John Newland and One Step Beyond

Today a celebration of actor/director/producer/tv host John Newland (1917-2000), nowadays chiefly remembered, when at all, for the supercool ABC TV series he hosted and directed for three seasons, One Step Beyond (1959-1961).

I’m not dyslexic, but I still find myself always wanting to read this as “Beyond Step One”

People who casually encounter this groundbreaking show nowadays are apt to write it off as a Twilight Zone ripoff, but they would be Oh So Wrong in doing so. For One Step Beyond premiered nine months prior to The Twilight Zone, as well as a year prior to Boris Karloff’s Thriller, and four years prior to The Outer Limits. Furthermore, unlike those other shows, One Step Beyond purported to tell dramatized versions of TRUE strange stories. The subject matter was similar — ghosts, UFOs, ESP and the like — but they were based on events that people claimed really happened to them. In this, the show was very much an early precursor to dozens of programs on the air right now under the umbrella of reality television, featuring “re-enactments” of cuckoo, bizarre stories people claim happen to them. One Step Beyond was the brainchild of radio and television writer Merwin Gerard. But who was the suave, good-looking host fronting the show in a manner we now associate with Rod Serling, but doing it, as we said, nearly a year BEFORE him?

Newland was a son of Cincinnati. He’d started out performing in what was left of vaudeville as a teenager, singing and dancing with a troupe called “The Vikings”; his trademark was said to be a gold cape that he wore. He also acted in stock theatre with the Stuart Walker company, and performed in New York’s major presentation house, the Roxy, the Capitol and Loew’s State. After service in World War II, he begin acting in film and television. His first screen credit is the role of a reporter in Nora Prentiss (1947). He tended to get only bit parts in films (you can see in a walk-on in Gentleman’s Agreement, for example), so after a couple of years he put all of his focus into television, where he not only got decent roles, but also opportunities to direct. Most of his acting was in dramatic anthology series like Kraft Theatre and Schlitz Playhouse. On shows like Robert Montgomery Presents and The Loretta Young Show, he both acted and directed.

One Step Beyond proved to be Newland’s big moment in the sun but was far from his last hurrah. When it went off the air, he continued to work as a director for another two decades. A lot of it was within the same genre: he directed many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Night Gallery, and a syndicated reboot of his old show The Next Step Beyond (1978-79). I vaguely remember the latter series, writing it off at the time as a cheesy ripoff of shows like In Search Of, not knowing of course about its vastly more distinguished run two decades earlier.

Newland also directed melodramas like Dr. Kildare and Peyton Place, cop shows like Hawaii Five-O and Police Woman, and spy shows like The Third Man, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Man Who Never Was (1966-67), a show which was essentially his baby, for he directed most of the episodes, and produced and wrote several as well. The last show he directed multiple episodes of was Wonder Woman. 

In the 80s, he was primarily a producer, producing a half dozen made-for-TV movies, the last of which was Too Good to Be True (1988) with Loni Anderson and Patrick Duffy. Then, in 2000, he took the LAST Step Beyond.