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Battlestar Galactica, Part 2

By Philip Schweier
Apr 1, 2007 - 0:22

Battlestar Galactica was canceled by ABC after only one season. Low ratings were not the problem, however, it was a question of budget overruns. Production costs had to be reduced for the network to continue to air the show. The disappointing result was Galactica: 1980, which premiered on January 27 of that year.

It told the story of the fleet as it finally arrives on Earth, some 20 "yahrens" after the destruction of the colonies. Promotional footage suggested a great deal of excitement, but this was unfortunately misleading. By incorporating Cylon raiders into stock footage from 1974's Earthquake, they created a very effective sequence of an attack on Earth by the Cylons.

This "war of the worlds" premise would have added a great deal of drama to the show, perhaps taking Galactica in a fresh direction altogether. But alas, it turned out to be a mere simulation constructed by the Galactica's war computers to demonstrate the potential outcome of their arrival on Earth. Instead of immediately joining their Terran cousins, the refugees plan to slowly infiltrate Earth's population, subtly raising its technology to a level that will help protect it from the Cylons.

Many of the original cast members had been invited to participate in the new incarnation. Richard Hatch turned it down, feeling the new show destroyed the premise of the original.

Dirk Benedict felt it was not as good as the first series, based on the scripts he was shown. Out of all the shows he has done, he regards Starbuck as the one time when he did a fully dimensional character who was not only humorous and lighthearted but also, at the other end of the spectrum, had a serious emotional quality. Being so fond of Starbuck, he couldn't bring himself to do it, equating it to cheating on one's wife.

(L-R)Robyn Douglas, Kent McCord, Lorne Green and Barry Van Dyke
Lorne Greene and Herb Jefferson Jr. chose to reprise their roles as Commander Adama and (now Col.) Boomer. A new character, Dr. Zee, a mysterious teen-age savant, was added to the cast. However, many fans felt Dr. Zee undermined the leadership of Adama, and diminished the character portrayed so well by Lorne Greene on the original show. Child actor Robbie Rist played the role in the first episode, but subsequent appearances featured James Patrick Stuart in the role.

In the absence of Capt. Apollo, his grown son Boxey – now known as Troy – has become the lead Colonial fighter pilot, aided by his buddy Lt. Dillon. These roles were played by Kent McCord (of Adam-12 fame) and Barry Van Dyke (who ABC originally wanted as Starbuck in the first series), respectively. McCord was attracted by the concepts presented in The Day the Earth Stood Still, a classic science fiction film of the 1950s.

Also added to the cast was Robyn Douglas, who played Jamie Hamilton, a news reporter who wins the trust of the Galacticans. For a villain, audiences were given Commander Xavier (Richard Lynch), who felt Adama should be more aggressive in his dealings with Earth.

However, ABC scheduled the program for Sundays at 7 p.m., when typically children's or family shows are aired. Instead of high-minded ideas of man's role in the universe, the series endured juvenile plot devices such as Troy and Dillon babysitting a group of Galactican children temporarily stranded on Earth.

The series also suffered as writers tried to demonstrate through very forced humor the interaction between the advanced Galactican population with the "backward" people of Earth. While fans of the original series may not have approved, the new show did have its high points, such as the dramatic footage of the Cylon attack on Earth.

One episode, “The Return of Starbuck,” does stand out from the rest. In what would be the last of the ten episodes produced, it is revealed that Starbuck (once more played by Dirk Benedict) had battled a Cylon raider. Both ships crash land on a distant planet, where Starbuck repairs and reprograms one of the Cylon centurions. Believing the planet to be uninhabited, Starbuck is stunned when a mysterious woman (Judith Chapman) joins their small encampment. Eventually, a child is born, and the woman is revealed to be of the race from the mysterious Ships of Light from the original show.

When a Cylon raider finds them, they concoct a plan to defeat its pilots and use the enemy ship to rejoin the Galactica. Unfortunately, the Cylon ship is damaged in the fight, capable of carrying limited weight. Starbuck is able to send the woman and child back into space to locate the fleet, revealing Dr. Zee to be that child.

Benedict was very happy with the script, and the opportunity to play Starbuck once more. He reportedly approached Glen Larson about doing a show featuring Starbuck's adventures as he tries to locate the Galactica, sort of a Fugitive in space.

Though some of the new show's ideas failed to measure up to fans expectations, the fact of the matter is that Galactica: 1980 was never intended to be a weekly series. It began as an idea to continue the saga in a limited format, but with the response, ABC ordered more episodes. Knowing the difficulties of getting on the air in the first place, producers rushed into production, with the hopes that the network would lend the new incarnation greater support, and in time, any rough spots would be ironed out.

Ultimately, Galactica: 1980 was the victim of its own inception. Network execs believed that the only audience interested in Battlestar Galactica was pre-adolescent children (wrong), and by eliminating the action and adventure of the space epic, they could produce a show that was just as successful (also wrong) without the cost. Their only accomplishment was to diminish a promising science fiction program by reducing it to pablum.

If the show is believed a failure, it is through no part of the cast and crew. Much of the fault lies with the network. ABC sought a runaway hit, and because Galactica didn't measure up to their expectations, they applied pressure to the producers to deliver the series while pulling much of the network’s support. What ended up on TV screens across America represents only a fraction of the effort that went into producing the show.

Long after the television show went off the air, fans could still enjoy the series in paperback form.
Yet for a TV series that amounts to only 25 hours of programming, Battlestar Galactica has a devoted fanbase, and is a strong presence both online and at science fiction conventions. New fans are discovering it through airings on the Sci-Fi Channel. Some will insist it holds up quite well, with special effects that don't have the dated appearance of most 30-year old science fiction programs. With ancillary markets in Europe and Asia, the actors are often surprised to discover how widespread Galactica fandom is.

Anne Lockhart has said that she would love to revisit the role of Sheba, one of her favorite roles. She tells the website, "The very sudden and surprising cancellation of Galactica left me feeling like, 'Wait a minute, I wasn't done!' I had so much more to explore with her, because she was such an interesting and complex person. I would love to explore where she's been in the ensuing 20 years. I certainly hope she's gotten a promotion past lieutenant."

In the late 1990s, actor Richard Hatch began to see the potential for the old property. A science fiction fan himself, he had attended many science fiction conventions and got to meet many fans, listening to their ideas. Having authored a new series of novels based on the show, his real dream was to revive the series in a format that would do it justice.

The format of network television has changed since 1978. Multi-episode story arcs are common, and more shows center around true-to-life characters rather than eye candy such as special effects. With more cable networks in search of original programming, the time seemed ripe to revive a show long discarded by Universal.

He told a group at a science fiction convention in Atlanta, "When it came to Battlestar Galactica, being a little naive, not knowing what it was going to be, I started on the process of trying to find a way to bring the show back. I went to Universal, searched through the archives, talked to all those people up there. Everyone said 'Battlestar? We own Battlestar? What's Battlestar?' It was amazing how few people knew anything about it.

"I went through hall after hall, office after office, meeting after meeting and finally found my way to the USA network office, who actually had control over any new Battlestar Galactica product, and I basically pitched an idea." While the network executives understood what the show was about, envisioning it for audiences a generation later proved difficult.

Because so many people in the film industry remembered and loved Battlestar Galactica from their younger days, Hatch garnered a great deal of fan-based support. He threw himself into making Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming trailer. People came from all over the world wanting to be involved with the production. His passion for the project was such that he levied his home and maxed out all of his credit cards to make the trailer. "There are times in life where you do the most illogical things for something you believe in," he says, "and I still have a great deal of belief in Battlestar Galactica."

When the trailer began production, a call went out over the network of fans of the original series. Craftsmen willing to donate their time were enlisted, soundstages were made available through various connections and friends of friends. "We didn't have a costume budget, so we ended up saying yes to all these people that wanted to drive in, fly in, that wanted to be in our presentation, because they had made costumes, which by the way were much better than the ones we had on the show." In the television industry, costumes are often fabricated in a "one size fits all" fashion, to accommodate a wide variety of extras.

Hatch built his vision with the help of dedicated fans and a few members of the original cast. Among those are Terry Carter as Col. Tigh, Jack Stauffer as Bojay, and George Murdock as Dr. Salick. Even Adama was resurrected using footage available only on the laserdisc release back in the late '70s.

John Colicos reprised his role as Baltar, but sadly it represents the final performance of the actor, who passed away a few months later. "We didn't even have a script written, and it was at the 20th anniversary celebration at the Universal Hilton Hotel," explains Hatch. "Late at night, after we'd finished the convention, we set up a green screen, and I wrote a quick scene and we got one take that worked because there was a wedding going on next door with a hot trumpet player."

Disregarding Galactica: 1980, the story takes place 24 years after the destruction of the Colonies. Commander Apollo is now the military leader of the fleet, with a new generation born in space. But the Cylons are relentless, and they also have evolved a new generation of machine, still determined to wipe out the human race. Eventually, Apollo is forced to battle the politicians and bureaucrats who lead his people, as well as the new Cylons.

Produced on a shoestring budget, with a host of volunteers, the trailer is a sleek, professional-looking presentation with incredible CGI. Richard Hatch then schlepped the trailer around to producers, networks and production companies. He also took his case to the public, showing the trailer at science fiction conventions around the country. Audiences stood and cheered madly each time it was shown.

Everyone, from original actors to new fans, and all the crew in between came together to produce a trailer that promises so much, if only given the opportunity. "We were so pleased," Hatch says proudly, "because the one thing we did do is we took time to ask questions and travel around the country to decide what people actually wanted.

"I've always said, with a classic when you bring it back, don't take the good things away, add to them, add elements, update things, bring new things into it, but don't lose the heart and spirit of what made the original so special."

Although public showing at sci-fi conventions is allowed, licensing restrictions prevent The Second Coming from being televised or made available over the Internet. If the trailer has one accomplishment it is to prove that nothing is impossible for the dream makers. For people who believe in something to the degree that they are willing to give of themselves so much, the returns are well worth the effort.

"Battlestar Galactica has tons of mistakes and errors," says Richard Hatch. "But somehow it managed to reach out and communicate to people and I think that people have never forgotten that feeling they got, that epic journey into the unknown, which is very much like Gene Roddenberry's epic Star Trek, except that we had no homeland to return to. Essentially we were out in space, surviving against incredible odds, with everything that could go wrong going wrong, and I think it's the journey of the hero. Battlestar was the journey of the hero in every one of us, when we have to call forth that part of us that we maybe never discover until we are up against life and death situations. I think Battlestar really captured that along with a great deal of humor and a wonderful sense of family, and Battlestar was about family, three generations pulling together to survive against incredible odds and I think that heroic quality is what really touched the fans."

Despite the tireless work of Richard Hatch, the collective voice of fandom fell on deaf ears, and Universal was content to sit on the rights to Battlestar Galactica. There were a few false starts, most notably when X-Men director Bryan Singer and his producing partner Tom DeSanto expressed an interest. "I'm really close with Tom DeSanto, who produced X-Men," says Noah Hathway, who played Boxey on the show. "He's the biggest Battlestar fan I've ever met in my life. The first time I went into his office – wall, ceiling, all Battlestar stuff."

Singer and DeSanto supposedly wanted to do a theatrical version of the original show, going so far as to spend $3 million dollars on pre-production, but when the second X-Men film conflicted with their plans for Battlestar Galactica, Singer left the project. According to Hathaway, DeSanto set up a meeting with executives at Fox, which included Glen Larson, to pitch a new feature, which would tell the story of Commander Cain and the Pegasus.

Richard Hatch was able to organize a 25th anniversary convention, the single largest gathering of Battlestar Galactica actors, writers, producers, directors and memorabilia at the Universal Sheraton at Studio City, CA. in October, 2003.

The Galacticon event coincided with the release of the series on DVD, which was re-mastered from original source material in 5.1 Dolby digital sound. Adding to all 24 hours of programming are scenes not seen in 25 years. When the film was released on video in the 1980s, it was the version released to theaters in 1978, rather than the original pilot.

There was also a Sony Playstation 2 game released in the fall of 2003, produced by Vivendi Universal. Featuring the voices of both Benedict and Hatch in their original characters, Hatch also provides the voice of Captain Paulus, the captain of Blue Squadron, under whose command are the young pilots Adama and Cain in a 40-year prequel setting.

Also released were a set of trading cards, and a book that outlined the 25-year history of Battlestar Galactica, featuring interviews and a foreword by Richard Hatch and Glen Larson.

In the end, it was announced that Star Trek veteran Ron Moore would produce a new Battlestar Galactica for the Sci-Fi Channel. For the fans and for Richard Hatch, it was a bittersweet victory. Yes, the "ragtag fugitive fleet" would fly again, but original cast members were not initially included. Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was not be a latter day continuation of the original saga, but a "re-imagining" of the original show. Roles were recast, characters were rewritten (Starbuck and Boomer are now female), and much of the original sets, costumes and prop designs were discarded.

Diehard fans of the 1978 series were originally quick to condemn the new version prior to its debut on in December, 2003. Even actor Edward James Olmos, who took over the role of Commander Adama, warned longtime fans. "Please don't watch this program," Olmos told the press. "Buy yourself the new DVDs that they're putting out of the old episodes, and whenever we come on, just put that one in. ...Trust me. Don't watch it. If you're a real, real staunch Battlestar Galactica person, please don't watch it."

The cast of the new Battlestar Galactica
Despite Olmos’ warning, the mini-series was hugely successful, leading to an ongoing series which, as of spring, 2007 is in its 4th season. The premise of the show is familiar, but different enough to put a new spin on old ideas.

Under the command of Bill Adama, the Galactica is about to be de-commisioned and turned into a history exhibit. On board for the ceremony are Adama’s son Lee (Apollo) and Secretary of Education Laura Roslin. Meanwhile, Gaius Baltar has been indulging in an affair with a beautiful blonde woman, later revealed to be a Cylon. He is seduced into providing vital information regarding the defense of the Colonies.

Cylons, once the servants of man, have been exiled to outer space. After decades, they return to obliterate the human society. With the human defenses and government destroyed, the survivors turn to Adama and Roslin, now the president, for leadership. Though in conflict at first, the two eventually set aside their differences to lead their people into space in search of the mythical planet Earth.

In the new series, Cylons now resemble humans, using their likeness to infiltrate the human population. Lt. Boomer is revealed to be a Cylon sleeper agent, while an identical model becomes romantically involved with Helo, a pilot left behind on Caprica. When Helo manages to rejoin the fleet, he brings the Cylon woman, now pregnant with his child, with him.

Other notable character differences include the hard-bitten Col. Tigh raging alcoholism, and the often strained relationship between Adama and his son. Baltar is eventually exposed as a collaborator, though his motivations are not so one dimensional as those presented on the original show.

Despite the initial resistance from fans, the show received a significant endorsement when Richard Hatch agreed to guest star in an episode, which has led to a recurring role. He plays Tom Zarek, once hailed as a freedom fighter, later convicted as a terrorist. He is discovered aboard a prison ship, and manages to bargain his way to freedom. At first he proves a thorn in the side of Roslin’s administration, but his political savvy is undeniable.

The new version has been highly praised by critics, and is one of the network’s highest-rated shows. Fans of the original show seem to have accepted it, perhaps grudgingly, but it is difficult to deny it’s a better series than the original proved to be. Original or new, the overall concept offers hope to the indomitable spirit of mankind's perseverance and will to survive in the face of catastrophe.

"Battlestar Galactica is to me is about putting everyday human beings into extraordinary circumstances that will bring out the best and the worst in us," says Hatch. "That creates great drama, great humor, and that's what great theatrical drama is all about, and to me Battlestar Galactica really epitomized that."

Last Updated: Jun 26, 2018 - 9:28

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