The stories behind the stories

Planet of the Apes: “Murderer’s Row”

“Apes exist. Sequel required.”
— Real-life memo from producer Arthur P. Jacobs to screenwriter Paul Dehn, prompting the creation of Escape from Planet of the Apes

“Murderers’ Row”
From Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone

Planet of the Apes: “Murderers’ Row”
A television producer looks back on what might have been — and a visit that changed the future…
Published by Titan • January 24, 2017
Written by John Jackson Miller

Appeared in Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone with stories by Dan Abnett, Nancy Collins, Will Murray, Greg Cox, Paul Kupperberg, Kevin J. Anderson, Sam Knight, Andrew E.C. Gaska, Jim Beard, Robert Greenberger, Greg Keyes, Ty Templeton, Dayton Ward, Rich Handley, and Jonathan Maberry

Edited by Jim Beard and Rich Handley

I first saw Planet of the Apes as a CBS Friday Night Movie when I was a kid — and while it was ever-present in culture, somehow it took me a long time to see the others. Beneath the Planet of the Apes turned up for me on late-night television when I was a teenager — and I didn’t get to see Escape from Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes until I was an adult, starting my first job in the comics industry.

I’m glad I waited, as I found I appreciated Escape a lot more than I might have had I seen it at a younger age. Depicting Cornelius and Zira’s arrival in 1973 and their reception by Los Angeles society, there’s a lot I might not have gotten. The first half of the film’s always been my favorite stretch of the original film series. What might it really have been like to welcome visitors from the future — and charming ones, at that?

So when editors Rich Handley and Jim Beard approached me to contribute a story for Tales from the Forbidden Zone, an anthology for Titan Books celebrating the original five movies and animated series, I quickly asked to do something connected to Escape. Both my proposed stories connected to it, but by far, “Murderers’ Row” was the one I really wanted to do. The editors agreed, and off I went, wedging the creation of the story between the second and third manuscripts for my Star Trek: Prey trilogy.

The story — told from the point of view of a television producer years later describing the arrival of the Ape-O-Nauts (as the movie calls them at one point), was crafted as a fun pastiche of the times,  sort of The Player meets Planet of the Apes. The in-jokes are there right from the start — beginning with the title, which refers to the popular name for the CBS Saturday night line-up from 1973-74. Considered by many — including me — the best night in the history of network television, it featured five all-time classics in a row: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. Nothing stood a chance against it — so naturally, I challenged my main character with coming up with something to beat it — fortified with time-traveling apes!

The resulting story remains one of my favorite things in all the work I’ve done — and it seems to have gone over well with others. The story was nominated for the Scribe Award for Best Tie-In Short Story by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers the following year. There were two other stories from Forbidden Zone nominated as well, including the eventual winner.

“Apes exist. Series required.”
— opening line of “Murderer’s Row”

There’s a colossal amount of trivia in this story, and I hope to get to it all here someday. Coming soon!