Cult-TV Flashback: The Sixth Sense (1972)
- From The Sixth Sense Press Kit, published in Senior Scholastic: “The Sixth Sense,” September 18, 1972, page 22).
I am still troubled about the sad fate of The Sixth Sense, starring the late Gary Collins (1938-2012). After originally airing for two seasons on ABC in the early 1970's, this hour-long series was brutally cut-down to a half-hour length so as to be syndicated along with the episode catalog of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Mr. Serling even filmed new introductions in the famous black gallery for the re-crafted The Sixth Sense episodes.
This is a shame because fans and TV scholars are denied the chance to see the series as it was meant to be seen. By today's standards, some episodes may seem slow paced. But -- like Sweet, Sweet Rachel -- the stories here are pretty intriguing and even visually dynamic.
During every episode of The Sixth Sense the preternaturally patient and calm Dr. Rhodes would investigate a complex mystery featuring psychic overtones. That case might involve astral projection (“Face of Ice”), premonitions (“If I Should Die Before I Wake,”) automatic writing (“I Do Not Belong to the Human World,”) aura photography (“The Man Who Died at Three and Nine”), witchcraft (“Witch, Witch, Burning Bright”), apparitions (“Echo of a Distant Scream”), spiritual possession (“With Affection, Jack the Ripper) cryogenics (“Once Upon a Chilling”) or even organ transplant (“The Eyes That Would Not Die.” Usually Rhodes solved the mystery at hand by working closely with a beautiful woman in jeopardy.
And among those talents working behind-the-scenes on The Sixth Sense -- at least for a time -- were Gene Coon, Harlan Ellison and D.C. Fontana. I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Fontana in 2001, and our conversation veered briefly to The Sixth Sense. She recalled to me that in her opinion, developer Shpetner was difficult to work with because he had so many story dislikes:
On the other hand, The Sixth Sense triumphed in two notable areas. In the first, it features some great guest appearances by the likes of Joan Crawford (“Dear Joan: We Are Going to Scare You To Death”), William Shatner (“Can a Dead Man Strike from Beyond the Grave”), and Lee Majors (“With This Ring, I Thee Kill.”). Today, it’s a thrill to see Cloris Leachman, Patty Duke, Sandra Dee, Henry Silva, June Allyson and Sharon Gless, among others, get menaced by strange paranormal “phenomena.”
Some of the more intriguing episodes in the series include the one starring Shatner and Anne Archer (“Can a Dead Man Strike from Beyond the Grave”), written by Gene Coon. And “With this Ring I Thee Kill,” starring Lee Majors and Lucie Arnaz proves a weird call back to Faustian legends and stories. The episode featuring Joan Crawford (and directed by John Newland) is also memorable, since it pits the Hollywood legend against Mansonite cult member crazies.