Thriller has the dubious distinction of having been marketed in several different formats over the years, something which has no doubt contributed to the general public's amnesia about the series. What follows is a breakdown of the various incarnations the show has taken.
[Thanks to Franz Clinton for the publicity material depicted on this page]
ORIGINAL UK "ATV FORMAT" EPISODES
All 43 episodes of Thriller were originally made by ATV to fill a 9pm Saturday slot (however the start time generally varied throughout the series by ten or fifteen minutes throughout the run). Each episode ran for approximately 63-68 minutes which, allowing for commercials, would fill a 75 minute slot These were shown by the entire independent television network.
Originally, each episode would (following an animated ATV ident) begin with a shot of an external location, after which the camera would pan or zoom in on a house, office, hotel etc (this technique was phased out from Season 4 onwards). A "teaser" sequence would then follow, which could run anywhere from 30 seconds to (in the case of "Kill Two Birds") 4 and 1/2 minutes.
suitably dramatic point, the main title sequence would then cut
in. This consisted of location stills taken during the shooting
of the story and seen through a blood-red "fisheye
lens" peephole effect, as Laurie Johnson's main theme played
in the background (with harpsichord stabs emphasising each
slide). Clemens and producer John Sichel conceived this
remarkably simple yet striking start to the program.
Click here to watch an original opening title sequence
The episodes were divided into three equal sections, with "END OF PART ONE" / "PART TWO", "END OF PART TWO" / "PART THREE" slides framing each segment (also done in a blood-red effect). These were accompanied by a crashing sting on harpsichord, and usually cut in at an especially dramatic moment (serving as "cliff-hangers" to ensure that viewers did not wander off during the breaks).
The closing sequence also utilised the "fisheye" approach, but used a longer and slightly re-arranged version of the theme (minus the stabs, creating a more mournful effect). During the final season, the full crew (ie: make up etc.) were listed during the closing credits; previously only the main contributors had been credited.
After the loss of ATV's franchise in 1981, the original 2 inch Quadruplex tapes of the ATV episodes were scattered far and wide during subsequent takeovers of the archive. For many years only an incomplete set of 1 inch tape copies were available for broadcast use. Finally, in 2003, Carlton (the then-current owners) began an exhaustive cataloguing of all Thriller material, recalling tapes from America and assigning the British Film Institute to transfer the "quad" tapes to modern Digibeta tapes. [Thanks to Ian Kerr for his help with this].
original shooting order of the episodes is as follows,
reconstructed from the videotape numbers. The episodes are
grouped by production block and year (note: the final series
episodes seem to have been recorded over tapes which once held
earlier ATV programmes - a sadly common practice in the 60s and
70s, particularly at ATV).
[Thanks to Alan Briscoe and Martin Marshall].
The Colour Of Blood
The Eyes Have It (6604)
A Coffin For The Bride (7226)
The Crazy Kill (9566)
US "ABC FORMAT" VERSIONS
All the Thriller episodes were networked by ABC in North America in the early 'seventies. However, there were slight variations from what was seen on UK tv.
* The opening credits were similar to the ATV versions except that the American guest star was credited first and the background stills were sometimes different. The closing titles used "rolling" credits over a single fisheye still with far more personnel credited than in the ATV versions. Two original ABC versions ("Nurse Will Make It Better" and "If It's A Man - Hang Up!") are included in the dvd box set. The difference between ATV and ABC titles is illustrated below, with the former in the top row and the latter at the bottom.
* The episodes contained extra breaks (up to seven, according to Clemens) for commercials, to help flesh out the 90 minute slot (the two above examples had UK style adcaps inserted for the dvd release). Instead of saying 'Part Two' etc they simply featured the title of the episode.
* All of the episodes between "Only A Scream Away" and "Where The Action Is" (comprising 19 stories) featured extended and/or extra scenes which would not be seen in the UK broadcasts (which, curiously, were generally broadcast weeks or months later). The extra material usually totalled 2-3 minutes. See The Lost Thriller Scenes.
The episodes themselves were actually transmitted as part of an ABC slot called "WIDE WORLD OF MYSTERY" which ran several nights a week and also featured made-for-tv movies from various other sources. A special trailer introduced each instalment and included short extracts from the night's offering set to a dedicated signature tune. At the end of each commercial break, the trailer was replayed to aid viewer's who had just tuned in. Transmission for all of these commenced at 11.30 pm and ended at 1 am. WIDE WORLD OF MYSTERY ran from January 1973 until September 1975, after which it was rechristened "MYSTERY OF THE WEEK" and continued right up until August 1978. After the last Thriller episode debuted in November 1975, ABC continued to repeat them in the same format until ITC reformatted the episodes into movies in 1978 (see below).
Apparently these original US versions still exist, as two ("If It's A Man - Hang Up!" and "Nurse Will Make It Better") are included on the dvd box set - the first because there was no "peephole titles" version ever made for the UK and the second because the 2 inch Quadruplex master tape of the ATV version could not be found. Sadly, the compilers did not realise that there is a 1 inch copy still extant (shown on satellite channel Bravo in 1996).
Click here for a complete list of original US transmissions.
(Many thanks to Mark Faulkner for this information)
US "ITC MOVIE" VERSIONS
|In 1978 ITC (ATV's sister company) decided to breath new life into a series of syndicated US re-runs by re-formatting the episodes into individual movies. By creating newly-shot dedicated titles for each "movie", they hoped to dupe the public into thinking they were seeing something completely new. In fact, Thriller was not the only series to be re-formatted in this way; other ITC programs such as The Saint and The Persuaders were given the same treatment. ITC Entertainment actively marketed these movies all over the world, largely obliterating the memory of the original ATV versions. ITC Entertainment's offspring ITC Entertainment Group also heavily marketed the movie versions between 1987 and 1997.|
The following changes were made to each story:
* The Thriller title sequence and theme was not used. Each movie was referred to by its episode title, but many of the titles were altered (eg: "The Colour Of Blood" became "The Carnation Killer").
* A completely new title sequence was shot for each movie, featuring either animation or new film sequences shot in America (with the actor's faces concealed to maintain continuity). Occasionally, short preview clips from the episode itself would be incorporated into the sequence. A new closing sequence was also made up for each movie (some used rolling credits over a painting, while others freeze-framed on a particular shot just prior to the final scene playing out). Stock pieces from the Bruton and KPM music libraries were used for all these sequences, although the badly worded credits gave the impression that Laurie Johnson wrote these pieces (although the string piece "Lonely Stranger" heard during the opening titles of "The Savage Curse" was in fact a Laurie Johnson library piece). The new sequences extended each movie to a 70 minute length. For a detailed list of library music used in these American made title sequences, see the The TVM Music Details Page (external site).
* The original teaser sequence was either relocated after the title sequence or intercut with the newly-shot material in that sequence. In one instance ("One Deadly Owner") the teaser was dropped altogether.
* For those title sequences completed by Film Rite Inc/Creative Productions and Visualscope Productions, each movie was copyrighted at the end as "© ITC ENTERTAINMENT 1974", regardless of whether the original episode aired in 1973, 74, 75 or 76. Quite why this was done is unknown. The (animated) title sequences completed by Dolphin Productions gave the ATV credit and correct year at the end (although Dolphin usually made many other mistakes and mis-spellings in the credits).
|Since these US ITC movie versions
were ultimately assembled out of the
above-mentioned US "ABC format" versions, they
contain the same extra/extended scenes at various
junctures for all 19 stories between "Only A Scream
Away" and "The Killing Game" (AKA
"Where The Action Is"). Some of these segments
are extremely brief; others are substantial and run for
30 seconds or more.These scenes are not contained in any
versions broadcast outside of North America, including
the original ATV versions and the movie versions screened
in the UK, Europe and Australia. Seven of these 19
extended versions were released on video in North America in the 1980's.
See The Lost Thriller Scenes.
It is not known whether any of these original US movie versions still exist, but it seems likely.
UK "ITC MOVIE" VERSIONS
|In 1981 many stations in the UK
bought the rights to screen ITC's movie versions
(generally late at night). However, these were not
exactly the same versions seen in America.
The UK movie versions were created by converting the American-made title sequences from NTSC to PAL standard (*), and marrying them to the PAL masters of the original ATV episodes (removing the "fisheye" peephole titles in the process). This was done to achieve higher picture quality, however it does mean that any "extra" scenes seen in the US movie versions are generally not present in their UK counterparts, with two curious exceptions: "In The Steps Of A Deadman" and "Only A Scream Away", each of which contain 2-3 minutes of material not featured in the ATV versions.
|All 43 of these UK ITC movie
versions still exist today.
(*) America and Canada use a different television system - "NTSC" - from the UK, which uses the "PAL" system. Tapes recorded in one format must be converted to the other to maintain compatibility. In the early 70's this was accomplished for the Thriller episodes by pointing an NTSC camera at a modified PAL monitor - an extremely crude method that resulted in poor resolution, colour and a slightly "zoomed in" effect.