Irwin Allen presented his idea for a new space adventure show to James Aubrey in the Programming Department at CBS. Aubrey was impressed with Allen's presentation and with investment by CBS, 20th Century Fox, and Red Skelton, Allen produced the $600,000 pilot "No Place to Hide," the most expensive pilot filmed up to that time.The pilot focused on the story of the Robinson family and their pilot, Dr. Don West, from the launch of their spaceship, the Gemini 12, to their crash landing on an alien planet and the difficulties they faced in establishing a homestead there.
The special effects in the pilot were painstakingly created in the studio, and were the equal of those seen in feature films. The use of real-life cutting edge technology such as the jetpack and the impressive chariot used by the Robinsons surpassed anything seen on contemporary television.
Allen was proud of the quality of the pilot, and was shocked when the executives broke into laughter at the its initial screening. Apparently, so the story goes, the laughter was not in derision; rather the network executives were enjoying the show. It was picked up and given a higher budget per episode than most other series on television at the time.
Filmed in black-and-white, the first season of Lost in Space took itself more seriously than subsequent seasons—at least at the outset. Set in 1997, the series begn}}s the Robinsons, a family of space travelers preparing for a five-year exploratory voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system in the Jupiter 2. Unfortunately, the enemy saboteur Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) intends to prevent the mission and kill the family, with the help of the Robot, which he programs to carry out his plans to destroy the ship.
When the Jupiter 2 blasts off, Dr. Smith is trapped inside the vehicle with his intended victims: Prof. John Robinson (Guy Williams); his wife, Maureen (June Lockhart); his children, Judy (Marta Kristen), Will (Bill Mumy), and Penny (Angela Cartwright), and ship's pilot Don West (Mark Goddard). Because of Smith's sabotage, the ship veers off course to an unchartered planet where the Robinsons et. al. will spend the remainder of the season.
Contrary to fan belief, it had never been intended to kill off the Dr. Smith character after the first five-episode story arc (Jonathan Harris confirmed, in a 1997 interview with STARLOG magazine, "I was hired to be in every episode.") The Robot "reforms" and becomes an unending fount of valuable information for the space castaways, periodically bursting forth with cries of "Warning! Warning!" and "Danger! Danger!" and dealing with matters beyond his ken by muttering metallically, "That does not compute."
As for Smith, he evolves from snarling villain to cowardly buffoon, whom the others inexplicably tolerate, even though Smith's perfidy and duplicity cause nothing but trouble for them. The notion to serialize the episodes is dropped early on in favor of self-contained stories, though each episode ends with a cliff-hanger preview of the following week's installment. Unlike the next two seasons of Lost in Space, guest stars were kept to a minimum during season one.
In season two of Lost in Space we see the movement to campier adventures begun in the latter half of season one now in full swing. The season begins with the Jupiter 2 blasting off into space when the destruction of Priplanus is imminent. While in space they meet the mysterious green woman who will return later in the season to renew her pursuit of Dr. Smith.
After the failed attempt of the denizens of the Automated Planet to trap the Robinsons, they are forced to land on a nearby planet in Sector 6.30 where they will remain for the rest of the season. The Robinsons’ adventures on that planet include befriending the android Verda and the return of Alonzo P. Tucker, unreformed and still in search of a treasure. Their relationship with the Robot is explored in three episodes where he is disassembled, disabled, and has his character switched with Dr. Smith’s.
One episode gives Judy centre stage , while another gives Penny almost equal time with Will. Several episodes centre almost completely on Dr. Smith. Two more episodes give us insight into Zachary Smith’s character. “The Deadly Games of Gamma 6” is similar to season one’s “The Challenge,” but with Dr. Smith rather than Will accepting a challenge but John still coming to the rescue. “The Astral Traveller” has Will and Dr. Smith return to Earth, but they are trapped in a haunted Scottish castle where Smith almost loses his head—literally.
Most of the remainder of the season’s episodes are typical of what many fans consider to be the normal high-camp style of Lost in Space with the stock plot line of Smith doing something he shouldn’t, Will being placed in danger when he tries to help, and John or the Robot coming to the rescue.
In the final season of Lost in Space, under pressure from the network to provide more action in the series, Irwin Allen took the Robinsons to a dozen new planets, and even returned them all to Earth in “Visit to a Hostile Planet;” Will and Dr. Smith went there alone in "Target: Earth."
Third season episodes include campy, on-planet episodes, such as were common in season two. They usually focus on Will, Penny, or, in one case, Judy (“Two Weeks in Space,” “Princess of Space,” and “Space Beauty.”). A number of episodes were more serious or dramatic in their presentation this season—“Visit to a Hostile Planet,” “Flight into the Future,” “The Anti-matter Man,” and “Fugitives in Space” are all good examples of this type of episode. Lost in Space became “relevant” in “The Promised Planet,” addressing the issue of growing up and maturity, and down-right silly in “The Great Vegetable Rebellion.”
More people ride in the Jupiter 2 this season than ever before; J5 in “The Haunted Lighthouse,” Will’s dark alter-ego in “The Space Creature,” five Robinson clones in “Target: Earth,” the Junkman in “Junkyard in Space,” and even Dr. Smith’s contraband orange tree in “The Flaming Planet.”
In “The Time Merchant,” we are presented with new information on the effect of Dr. Smith’s presence on board the Jupiter 2 when it is revealed that his added weight would in fact be necessary to save the Robinsons from certain destruction in the meteor storm they met after their take-off. When confronted with this information, Dr. Smith ultimately relents from his refusal to board the ship and quite heroically returns to the Jupiter 2 just seconds before its launch, thus saving his beloved foster family.
Perhaps as a result of his dissatisfaction in the course of story-lines from the middle of the first season onward, Guy Williams is featured as the central character in two episodes this season, “Hunter’s Moon” and “Anti-matter Man.” Two very different sides of Major Don West are seen in “The Space Primevals” and “Anti-matter Man,” and he plays the central “adult” figure in “Castles in Space.”
The Robinsons arrive at the two places they have been striving to reach over the previous two seasons, Earth and Alpha Centauri, but they reach Earth in 1947 in “Visit to a Hostile Planet,” and the planet Delta in “The Promised Planet” turns out to be a deception perpetrated by its inhabitants.