Sunday, July 25, 2010

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's Lost Season - Sophomore Year Speculations

There's obviously been much fan speculation over the last thirty years about what the second season of Battlestar Galactica might have been like, had the show been properly renewed, rather than canceled and then half-assedly resurrected a year later as a cut-rate kid's show. Entire comic book series have explored possible storylines, there have been original novels and tons of fan fiction.

But I've seen very little actual realistic speculation about what a 1979-1980 television season might have been like. Most of the stuff I've read has postulated exciting storylines that would have been very cool for the fans, but incredibly expensive to actually have produced. So, based on my understanding of 70s network television and trends witnessed in Season 1, here's what I think we might have seen, had ABC decided to give the series a last-minute renewal:

The first season was made up of basically three types of story. The first third of the season consisted of several "Apollo/Starbuck crash on a planet" episodes, with plots that were basically TV Westerns ("The Long Patrol," "The Young Warriors"). Then, there were the big, two-hour "epics" like "Gun On Ice Planet Zero," "The Living Legend," and "War Of the Gods." And, finally, there were the "bottle" shows, set entirely on the Galactica or within the Colonial fleet, centered more on characters rather than action ("Murder on the Rising Star," "The Man With Nine Lives," "Take the Celestra!").

Had the show gone to a second season, I think we would definitely seen a lot more of these "bottle shows." ABC and Universal were both uncomfortable with the high cost of the series (specifically the effects), and it was the show's budget more than ratings that got it canceled in the first place. And we saw with Galactica 1980 that ABC still had interest in the concept if it could be produced cheaply (too cheaply, in 1980's case). There would have almost certainly been a lot of behind-the-scenes belt-tightening, and it's a safe bet that we would have seen a lot more stories set within the Colonial fleet.

Now, I probably wouldn't have minded that too much, since I was fascinated by Colonial society, and some of those later episodes are among my favorites. Seeing the writers explore the fleet culture - not to mention the core characters - probably would have been a good thing. We might have gotten some detail on daily fleet life for civilians, more info on the various classes (Sires? Siresses?), and a look at the economics of the survivors' situation. There would almost certainly have to be some sort of Black Market and criminal element. And, I would personally like to have seen more of the Borellian Nomen... and discover what other interesting subcultures might have existed among the Colonials.

Unfortunately, I think we would have seen a reduction in the cast, too. Battlestar Galactica had a huge regular cast, and once it got going, many characters featured in the opening titles ended up being marginalized or forgotten. My beloved Maren Jensen - beautiful as she was - probably would have been written out. At the end of the first season, she'd already disappeared - she hadn't been seen since "Greetings From Earth," where she'd been depressingly reduced to the role of "school marm." Although originally intended to be both one of the prominent Viper pilots and a love interest for Starbuck, it hadn't worked out that way, and she'd spent most of her time riding a computer console on a corner of the bridge, chewing her lovely lip.

Tony Swartz' Flight Sargent Jolly would probably have completely disappeared, along with some of the other semi-regulars. I also suspect that Herb Jefferson as Boomer might have found himself cut loose, since his role as Blue Squadron's third musketeer had been mostly supplanted by Anne Lockhart's Sheba. I also don't see much of a continued role for John Colico's delightful Baltar; as a convict on the prison barge, there's not much he could do to menace the fleet, and even if he escaped (again), would the Cylons realistically want him back?

Speaking of those chrome-plated pursuers, we probably would have seen considerably less of the Cylons, as well, with the producers saving them for sweeps week "events" to pump up Nielsen numbers. ("The Cylons are back!") This would be when we'd get the slightly more extravagant two-hour/part "epics," although there would definitely be fewer of them. One such "event" would almost certainly have involved the return of the Battlestar Pegasus and its legendary Commander Cain (if Lloyd Bridges' fee could be budgeted), since such a story would be able to use a lot of stock combat effects shots and standing sets. (Would Cain have approved of Sheba's involvement with Apollo? Would he have wanted her to rejoin him on the Pegasus? Hmmm...)

Considering Glen Larson's interest in the spiritual, we likely would have also seen a lot more of the Ship of Lights and its enigmatic, angelic crew and a return appearance from Patrick MacNee's Count Iblis. What we probably wouldn't have seen, although most of the show's young fans would have loved it, were any more non-human aliens. Oh, we got a few early on - the Ovions and the "Android Sisters" in the pilot, the pig-like Borays in "The Magnificent Warriors" - but elaborate make-ups and/or masks would certainly have been prohibitively expensive. Most likely, we would have met more human cultures/colonies along the lines of the Terrans from "Experiment in Terra," and Adama would speculate that this meant they were following the path of the Thirteenth Tribe in the right direction.

More character-driven stories would have led to more soap opera stuff, with additional screen time devoted to Apollo and Sheba's budding romance (and Starbuck and Cassiopiea's as well). One episode we know would have appeared for sure, is the one that formed the basis for 1980's "The Return of Starbuck," although the ending would probably been quite different. The Battlestar Wiki also lists a few other unproduced scripts that might have been reworked into year 2 episodes; from the synopses on the site, "Two for Twilley" and "I Have Seen Earth" could have both been produced under the budget-conscious conditions I postulate in this essay, and "Showdown" and "The Mutiny" might have made decent double-length event episodes.

As for effects, the repetitive recycling of stock shots would certainly have become even more obvious and intrusive, and the rare new sequences from Universal's Hartland facility would have co-opted miniatures and shots from Universal's other current space show, Buck Rogers (just as Buck co-opted several Galactica props and models for its purposes). Teenage fans like myself probably wouldn't have minded too much, as long as there were still spaceships zooming across the screen, but it wouldn't have helped the series' reputation or longevity.

If the show had been renewed and had resembled what I've speculated above, I doubt it would have gone on to a third season. The history of science fiction on American network television, up until Star Trek: The Next Generation (and that was syndicated, and thus spared the interference of network execs), is of two-or-three season runs, with diminishing production values and story quality. In fact, until the aforementioned ST: TNG, the longest running SF adventure series on U.S. television was Irwin Allen's Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea in the 60s, and that show perfectly illustrates the standard trajectory of genre shows prior to the mid-80s. Each season the budgets got smaller, the production values diminished, and the scripts got sillier as the writing staffs ran out of ideas and resources. Effects shots were endlessly recycled and the stories became more and more set-bound.

Still, when all is said and done, I would still have rather seen a second season along the lines of what I imagined here than Galactica 1980....


  1. I think your analysis is spot-on. I wonder, though, if there were more undeveloped scripts, a la Star Trek II's "lost series" (or the scripts that were never considered worthy for the 1967 series)? Two undone scripts seems a bit sparse, even for a one-season show.

  2. The Battlestar Wiki page I linked to above lists about a half-dozen unproduced scripts that were in various stages of development during the first season. Several of them look like they probably could never have been whipped into shape, but others showed some potential.

  3. Back in 2003 I purchased some Battlestar Galactica promo material plus a booklet that outlined changes and ideas for the second season from Glen Larson's son Chris.

    One of the things mentioned was that Sheba was going to be killed off.Sadly I sold the material off to another fan some years ago and wish now I had kept it.

  4. Weird. I never read that, and had no idea that anyone else referred to the nonexistent second season as the "lost season."

    Some of those changes sound kind of far fetched - has Larson Senior ever authenticated the document?

  5. Upon re-reading it, Larson's proposed changes make even less sense. He decides to deal with the lack of female viewership by killing off, disfiguring and desexualizing every regular female cast member? Then, he completely eliminates all romantic subplots, and arbitrarily switches the personalities of his two male leads?

    Cripes. Now I'm glad there was no second season. His plans (assuming that this document is legit and not simply a money-making scheme by his son) sound even more depressing and grim than my speculation above.

  6. I too wondered how authentic the document was and I did exchange several emails with Chris at the time. He seemed somewhat bitter but we all have our issues.

    I agree,if the proposed changes would have came about,the series IMO, would have taken an even bigger hit in the ratings and would have gotten canceled.

    Being a serious BG fan back in the day,does anyone else remember a fanzine produced called "The Adama Journal"? For the time it was quite good.

    1. HI ... ran across mention of my old fanzine "THE ADAMA JOURNAL" while googling myself ... :-) I plan to "reprint" all the issues on my website ( at some point.... nice somebody remembers that :-)

  7. On the topic of Commander Cain,I always assumed the wreckage found when Apollo,Starbuck and Sheba confronted Count Iblis was the Pegasus,and that the crew and Cain were killed.Just my theory...

  8. I like the assessment you gave, Chris. When you take into account that Don Bellisario was producing and writing for the series at the time and compare his track record with your supposition, this seems a highly likely track for it to take...

  9. Thanks, Jim. Much of my reasoning was based on the assumption that Bellisario would have continued as the primary driving force (or "showrunner," in today's terms) on the series.

  10. A brilliant article!
    I often used to speculate on what a second season of Battlestar would be like.
    Have you written any similar pieces on other sf shows?
    I'd love to know what you think a 3rd season of Space:1999 would have been like or a second season of UFO or Logan's Run!!

  11. "Have you written any similar pieces on other sf shows?"

    Not yet. :)

  12. If you recall the final episode, "The Hand of God", Adama agreed to drop Baltar off on a habitable planet in exchange for technical info to help destroy the Cylon Basestar blocking the fleet's path. Although they only allowed him a short range communicator, it left the door open to being rescued by the Cylons.

    The DVD extras confirmed the wrecked ship was not the Pegasus. ABC was jittery about letting us see what our heroes saw in the wreckage!

  13. Considering how radically Buck was altered in the 2nd season, it doesn't surprise me to hear that they were going to mess around with the 2nd season of Galactica. We're kind of lucky that the episodes that were produced were as consistently good as they were, considering how much dreck Larson produced later, the best of which never really rises above the level of outright cheese.

    The running theme being that Galactica was originally produced as a TV movie, and the series benefitted from them kind of trying to continue the "this is a special event" vibe.

  14. In a nutshell: Tigh, Wilker, Salik, Baltar, and Sheba would be killed off in a cylon attack. The Cain storyline would have been resolved in the season premier. Boxey would have gone off to boarding school, basically, and a new 'cabin boy' character would have been introduced. Athena would have been re-cast and would have taken Tigh's role, Cassiopeia would have become the new doctor, and Boomer would have taken over the Wilker role, all in addition to their normal duties. Oh, and Apollo would have become a swinger in the wake of Sheba's death.

    The funny thing is that if you watch "The Hand of God" with all this in mind, you can actually see how the episode is shot with that in mind, almost like he's testing out those ideas.

    ABC wasn't "Interested in the concept" by the way, the sole purpose of Galactica: 1980 was to sully the Galactica name, and trash its reputation so as to stop the hate mail they'd been getting for cancelling the original show.

  15. Republibot - yes; that's what the alleged Larson notes said. These are *my* speculations. And I don't buy the authenticity of the so-called Larson document. It doesn't sound real at all, based on the realities of TV production, and the fact that Larson wasn't even the line producer on the show at the time. As was his pattern, he and Universal had handed the show off to another producer - in this case, Don Bellasario..

    Even more absurd is the theory that a network would spend millions of dollars to "sully the name" of a show they'd already canceled just to stop some "hate mail." That makes no logical - or fiscal - sense at all.

  16. I must confess that I'd rather have _enjoyed_ a more set-bound season. Like you, Christopher, I found that the character-driven episodes and those which focused on the society of the refugees were my favorites.

    I think that studios often tend to forget that for fans of space fiction, space is not just laser beams and explosions. Certainly there is a great deal of fun to be had there, but there is a larger part that tugs equally at our hearts: what will _life_ be like in space? How do people in this situation adapt and cope?

    Even if the studio already knew they were going to can the show, more social-oriented stories would have given them a chance to inexpensively milk existing pieces, please the fans, and perhaps even have given the show the bump it needed in popularity to attract the advertising dollars that would allow an occasional "space ships and lasers" event.

    Sadly, we'll never know. :(

    It's blackly humorous to me, though, that the studio decided not to do the thing they could possibly afford to do, and that the thing they could afford to do was the thing that I enjoy the most.


  17. There was talk of Issac Asimov supplying story ideas for Battlestar Galactica way back when. Tho this never happened, Issac Asimov's: "Foundation & Earth", deals with a bunch of people searching for the legendary lost planet Earth and was published only a few years after the cancellation of Galactica. I've read it and it's not too far fetched to imagine this as a general series plan for Galactica Season 2. The way they track down Earth in this book could have easily been Asimov's proposal to Bellisario or Larson on how to have the Galactica find Earth. They could have spread it out over multiple seasons by using filler stories much like Babylon 5 did tho at the time the original Galactica was being made I don't think they would have thought so far ahead.

  18. I read that the character Athena still would have been in season 2, but the "suits" wanted Athena to be played by another actress. Someone came up with the idea of an explosion on the Galactica bridge, durng a huge battle, and Athena woudl have had to have major facial plastic surgery. Well, that,s what I read on a site that is now down, The people behind this site, said they had had access to old pre-production documents, from Universal Studios.

  19. That document has been cited on numerous websites and publications. I doubt its authenticity. But, even if true, it was a blatantly stupid and callous plan.

    I prefer my speculations above. :)