On Battlestar Galactica
Introduction: So Say We All
The seventies: bad economy, double-digit unemployment, inflation, gas lines, and the Iran hostage crisis–a time when the world was looking for escapism. Following the great success of the Star Wars films came a weekly epic space opera with heart, humor, and lots of adventure, the one and only Battlestar Galactica: the perfect entertainment vehicle to take our stressed-out minds off our personal problems and give the entire family a big dose of hope, inspiration, and harmless entertainment. Sixty-five million people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds tuned in to see the debut on ABC in September of 1978, giving one of the most highly publicized series in history a very respectable fifth-place finish in the Nielsen ratings. Twenty-one episodes later Battlestar Galactica was removed from the schedule, but not necessarily because of ratings, which listed Battlestar in twenty-fourth place and the sixth highest-rated new series of the season, but due to high production costs and the impossible challenge of mounting a theatrical-style series for television on a weekly basis. Please remember this was before state-of-the-art CGI and twenty-four frames per second high-definition cameras, which have made it possible to film faster and integrate special effects more effectively and less expensively. ABC at the time had seven of the top ten series on the air and could afford to drop the most costly television series in the history of entertainment, especially since the ratings, in their opinion, didn’t live up to the epic-sized budget.
To the dedicated fans of this series worldwide, however, the departure of Battlestar was tantamount to sacrilege. In spite of the fact that critics almost universally panned the new series–claiming it was a Star Wars rip-off–generations of fans fell passionately in love with the show’s epic and mythological premise. They couldn’t get enough of Battlestar’s heroic themes, including mankind’s quest to survive a holocaust by their archenemy, the human-hating Cylons, and following their brothers and sisters of the thirteenth tribe to a faraway planet called Earth. In fact Battlestar became a near-religious experience for many fans due to the spiritual overtones and ancient mythology woven into the fabric of the story. Like Moses and the Israelites, the humans and their ragtag Fleet led by Commander Adama (Lorne Green) were forced to leave their homeland chased by the technologically bred Cylons and search against impossible odds for a habitable planet upon which they could rebuild their civilization. It certainly didn’t hurt to have one of the most attractive casts on television at the time, in addition to some of the most famous guest stars in the entertainment field, including Fred Astaire, Patrick Macnee, and Lloyd Bridges.
Nevertheless, Battlestar got little respect. Lying in the shadow of Star Wars and taken to court by George Lucas (a lawsuit that he and Twentieth Century lost, by the way), Battlestar was challenged by the networks every week with their executives throwing their very best fare at the struggling series. Added to that, the fact that the ABC executives didn’t want the show to be too provocative or alienating in the era of escapism made it impossible for the writers to delve into the rich and meaty premise of the story. All of these challenges finally brought down the fledgling series. There was an attempt to bring the series back in 1980, but with a drastically reduced budget and without many of its original stars, who chose to stay away for their own personal reasons. The spacefaring series, brought down to Earth, died a quick and painful death.
Some twenty years later the Sci-Fi Channel began replaying episodes of Battlestar, and fans around the world started clamoring for the return of their beloved show…to no avail. The executives at the time didn’t believe there were enough fans to justify a revival. The prevailing winds would eventually change a few years later when NBC decided to acquire Universal Studios, USA Network, and the Sci-Fi Channel from Vivendi, and thus began a new era at the studio and a renewed interest in Battlestar.
Then came the 9/11 horror, which shocked the world into the harsh reality that we were not safe, and that we couldn’t afford ever again to close our eyes or take for granted that our government or institutions were going to do the right thing. We were beginning to demand accountability: more reality and less fantasy. Reality shows and cutting-edge provocative talk formats, along with twenty-four-hour news stations, became highly popular–quickly puncturing our idealistic innocence and bringing the world’s harsh realities into our living rooms. We soon began to see much darker entertainment fare hitting the marketplace. Movies and television plots became much edgier, and it was no longer considered politically correct to avoid controversial subject matter. The demise of Star Trek and Farscape, along with many other SF favorites, paved the way for producers to pitch new ideas to the networks. It soon became clear that the underlying catastrophic theme of Battlestar was perfect for the new era, and ripe for a major revival, and the fans knew it. As did Glen Larson and especially producer Tom deSanto, who pitched the series to both Fox and the Sci-Fi Channel under the leadership of Bonnie Hammer. After several failed attempts to revive the series, the concept of re-imagining the classic series was proposed by the team of Ronald d. Moore and david Eick. They were brought on board by Bonnie and asked to re-imagine the series for a new era. Ron Moore, who had been a producer/writer for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Roswell, and the series Carnivale, finally had the opportunity and the vehicle to explore the much darker cutting-edge themes he had passionately wanted to bring to the genre of science fiction for some time. In truth Battlestar was born for both eras, but the darker millennium in which we live, along with evolved filming technologies, provided the perfect timeframe, backdrop, and palette for finally exploring Battlestar’s deeper and more provocative themes, of which the original had barely skimmed the surface. due to an extremely talented writing and production team, rape, betrayal, moral dilemmas, the horrors of the holocaust, and terrorism could all be explored in highly original ways that mirrored society at large. Just as importantly, they got the green light from the executives at NBC Universal and the Sci-Fi Channel who actually believed in the epic story and supported taking the series in such a controversial direction. With a fine cast of talented actors led by Edward James Olmos and Mary Mcdonnell, the classic SF story overcame years of controversy and a major revolt by fans of the original series who sincerely felt that their beloved series was going to be ruined as had been the case in recent years with many updated and revived SF classics. With time, through great stories, acting, and exceptional production value, the new version of Battlestar was finally able to win over a substantial portion of these very hostile fans and build an entirely new audience who had never even heard of the original Battlestar Galactica. The series and story that wouldn’t go away finally found redemption, and its place in the sun, with high ratings and rave reviews coming in from major publications all over the country. It’s my pleasure to have been invited to be the guest editor for this highly informative Battlestar book where writers from all over the country are writing essays sharing their insights and analysis of the Battlestar universe, back-story, and character plots. Please join me as we take a provocative journey into what Time magazine has called the number one best dramatic show on television, period.