimoy.