Steven Spielberg on the Small Screen: The Master Filmmaker’s Notable TV Work
His nomination for directing The Fabelmans at this year’s 95th Academy Awards (airing Sunday, March 12, on ABC) marks the ninth time that Steven Spielberg has been nominated as a director throughout his storied career, since his first nod for 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (he has won twice, for 1993’s Schindler’s List and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan).
With the massive critical and popular acclaim, and Oscar recognition, he has enjoyed through the big-screen films like these and many others that he has directed and/or produced, it can be easy to overlook Spielberg’s impact on the small screen — from his early years of directing TV episodes and films, to recent decades where he has been producing series, primarily via his production company, Amblin Entertainment.
We took a look back at the iconic director’s long history with television work, and pulled out just a few of his small-screen highlights from over the past half-century:
Night Gallery (1969)
Spielberg was just in his early 20s when he made his directorial debut with “Eyes,” the second of three segments in this TV movie that served as a pilot for Rod Serling’s anthology series. As if that wouldn’t make a young director nervous enough, Spielberg was tasked with directing screen legend Joan Crawford in one of her final onscreen roles.
The director gave a fascinating rundown of his Night Gallery experience in a 1982 interview with Gene Shalit:
In his first full-length film directing debut, working with a screenplay that Richard Matheson adapted from his own short story, Spielberg turned what could have been a simple TV movie of the week into a gripping, white-knuckle thriller that was so brilliantly executed it was released theatrically in Europe.
(Note that the video below shows all of the truck appearances in “Duel,” so, obviously there are spoilers if you have not seen the film. The creator also added some modern music to certain scenes.)
Amazing Stories (1985-87; 2020)
Spielberg created, helped develop and directed a few episodes, including the pilot (“Ghost Train”), of this NBC sci-fi/fantasy anthology series that had an opening theme composed by Spielberg’s frequent and longtime movie music collaborator, John Williams. Spielberg was also onboard as an executive producer of the five-episode 2020 Apple TV+ revival.
“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” Music Video (1985)
MTV debuted Cyndi Lauper’s music video that accompanied her catchy theme song to Spielberg’s kid-pleasing summer movie production The Goonies, with the filmmaker also producing and appearing in the extended version of the video.
Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-95) and Animaniacs (1993-98; 2020-23)
These animated series produced by Amblin capitalized on the newfound popularity of, and affection for, old-school animation and characters in the wake of Spielberg’s hit 1988 production Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Spielberg was also an EP of the Animaniacs reboot on Hulu that recently dropped its third and final season.
While working on the 1993 film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Spielberg also teamed with the author on developing a screenplay based on his experiences working in an emergency room. That concept went on to become the long-running NBC medical drama.
Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010)
Spielberg teamed with his Saving Private Ryan star Tom Hanks as executive producers on these two outstanding HBO miniseries that further delved into the people who fought World War II in the European and Pacific Theaters of Operations, respectively.
Taken (2002) and Falling Skies (2011-15)
The director’s interest in aliens has been obvious not only on the big screen with films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but also on TV, as seen in both the USA Network miniseries Taken and the TNT drama Falling Skies.
Terra Nova (2011)
Perhaps too ambitious for its own good, this very expensive Spielberg co-production for FOX still had a cool premise — future citizens of a dying Earth using time-travel to go back in time millions of years and basically “reboot” humanity.
Under the Dome (2013-15)
This CBS series boasted the first pairing of two of pop culture’s greatest “Steves,” as Spielberg joined Stephen King as an executive producer of this adaptation of King’s novel.
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous (2020-22)
Spielberg was an EP on this animated Netflix series spun off from the Jurassic World franchise, which itself spun off from the Jurassic Park movies that the filmmaker initially brought to the screen 30 years ago.