For some, the original Battlestar Galactica series seemed to be a turkey – a much hyped, bloated and burnt (okay, not sure about the metaphor – but for a 13-year-old boy like me, it was the greatest thing ever since well…Star Wars. It was seen, especially by George Lucas, as a Star Wars rip-off but mostly I think because it had the same design and special effects team as “Star Wars” who needed jobs and were in high demand. And yes, it wouldn’t have hit the airwaves without Lucas’s success but the concept was wholly original, about a group of planets called the Twelve Colonies wiped out by their robotic enemies, the Cylons, with the survivors now on the run protected by the lone warship called the Battlestar Galactica. They picked terrific actors, dressed them in beautiful costumes, outfitted the sets with the latest computer technology, and designed unique civilizations complete with their own customs and languages. The three-hour debut was a ratings bonanza and was later released in theaters, making some serious bucks to balance out the huge amount they’d spent on the series.
Yes, the quality of the writing and the ratings took a dive after the initial set of episodes, but we later found out this was mostly due to the network’s insistence that what was supposed to be a mini-series be ramped up into a regular weekly show, without giving them the time to properly prepare. Once the crew got their equilibrium, though, they started to produce classic TV such as “The Living Legends” where another Battlestar thought lost suddenly appeared, with Lloyd Bridges as Commander Cain. Here’s an interesting doc with lots of behind-the-scenes footage explaining the show’s trials and tribulations.
I was in Japan and the local military TV station FEN didn’t air it, so it took me the next two decades through scattered reruns, videocassette rentals and finally the full DVD box set before I saw all of them. Remember, there was no streaming, no full-season buys through Amazon, and videocassettes could be $70-$100 each or difficult to find to rent. However, one of my greatest childhood memories is seeing the movie version which played at a theater in downtown Tokyo, with Sensurround. The thrill! Feeling the thrust of the Vipers as they launched, the blast of energy coming from the screen and speakers straight through my body.
So, before I even got to see the full series, ABC cancelled it. Kids like me were devastated but the conventional wisdom was that it just cost too much and the ratings weren’t good enough.
Only afterward, did ABC realize what a mistake they’d made. When they put the ratings phenom “Mork and Mindy” in its place the next season, that show’s ratings went nanu nanu and never recovered. Sunday night was just a tough timeslot, with the main competition being “Archie Bunker’s Place”, the successor to “All in the Family”. So ABC called BG creator Glen Larson and asked him to bring his show back, this time in the Sunday night kids/information programming slot at 7pm against “60 Minutes”. With the sets dismantled, the cast scattered, and the budget lowered, Larson decided to bring Galactica to Earth, and add a group of kids as the main focus of the show, now called “Galactica 1980”. It was execrable, probably one of the worst shows ever produced, and ratings reflected that, thus putting the nails in BG’s coffin when it got canceled after 10 episodes. But luckily, that wasn’t the end.
To be continued…
Here’s the trailer of the original, full of images that still thrill me.