TV URBAN LEGEND: Lost in Space coined the term “Does Not Compute”
Along with “We Come in Peace” and “Take Me to Your Leader,” one of the most popular science fiction phrases is the robotic “Does Not Compute.” When it comes to the depictions of robots, “Does Not Compute” is a popular phrase because it plays on the notion that robots “compute” rather than “think,” and it’s a cool way of showing a robot reacting differently than a human. Specifically, it’s often used to a show a robot struggling with comprehending the types of seemingly contradictory situations humans have to worry about all of the time. The human mind can deal with cognitive dissonance while a robot’s purely logical-driven “brain” cannot. This, therefore, shows that robots can never quite replace humans entirely.
The phrase became popular when it was used by the Robot on the hit 1965 television series Lost in Space. The character’s most popular catch phrase was “Danger!” or “Warning!,” which cemented into the popular consciousness as “Danger, Will Robinson!” despite the Robot having only said that exact sentence just once. The Robot has been credited with not only popularizing “Does Not Compute” but also coining the phrase. In the alternative, sometimes the 1966 television series Star Trek has been credited with its origin (the show often used the plot point of computers or robots malfunctioning when given a contradictory problem). The answer, though, as to who coined the phrase is neither show! Instead, the true originator was a sitcom starring a pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar!
The 1964 sitcom My Living Doll starred veteran actor Bob Cummings (whom I recently featured in a Theater Urban Legends Revealed about how he made his Broadway debut by pretending to be a British actor) and Julie Newmar (before she invented her patented derriere-enhancing pantyhose). The show was created by Jack Chertok, following his hit sitcom the previous year, My Favorite Martian, about a young reporter who takes in a crash-landed Martian as his roommate. In My Living Doll, Cummings plays Dr. Bob McDonald, a psychiatrist who is given an experimental robot/android by his friend, a scientist for the Air Force who wants to keep the robot/android out of the hands of the military. The scientist is transferred to Pakistan, leaving the robot/android in McDonald’s hands. He names her Rhoda and takes the opportunity to program her to be the “perfect woman” (and yes, it is just as sexist as it sounds — more so, really).
Her catch phrase was “That does not compute” (sometimes “That doesn’t compute”), becoming the first usage of that term.
The show barely lasted through the first season, though, as Cummings had problems with its low ratings, and there were clashes between he and Chertok (Cummings wasn’t Chertok’s first choice for the show while the actor, for his part, viewed the show almost as a sequel to his previous sitcom), and he actually quit the show with a few episodes left to film! Cummings wanted an episode in which McDonald’s grandfather would visit (who would be played by Cummings in a dual role), echoing a character Cummings portrayed on his last show (Cummings’ secretary on that show, a young Ann B. Davis, was the inspiration for Iron Man’s secretary, Pepper Potts). Chertok balked at the idea, and Cummings quit. It’s unclear whether the decision to not bring in the grandfather character (who would also be a pilot, of course, as Cummings was a flying aficionado and often tried to squeeze airplanes into his work) or the show’s low ratings were ultimately why Cummings left the show. Newmar and one of the show’s other producers claimed the latter in a featurette that was included on a 2012 DVD. In any event, McDonald found himself also somehow transferred to Pakistan and his wacky next-door neighbor (who was always lusting after Rhoda) thereby inherited the robot for the rest of the show’s short run. The producers planned to cast a new lead actor if the show made it to Season 2 but it was canceled before they got the chance.
So the show had a very short but, in the long term, it was an influential one!
The legend is …
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