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The History and inside look at BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

by Joey Paur

'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Battlestar-Galatcia-1978_l

As you know the last episode of Battlestar Galactica is going to air on Firday March 20th. This will be a sad day. Battlestar Galactica will go down as one of the greatest science fiction shows ever, but in my opinion it is one of the best shows to come out on TV period. I hate that it is going to come to and end. So how did we get to this place? Where did this show come from? How did it happen? EW gives some nice insight to how Galactica came to be what it is today.

Had fans of the original ABC series from the 1970s had their way, the miniseries that launched the Sci Fi Channel remake would never have even made.


Can you believe that crap!? Thanks goodness they didn't get their way! I can't imagine what it would have been like without Battlestar Galactica!

'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Battlestar-Galactica-cylons_l

It all started with a three hour season premiere on ABC in 1978. 65 Million viewers tuned in! It remained a top 20 show, the network canceled it at the end of its first season reportedly due in large part to the series' massive visual effects budget. Ronald D. Moore executive producer and co-writer of the current series says:

There was a lot of hoopla at the time about this sci-fi television series. There hadn't really been one since the original Star Trek about 10 years before, so it was a big deal, and I had watched from day one as a kid. I remember thinking I liked it, but I didn't buy a lot of it. These people, [the Colonials], had been at war [with the Cylons] for 1,000 years, the Cylons said, ''Oh, let's have peace,'' and the Colonials gathered their entire fleet all in one place and didn't send any patrols out. They were like morons.

 

Lorne Greene [as Adama, the leader of the spaceship Galactica] was the only guy in the fleet who said, ''Maybe we shouldn't trust them.'' And everyone's like, ''Oh no! What are you, a war-lover!? Grr, trust the Cylons!'' And then they just got their heads handed to them [and most of humanity was destroyed in a surprise attack]. Then [the survivors] went to the casino planet, and I was like, What? I remember wanting to like it more than I did. When it was over, I felt bad because there was just no other sci-fi on TV. I wanted to see more shows like it. It just felt like it went of the rails at a certain point.


'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Richard-Hatch-Apollo_l

Jamie Bamer who plays Capt. Lee "Apollo" Adama says regarding the original series:

I was maybe six years old. I had gone to see Star Wars, one of the first movies I'd ever seen, and [the original Battlestar] was part of that childhood escape. I remember the capes, the Egyptian helmets, the three buttons on the viper joystick. I remember them shooting out of the launch tubes. I didn't really have an idea of what the show was about. I just remember these guys in space having an adventure every week and just loving it.


During the 90's CGI was starting to take shape, and the idea of bringing back Battlestar Gallactica started to gain some momentum using these new effects that were available to these kinds of productions. At one point Richard Hatch who played Captain Apollo in the original series recruited some effects artists to help him cut a professional trailer for a new series. Hatch says:

Around 1992-93, I was invited to a Star Trek convention in Pasadena, Calif. When Battlestar was announced, there was this huge cheer at the Pasadena Convention Center. I was blown away by the amount of people who were passionate about a show that was only on the air for a year.


It obviously didn't take. Then in 2000 director Bryan Singer and Producer Tom DeSanto who produced X-Men and Transformers started developing a new Battlesatr series. Singer planned on directing the pilot that would have aired on FOX. Desanto says:

Our show was going to be much more on the tone of pop sci-fi, along the lines of Spider-Man or the original Star Wars. It was going to be 25 years later [from] the original show, which was really a story of the exodus, you know, Israelites fleeing the Egyptians looking for the promised land, but feeling like they were being hunted. Our template was what if the Israelites stopped at Mount Sinai and built Las Vegas? And that was quite reflective of what the country was going though [during the dotcom boom]. We were going to use some of the original cast. We were going for a franchise show to replace X-Files on Fox.


I gotta say I'm kinda glad that show did not happen. Sounds terrible! Thanks goodness Singer was pulled away from the project to direct X-Men 2. It was after this that the project was brought to the Sci Fi channel which had a better vision for the property. Hatch says:

Tom tried to go over to Sci Fi to see if he could launch a four-hour miniseries over there. They did not seem to really relish doing a continuation.


Former Sci Fi Channel President Bonnie Hammer continues saying:

We were trying to get away from what would be considered your father's or grandfather's sci-fi, what we viewed as campy sci-fi, old sci-fi. Frankly the first couple of pitches and scripts that we saw floating around were, ''Uh-uh, ain't going there, it's just not where Sci Fi Channel needs to go if it's going to grow-up and come of age.''


Former Senior VP of Marketing goes on to say:

It looked as though space operas had kind of died a death and the Star Trek franchise was beginning to fade. We did not want another space opera.


'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | David-Eick-Ron-Moore_l

Then in 2002 it happened. Sci Fi Channel brought in producer David Eick and Sci Fi writer Ronald Moore  to put together a pitch. Moore talks about how it went down.

In our initial discussions, we asked, ''Okay, how is it different from Trek and Star Wars?'' I had already done 10 years on Star Trek, and I [felt] this form is ossified. It needs to be redone. It would be cool if you did it documentary style, made it naturalistic, reinvented how you did science fiction.


Hell yeah! David Eick then adds:

I'm going to quote Ron in a way that's derogatory to the makers of the original show: ''You know, it's cheesy, it's dated, it's kind of silly, and yet there's an original plot that has, in a weird way, a more timely application today than it did then.'' Remember, this was right after 9/11.


Moore focused on the core Battlestar story as a potent post-9/11 allegory: After a surprise attack wipes out most of humanity, a small fleet of survivors searches for a fabled home called Earth while being relentlessly pursued by the Cylons. There were, however, going to be a few changes: The Cylons would by and large look like humans, easier on the budget and better for the new, post-9/11 outlook. The capes and lasers would be replaced with military uniforms and bullets. And Starbuck, the rebellious ace pilot played by Dirk Benedict in the '70s series, would now be a woman. Which all worked out perfectly! Moore says:

Apollo and Starbuck were the leads of the original. It felt like a very stock relationship, and I didn't know what else do with it. So it just occurred to me, ''What if Starbuck was a woman, if she sleeps around, chomps a cigar and gambles, is always getting in trouble, but is still the best pilot in the fleet?'' It's something I hadn't seen.


And it is something that made the show that much more incredible! He continues:

We pitched it to Bonnie [Hammer] via videoconference. She was in the great big TV at the end of the table. It was like some science fiction experience for me. I knew I sold the project when, at the very beginning of the pitch, I said, ''We're going to make changes to the original. One of them is making Starbuck a woman.'' Bonnie went, ''Yes!'' I thought, ''That's it! We got it.''


What a great feeling that must have been. Hammer gives us her thoughts:

I was floored. It was no longer your father's Battlestar Galactica. It was provocative, it was edgy, it was dark. It was such a smart concept. And, of course, being a woman, having the star fighter pilot be female just won me over in a heartbeat.


After Moore got the gig he wrote the script for a four hour mimiseries. The plan was if the ratings were high enough the four hour show would serve as a backdoor pilot for a full on series. Then the fans started a Frakstorm. Hatch:

I was frustrated when they started talking about a re-imagined version, because I knew how many re-imagined versions of other series have failed. I became emotionally involved in bringing back the original, fighting to find a way to build a bridge between the past and the future, without losing the original backstory and characters. I fought for so long to do that, when they decided they didn't want to go in that direction, that was very painful.


So what were the fans of the original show so pissed off about? Starbuck being played by a woman! Moore:

When [the fans] heard Starbuck was going to be a woman, it was just like, ''There can never be peace between us! Blood has been spilled!'' We just decided that we didn't care.


Good for them! Sometimes you just have to shut out the negative voices going on around you and go for it. I'm so happy they had faith in the project. In 2003 they began casting. Eick:

We were using, as I recall, Brian Cox and Edward James Olmos as [Commander] Adama, and Susan Sarandon and Mary McDonnell [as president Laura Roslin]. Then we saw Donnie Darko.


Moore adds:

I was really taken with [McDonnell], and I started writing Laura's voice hearing Mary in my head.


It's pretty amazing that Donnie Darko in a way served as inspiration for that character. Mary Mcdonnell who plays Laura Roslin in the series says:

I've liked sci-fi in my life, but I started to giggle when I heard that they were offering me something [on Battlestar]. I couldn't put myself together with a sci-fi show. Then I read it. It's filled with emotional and intellectual and spiritual challenges that we are smacked up in the middle of right now on this planet. There wasn't some sort of imaginary world in another realm that I had no relationship to. It was completely accessible and relevant.


Apparently Edward James Olmos was a harder sell. Eick says:

He was like, ''Yeah, yeah yeah, but what about the series? Where do you guys go when this gets ordered?'' He was so certain that this thing had jet fuel on it. He already knew it was going to get picked up.


Edward who plays William Adama himself says:

I made it very clear. I said, ''If there are no four eyed-creatures, and no weird aliens from another world or galaxy or universe, I will be a part of this. The very first creature I see from the Black Lagoon, I'm going to faint on camera and I'm off the show. That's it. You can just write that Adama had a heart attack and died. But I'm not going to do that kind of sci-fi show.''


This is kind of funny because Moore goes on to say:

We kept saying, ''We agree!'' He just didn't believe us.


Just imagine Edward James Olmos rolling his eyes at these guys. It makes me laugh. So how did Starbuck come about? Director of the miniseries Michael Rymer says:

Most of the girls who came in [for Starbuck] were very cut. They all looked like Linda Hamilton. Katee came in and my first reaction was, ''Well, she's the best actress, but she's too feminine.''


Eick continues:

I was at home, looking at old tapes of auditions, just bemoaning the fact that we didn't have a Starbuck. It was the most talked-about role; this was not the role to fall on our faces with. Jenny, my wife, happened to be in the room when Katee was reading, and in an off-hand kind of way said, ''What's the matter with you, she's right there!'' I was like, ''Really?'' We brought [Katee] back, and it was like, ''Oh! She's right!''


'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Katee-Sackhoff-Starbuck_l

And there it is. A new Starbuck is born. She is perfect for this role! Katee Sachoff chimes in:

I just didn't take no for an answer. I just kind of felt that it was my character and my role. I don't know what made me think that way. I could just tell. I didn't know that the original Starbuck was a man.


The girl that Plays Boomer Grace Park actually auditioned for the role of Starbuck but ended up giving her the part of Boomer. Park says:

I can't even imagine me playing Starbuck now. Are you kidding? [Giggles] It would not be as good. I never read for Boomer. They gave her to me because I didn't get Starbuck. I thought it was kind of like a consolation prize, and I was like, ''I don't want her!''


Moore then adds:

In our original conception of the show, Boomer was not a Cylon. That was like a last minute change. It was David's idea. He [thought] if in the end Boomer's a Cylon, we're guaranteed a series pickup.


Very cool. They say that the biggest casting drama was Number Six. Apparently the only thing Tricia Helfer had done before getting the role was playing a dead body in an episode of CIS. Rymer said:

Tricia has this effect on men. You just noticed this giddiness that would infect the men. It wasn't just the way she looked; she just has this vibe about her. Nobody gets how hard that role is, to bring the depth, the vulnerability and the mystery to essentially a robot chick. So I said, ''Look, I can't make another girl sexy, but I can help her act.''


Well they made the right decision. Helfer says:

They definitely put me through the wringer to get [the role]. I think they didn't quite know what they were looking for. All the other girls are in high heels and sexy skirts, and I'm trying to make myself as short as possible. I'm way taller than James [Callis].


James Callis was cast as Baltar it was between him and Jon Cryer but I guess Cryers agent wanted him to be in 'Two and a Half Men'! Sucks to be him. Callis got the role because he made Balter funnier than they thought the character was going to be. James Callis says:

I'd just come to Los Angeles really for the first time, and I was like, ''I don't really want to have my very first job here be playing some d-bag.'' I was like, ''Why not give me Apollo? I'd like to be in leather pants and fire a gun at baddies.'' And they were like, ''No, that part's gone to Jamie Bamber.'' I was like, ''If only I had been here three weeks earlier! Damnit!''


'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Battlestar-Galactica_l

Once everyone was cast filming began. All these people thrown onto the set thrust in different situations with each other. It helps if everyone bonds and gets along with each other. It seems like it got pretty interesting. Callis:

The very first things we filmed were me and Number Six kissing like crazy, and taking each other's clothes off. It was actually a tremendous way to get to know someone. I'd defy any heterosexual guy not to find Tricia attractive.


So that was obviously a good and positive bonding experience. How about the tough ones. Bamber:

Eddie [Olmos] is like no actor I've ever met before. The machismo oozed out of him, conviction from every pore. The day we met, we were in a make-up trailer. He sat down, looked at me, and said, ''How are we going to play father and son?'' I was terrified. ''Um, I dunno. We'll get called the same surname. How 'bout that?'' He said, ''You ever wear [contact] lenses before?'' I said, ''No.'' He said, ''I'll wear the [blue] lenses; you dye your hair [dark].'' He was pretty intimidating.


Olmos:

I wasn't trying to be intimidating, but I'm sure he respected me. I thought he was an all-American kid. When he would talk to me, he'd talk in an American accent. And all of a sudden, he'd talk to [James] Callis and it'd be [an] English [accent]. I thought, ''This kid is really good.''


Bamber:

I just felt terrified, really terrified. I'm playing a character called Apollo, Greek god, it's my first role in America, and I'm playing kind of like the lead young guy. I just didn't feel like I measured up.


'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Battlestar-CIC-Control_l

Bamber is British by the way if you already did not know. So one of the challenges that came up in the production of the show was keeping everything grounded in recognizable relality including the set. Moore talks about the ship:

It was important to us that the set have a truth to it. We kept saying, it's an aircraft carrier. Make it feel like an aircraft carrier: phones with cords on them, no big view screen like on Star Trek, no giant captain's chair.


Olmos:

It made it so real. Everything worked. So you say, ''The hull has been breached in such and such location,'' you'd look at the monitors and your hull was breached! There was no acting. It was really happening.


Sweet! Mcdonnell:

I didn't know how to get off the set. If you didn't have someone leading you out or you hadn't memorized how you'd gotten in, you could be going in circles and suddenly you're in another room on the set. So there was a feeling of, literally, I can't get off the ship.


Here is a pretty cool little little story for the set. Olmos got a reputation for ad-libbing and branded his poistion as a leader off camera as well. Michael Hogan who plays Col. Saul Tigh says:

He says, ''So say we all,'' and everybody says ''So say we all.'' And he says it again, and we say, ''So say we all.'' He walked around the room, looking at people, saying ''So! Say! We all!'' Eddie had everybody shouting back at him and feeling ''So say we all!'' That wasn't scripted. It sent shivers up my spine.


At one point during production Moore was pulled off the set of Galactica to over see HBO's Carnivale series which was an amazing series and I am pissed that it got cancelled! But anyway, he didn't get to visit the galactica set once while he was on the project. Moore says:

I was sort of involved by email or phone call. I didn't see most of the cast until we were shooting or if I did, I just saw their audition tapes. I didn't go to the wrap party. I would just get these occasional boxes from David of VHS tapes. I'd immediately watch them and say, ''Oh my god, we're really doing it. This is really what we had in mind!''


'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | bsg-starbuck-lives_l

Then they started getting death threats! Sackhoff says:

No one seems to remember that Boomer in the original was a black man, and now he was a Korean woman! [Laughs] No one cared. Before we even started shooting the miniseries, I got a death threat [mailed to me]. It made me terrified of the science fiction fans, which was unfair, because 98 percent of them are fantastic human beings. But there's 2 percent that'll scare the living s--- out of ya.


Come on people! You don't need to be sending death threats to people! That's socially unacceptable! When Moore attended a Galaticon in 2003 he showed a bunch of fans some clips of the new show. The crowed booed! Why!? I bet they love it now. Hatch say's of the experience:

It was icy-cold in there. It was obvious that no one liked it, and it wasn't because it wasn't good. It was because it was so different from what everybody wanted at that time. Their questions were tipped with a lot of acid.


Acid sucks. But Richard Hatch had some balls during the Q&A. Moore tells the story:

The gist of it was, ''This is nothing like the series - how could you do this?'' After a series of those questions, somebody stood up and said, ''Now that you've heard all of this, will you take a pledge now that if this show goes to series, you will make sure it's more in keeping with what we would like to see?'' I said, ''Well, how honest do you want me to be?'' They said, ''Be honest! Tell the truth!'' I said, ''Okay, well, the answer is no. This is the show. You may not like the show, you don't have to watch the show, but this is the show that we're making.'' Then they got really mad. People started to stand up and yell. And from the back of the auditorium, the man I had not yet met, Richard Hatch, stands up like Moses and says, ''Wait a minute, just settle down.''


Hatch:

I said, ''Look, it takes a lot to do anything in this business. Putting together a new Battlestar, whether we agree or disagree, why don't we give this talented man an opportunity to present what he has to say.'' I have a great deal of respect for anyone standing up to that hostile audience.


Moore:

It was completely selfless and really amazing of him. And it quieted them down. Afterward, I met him backstage. I was very touched. He was like, ''I really don't like it. I think it's a mistake, but I get it. I know how hard it is to do these things. I don't think you should be treated like that.'' I said, ''Thank you, and I mean it, if this does go to series, I'm going to call you and I want you to do a guest shot.'' That's how he became Tom Zarek (pictured).


Dude. How awesome is that. That was an amazing thing to do. Richard Hatch became Tom Zarek in the show.

'Galactica': Why it almost didn't fly | Richard-Hatch-Tom-Zarek_l

On Dec. 8, 2003, the miniseries premiered to 3.9 million viewers, among the strongest ratings in the network's history. The second night, the news got even better: The ratings actually increased to 4.5 million viewers, practically unheard of for a basic-cable miniseries. Still, it took Moore and Eick a few months to convince Sci Fi to agree to a Battlestar series - the greenlight only came, in fact, after British media outlet BSkyB agreed to pony up some of the operating budget. And when Moore, Eick, and some of the cast made their way to San Diego Comic-Con the following summer, all was still not well with the fans. Sachoff says:

I was booed. It was lovely. At that point, I'd seen the miniseries and I knew I'd done a good job. I had my confidence back. I didn't care anymore.


Fraking good for him. Then when the first season premiered on Sci Fi on Jan. 14, 2005 it was all good.

Callis:

We went to Comic-Con the year after and [Ron] was like, ''James, you don't understand. People are clapping now, but when I came here a year ago, people were shouting at me and booing, just short of throwing things.''


Moore:

The second Comic-Con, I think everyone was surprised by how many people crowded into the room. It was standing room only. The reception was adulation. You just felt the love. It was just suddenly a whole different thing.


Hatch:

I had a hard time dealing with the four-hour miniseries - I couldn't look at it objectively. But when the actual episodes began, I started getting into it because it became the epic out in space. I thought what they were doing was actually quite brilliant.


And the show has been on a roll since. I love the show and there are tons of people out there that love it as well. I am going to miss it when it is gone, but at least we got to experience it. As the show comes to a close here is what they people involved think:

Eick:

It's bittersweet. There are elements of the miniseries that suggested that the show was going to go in a slightly different direction, and there are parts of me that miss the period of time we were in where anything was possible. There's another part of me that feels so proud the show became so much more complicated and multi-faceted and went in so many directions that the miniseries couldn't have imagined.


Sackhoff:

Every season we got picked up, I was shocked. I was like, ''Why do they keep watching this?'' I mean I know it's fantastic, but normally people don't watch what's good on TV; they watch what's easy.


I can't wait to see how it all ends.

Battlestar-Galactica-cast_l

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