The History of Battlestar Galactica: A Tribute to Glen A. Larson

Once upon a time, there was a science fiction television series that combined a close-knit family of actors with state-of-the-art special effects. However, a greedy and evil corporation known as ABC was out to completely destroy any chance of a science fiction series remaining on the air for extended periods of time. This is the story of the real Battlestar Galactica.

How did we go from a happy-go-lucky 1978 cast and crew here…

…to a more solemn 1980 cast here…

…to a 2003 cast showing a woman humping a man and a bunch of gloomy military officers here?

The Timeline

  • 1978 – Battlestar Galactica (24 episodes)
  • 1980 – Galactica 1980 (10 episodes)
  • 2003 – Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica Movie
  • 2004 – Re-imagined Battlestar Galactica Series (67 episodes + webisodes)

The History

Believe it or not, all three cast pictures are part of the same television series. Battlestar Galactica originally made its television debut in 1978 – approximately 9 years after the end of the original Star Trek series. Battlestar Galactica only lasted for 24 episodes, being cancelled by ABC despite overwhelming fan support for the series. ABC did not comment on the reason as to its cancellation of the family-based science fiction show.

ABC did not anticipate the outrage that followed after Battlestar Galactica was cancelled. The network received millions of fan letters complaining about the series’ abrupt ending. In fact, a 15-year-old boy even committed suicide due to his overwhelming support for the cast and crew. Suffice it to say, ABC executives re-examined their reason for cancelling Battlestar Galactica in the first place (a reason which they still haven’t mentioned to the public).

Apart from the huge fan support that pushed the development of a 3rd season for the original Star Trek series, never before had fans rallied in such large numbers to force a network to revive a television program.

Now, ABC’s main rival NBC had seen the success of Battlestar Galactica, so after ABC’s cancellation of the series, NBC promptly contacted Glen A. Larson (the executive director and producer of Battlestar Galactica) and asked him to produce a similar science fiction program for their network, albeit one that used less special effects (due to costs). Larson responded by creating a series entitled “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” based off of a 1940’s comic strip. Many of the sets and props used in Buck Rogers were the same as those used in Battlestar Galactica, though the series revolved around fewer special effects and less spaceship combat.

Needless to say, ABC executives were steaming mad. Not only did they end up cancelling one of their most popular shows, but they were also starting to lose many of their viewers to NBC due to Buck Rogers. ABC executives contacted Larson and asked him if there was any way to revive Battlestar Galactica, but with only a few of the original actors (since the original Galactica cast was popular and had to be paid more money). Larson responded by only bringing back Lorne Greene (as Admiral Adama) and Herb Jefferson Jr. (as Commander Boomer). Richard Hatch (who was supposed to play Apollo) did not like the way the new series was going, so he declined Larson’s offer to reprise his role. Every other actor was new and relatively unknown to the public, meaning that ABC didn’t have to shell out as much cash.

The spin-off series was entitled “Galactica 1980” and timeline-wise took place 30 years after the first season of the original Battlestar Galactica. The plot revolved around the Galactica finally reaching Earth, but finding out that humanity had not yet reached the level of technology required to defend itself against the Cylons. Most of the space combat scenes were re-used from the original Battlestar Galactica series (further saving ABC money). Only 10 episodes were produced before this series was also cancelled, due to abysmal viewer ratings. Since the first 9 episodes focused too much on real-life problems such as pollution, social acceptance and the environment, the majority of the fans from the original series were turned off. The 10th episode featured Dirk Benedict returning to play Starbuck, and was the most popular episode of the bunch. Larson was in the middle of developing the 11th episode of “Galactica 1980” when ABC decided to cancel the whole series.

In 1998, (twenty years after the original Battlestar Galactica was cancelled) Richard Hatch, still disgusted with the cancellation of the series, attempted to revive the franchise by creating a 2nd season. It would not pay any attention to the events of “Galactica 1980” and feature most of the original cast. A 30-minute pilot episode was filmed and sent to Universal Studios for approval.

For reasons unbeknownst to us, Universal Studios declined Richard Hatch’s version of the series and instead moved forward to accept Ronald D. Moore’s “re-imagination” of the series. The 30-minute pilot episode was never revealed to the public. Richard Hatch later on relented and appeared in regular intervals in the “re-imagined” 2004 Battlestar Galactica series.

In 2003, Moore’s “re-imagination” of the series aired as a two-part movie on the Sci-Fi Channel. The new Battlestar Galactica featured some radical changes to the original series, including a darker atmosphere. Cylons were portrayed to have been built by mankind and then organized a revolt on humanity. The original epic soundtrack used as the theme song was left out and replaced by nothing more than a solemn tune and the beating of drums. Weapon sound effects were virtually eliminated due to the excuse that “…the vacuum of space prevents sound from being heard…,” not to mention the weapons themselves being guns and nuclear warheads, as opposed to lasers (again to save money on special effects). There were many other changes as well.

Dirk Benedict (Starbuck from the original Battlestar Galactica – see above picture) was so peeved at the dark reincarnation of what was once a family-oriented series, that he started up a fan movement on his own website boycotting the re-invented Battlestar Galactica. The following 6 paragraphs are what Dirk himself had to say regarding the new Battlestar Galactica. Keep in mind that these paragraphs are quoted directly from his own blog entry on his online website “Dirk Benedict Central.”

Dirk Benedict’s Thoughts on the Matter

“Witness the ‘re-imagined’ Battlestar Galactica. It’s bleak, miserable, despairing, angry and confused. Which is to say, it reflects, in microcosm, the complete change in the politics and mores of today’s world as opposed to the world of yesterday. The world of Lorne Greene (Adama) and Fred Astaire (Starbuck’s Poppa), and Dirk Benedict (Starbuck). I would guess Lorne is glad he’s in that Big Bonanza in the sky and well out of it. Starbuck, alas, has not been so lucky. He’s not been left to pass quietly into that trivial world of cancelled TV characters.”

“ ‘Re-imagining’, they call it. ‘Un-imagining’ is more accurate. To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality in which we live, one would assume. A show in which the aliens (Cylons) are justified in their desire to destroy our civilisation. One would assume. Indeed, let us not say who are the good guys and who are the bad. That is being ‘judgemental’. And that kind of (simplistic) thinking went out with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne and, well the original Battlestar Galactica.”

“In the bleak and miserable, ‘re-imagined’ world of Battlestar Galactica, things are never that simple. Maybe the Cylons are not evil and alien but in fact enlightened and evolved? Let us not judge them so harshly. Maybe it is they who deserve to live and Adama, and his human ilk who deserves to die? And what a way to go! For the re-imagined terrorists (Cylons) are not mechanical robots void of soul, of sexuality, but rather humanoid six-foot-tall former lingerie models who f**k you to death. (Poor old Starbuck, you were imagined too early. Think of the fun you could have had `fighting’ with these thong-clad aliens!) In the spirit of such soft-core sci-fi porn I think a more re-imaginative title would have been F**cked by A Cylon. (Apologies to Touched by An Angel.)”

“One thing is certain. In the new un-imagined, re-imagined world of Battlestar Galactica everything is female driven. The male characters, from Adama on down, are confused, weak, and wracked with indecision while the female characters are decisive, bold, angry as hell, puffing cigars (gasp) and not about to take it any more.”

“I am also sure that Show Business has been morphing for many decades now and has finally become Biz Business. The creative artists have lost and the Suits have won. Suits. Administrators. Technocrats. Metro-sexual money-men (and women) who create formulas to guarantee profit margins. Because movies and television shows are not made to enlighten or even entertain but simply to make money. They will tell you it is (still) about story and character but all it is really about is efficiency. About The Formula. Because Harvard Business School Technocrats run Hollywood and what Technocrats know is what must be removed from all business is Risk. And I tell you life, real life, is all about risk. I tell you that without risk you have no creativity, no art. I tell you that without risk you have Remakes. You have Charlie’s Angels, The Saint, Mission Impossible, The A-Team (coming soon) Battlestar Galactica. All risk-free brand names, franchises.”

“For you see, TV Shows (and movies) are made and sold according to the same business formula as hamburger franchises. So that it matters not if the `best’ hamburger, what matters is that you `think’ it is the best. And you do think it’s the best, because you have been told to; because all of your favorite celebrities are seen munching it on TV. The big money is not spent on making the hamburger or the television show, but on the marketing of the hamburger/show. (One 60-second commercial can cost more than it does to film a one-hour episode.) It matters not to Suits if it is Starbuck or Stardoe, if the Cylons are robots or lingerie models, if the show is full of optimism and morality or pessimism and amorality. What matters is that it is marketed well, so that all you people out there in TV land know that you must see this show. And after you see it, you are told that you should like it. That it is new and bold and sleek and sexy and best of all… it is Re-imagined!”

“So grab a Coke from the fridge (not the Classic Coke, but the re-imagined kind with fewer calories) and send out for a McDonald’s Hamburger (the re-imagined one with fewer carbs) and tune in to Stardoe and Cylon #6 (or was it #69?) and Enjoy The Show.”

Popularity of the New Series

And those previous 6 paragraphs were only a summary of what Dirk had to say about the new series. You can read the entire article he posted on Dirk Benedict Central.

Surprisingly, the re-imagination of the series picked up Emmy and Peabody awards left, right and center for best dramatic acting and the like. As such, the Sci-Fi Channel requested that the new Battlestar Galactica be commissioned into a regular weekly television series. In 2004, Season 1 of the new Battlestar Galactica aired on Sci-Fi. The network has reported the new series as being the science fiction series to pick up the most female viewers ever.

The series was to run for 4 seasons, with the final episode airing on Friday March 20, 2009. Special online website episodes (also known as “webisodes”) were released to bridge the gap between the ends of each season with the next, which has caused some criticism, especially for people who don’t have access to a cable or DSL internet connection. Also, special episodes such as “Battlestar Galactica: Razor” have been aired on television to further bridge the gap between certain episodes and seasons.

The Future

After the series finale of the new Battlestar Galactica, there will be a prequel series produced, detailing the events of the first Cylon war. It will focus on Adama and his life leading up to commanding the Battlestar Galactica. It is currently unknown when the series will air on television.

The Controversy

As of 2009, there are still heated discussions between the fans of the original Battlestar Galactica series (including Dirk Benedict) and the fans of the new re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series. Universal Studios has been heavily criticized by original Galactica fans for corrupting a well-thought-out and family-oriented science fiction television series. On the other hand, new Galactica fans argue that the new series is full of action, drama and real-life issues, and therefore deserves all of the awards it has garnered.

Comparison of the Old and New Battlestar Galactica

For your convenience, I have compared the major differences between the two Battlestar Galactica series.

Original Battlestar Galactica (1978)

  • Weapons include lasers, laser turrets and nuclear missiles.
  • Cylons are a species all on their own.
  • Weapon sound effects implemented.
  • Happy family-style atmosphere, despite troubling times.
  • No political correctness in the script.
  • Smooth camera movement.
  • Imaginary profanity words used in lighthearted situations (i.e. “That’s a bunch of feldergarb and you know it.”).
  • Starbuck is a man.
  • Commander Cain is a man.
  • Actor voices are loud and clear.
  • Real science fiction theme music composed by Stu Phillips.
  • Battlestar Galactica equipped with standard sub-light engines.

Re-imagination of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009)

  • Weapons include guns, gun turrets and nuclear missiles.
  • Cylons are created by mankind.
  • Weapon sound effects removed to make the series more realistic and revolve around real-life physics.
  • Dark and gloomy atmosphere.
  • Political correctness added to script (i.e. “Red Alert” and “Battlestations” replaced by “Action Stations”)
  • Shaky camera movement.
  • Imaginary profanity words used to represent real profanity words (i.e. “Frack you!”).
  • Starbuck is a woman.
  • Commander Cain is a woman.
  • Actor voices are soft-spoken and hard to hear.
  • Theme music very sober and mostly comprised of drums beating.
  • Battlestar Galactica equipped with sub-light engines and a “Jump Drive.”

My Personal Opinion

I hate to say it, but I’m more of a traditional Battlestar Galactica fan and I’ll explain why. In an interview with Edward James Olmos, the actor who plays Adama in the new Battlestar Galactica series, he said that the new series is more of a drama series than a science fiction program. That’s my problem.

Granted, back in the 1970’s, special effects were a bit cheesy and the original series often showed this tackiness to it. However, a science fiction program is supposed to be just that – fiction. What Ronald D. Moore tried to do with the new Battlestar Galactica was incorporate too much reality into it. There are no lasers, because lasers don’t exist. There are no weapon sound effects in space because the vacuum of space removes all sound. The problem with this idea of “realness” is that if you based the whole show on it, there would be no show at all. Think about it for a moment. There would be no such thing as a “Jump Drive.” Ships would not exist either, because we as a society have not yet determined how to create a “life support” system. As you can see, you can make the series so realistic to modern-day humanity that it should not even exist based upon modern principles, physics and scientific knowledge.

Also, the 1970’s show portrayed a family-type of connection between the actors. Sure, times were desperate, but the characters still managed to put on a smile and have fun. The re-imagined series focuses on a very dark and gloomy non-family atmosphere. This is further proven in the fact that the characters all speak in serious low-toned voices, implying the fact that they’re not happy, and that every day is just one more day filled with problems and negative emotions. Whereas the original series was aimed at a casual viewing audience, including children, I would definitely not recommend that kids under 16 years of age watch the new PG16+ re-imagined series.

I personally believe that the only reasons Commander Cain and Starbuck were shown as women in the new Battlestar Galactica (as opposed to men in the original series) were because of Moore’s political correctness to eliminate what he considered to be “gender discrimination,” as well as the fact that he wanted to attract more female viewers to the series, which he succeeded in doing (my guess is because the new series revolves more around drama than action, which is what the majority of the female television audience enjoys).

Now, I know I’m probably going to be inundated with comments about how I suck because I prefer the classic series to the new series. All I’m going to say is this. When I think of the phrase “science fiction,” I think of three key elements: action, adventure and futuristic combat. And that’s exactly what I expect from any series classified in the genre. If a science fiction series does not have all three of these elements, it is not a science fiction series, but rather a drama, soap opera, or regular criminal justice show.

Science fiction is fiction. It should take us away from all the modern-day problems and focus purely on the future – not the past and definitely not the present. I don’t want storylines on global warming, terrorists, drug addiction, pollution, social acceptance, environmental hazards, negotiating hostage situations, religion, sexual identity, or even character dramatization. We have enough of these problems in the present-day society and we don’t need science fiction programs emphasizing them any further. Also, I don’t want political correctness to get in the way of script-making. Saying “Action Stations” instead of “Battlestations” just because the latter sounds “too offensive” is just plain stupid. For 4 Star Trek series, we’ve used phrases such as “Red Alert” and “Battlestations.” There’s no need to soften down the tone, just because the producers think it’ll offend certain groups of people. As long as you don’t go ahead blatantly stating racial or prejudice remarks, the script should not be edited to fit well with certain groups of our society.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the next science fiction television program that airs on television. Unfortunately, at the rate we’re going, Hollywood will probably create a “re-imagined” politically correct version of “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” “The Starlost,” or even “Duck Dodgers.”

We should never forget the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica series created by Glen A. Larson. It will always be a part of our culture and history, and remind us of how in only 30 years, our society has devolved from family and truth, to lies and greed. I will always keep my recorded episodes of the original series on my VHS tapes, and I will pass them on to every subsequent generation of my family. There’s an old saying that film critics take to heart: “The remake is never as good as the original.”

I will conclude my article with Dirk Benedict’s last paragraph in his blog entry about the new Battlestar Galactica series, where he explains the mental thoughts behind today’s television network executives.

“And if you don’t enjoy the show, or the hamburger and coke, it’s not the fault of those re-imaginative technocrats that brought them to you. It is your fault. You and your individual instincts, tastes, judgment. Your refusal to let go of the memory of the show that once was. You just don’t know what is good for you. But stay tuned. After another 13 episodes (and millions of dollars of marketing), you will see the light. You, your instincts, your judgment, are wrong. McDonald’s is the best hamburger on the planet, Coca-Cola the best drink. Stardoe is the best Viper Pilot in the Galaxy. And Battlestar Galactica, contrary to what your memory tells you, never existed before the Re-imagination of 2003.”

“I disagree. But perhaps, you had to be there.” – Dirk Benedict, writing in Dreamwatch, May 2004

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