The Beginning Of A Saga From The Stars

In 1977, Star Wars forever changed science fiction from an underground fad (that most people were embarrassed to admit being a follower of) to a mainstream bonanza. The huge success of the movie opened the door for a science fiction televison show of similar magnitude.

10 years earlier, producer Glen Larson wrote a science fiction movie script called Adam's Ark about a group of humans fleeing into space to escape the destruction of Earth. There was little interest in science fiction at the time, so he was not able to sell anyone on the project. After the success of Star Wars, Larson revised his script and approached ABC with the concept of Battlestar Galactica. Despite having only 15 minutes of special effects footage for his pitch, the network was immediately sold. ABC decided to make Battlestar Galactica a weekly series, at a then record cost of a million dollars per episode, normal for such a series today. Battlestar Galactica received more publicity then any other television show before it, and debuted on September 17, 1978 to stellar ratings (65 million viewers). Battlestar Galactica became an instant sensation. Unfortunately, few people were aware of the problems soon to come.

A Galactic Production Nightmare

Battlestar Galactica was an experiment. Nothing like it had ever been done in televison history. As with any experiment, there were bound to be numerous problems. ABC apparently never realized this as they made many critical mistakes.

Glen Larson had originally proposed to do several television movies, but ABC insisted on a single movie and then a weekly television series, convinced they would likely be able to create the number one ratings hit on television. This was a gamble that failed. The first several one-hour episodes of Galactica came in around 11th place in the ratings, and soon dropped steadily. Several television movies would have been much more feasible. There would have been plenty of time between movies to develop high quality scripts, and the budgets would be extravagant enough to do the kinds of special effects that would be needed.

Afraid that the Star Wars craze would soon fizzle, ABC rushed the show into production. Because of this, there was simply not enough time to develop quality scripts, resulting in many cliche episodes such as The Lost Warrior, Fire In Space, The Young Lords, and Murder On The Rising Star. The writers found themselves working around the clock, ultimately scripting the two worst episodes, The Magnificent Warriors and Take The Celestra.

Unfortunately, the stories were also severely hampered because there was not enough time or money to shoot new special effects shots, making it impossible to write any kind of complex battle scenes. The show was forced to reuse the same space battle footage in every episode, which quickly became tiresome and placed strict limits on what the writers could do. The lackluster writing was the main reason the ratings continued to drop, and ABC began making "suggestions" on how to change things, which only used up even more badly needed time. Every episode had to be shot in six days, which was incredibly difficult for a show like Galactica. Often the cast did not recieve the scripts until the day of shooting. Anne Lockhart has said that they sometimes would tape their scripts to the wall and directly read off them while shooting because there wasn't enough time to memorize their lines. The show also preempted more than any other show in history, which certainly contributed to the declining ratings.

There was also a constant battle between the producers and ABC, as ABC's Standards and Practices Guidelines made it difficult to have a level of violence acceptable for good drama. The Cylons quickly became a joke as the space battles were ludicrously one-sided. The ending of Fire In Space was ruined due to the meddling of the censors, and their interference only made things more difficult for the writers.

Despite all the problems, Battlestar Galactica had many good points, more than enough for ABC to keep the show going for a second season. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Why Was Galactica Cancelled?

By the end of the season, Battlestar Galactica finished at number 24. One week before the last episode aired, ABC announced its cancellation. Galactica fans were outraged. Protests were held outside ABC studios. A 15 year old boy jumped off of a bridge, committing suicide because of the cancellation.

Why was Galactica cancelled? The truth is that no one knows for sure. It was probably due to a number of reasons. ABC gambled Galactica would be the number one show on television. It wasn't. To finish the season at number 24 must have seemed to them as failure. The show lost money due to its one million-per-episode price tag, but the writing certainly would have gotten better had the show gone a second season, as science fiction author Isaac Asimov was going to be brought in. As a result, the ratings surely would have gone up.

As aforementioned, starting the show off as a weekly series was a mistake. For example, the syndicated hit show Hercules began as four television movies, which allowed it to develop a fan base. When it finally became a weekly show, it had enough fans that it was an instant hit. The same would likely have happened with Galactica had it been done the same way. Also, there would have been plenty of space battle footage from several movies that could have been reused in a weekly show without getting redundant.

Some say that Universal put pressure on ABC to cancel the show. Others have speculated that ABC was jealous that Universal was receiving all of the profits on the vast amount of Galactica merchandise being sold. Certainly, the lawsuit from Twentieth Century Fox didn't help. Fox sued Universal, claiming that Galactica infringed on the copyrights of Star Wars. This was a ludicrous claim. While Galactica was certainly inspired by Star Wars, Star Wars was inspired by numerous science fiction stories before it. Just as the lawsuit was about to be thrown out, Universal countersued Fox, claiming that Star Wars infringed on Universal's 1972 science fiction film Silent Running. This claim was even more ridiculous than Fox's, and it only served to prolong the lawsuit until August 22, 1980, when the courts finally declared that Galactica was not an infringement on Star Wars.

Glen Larson has speculated that Mork and Mindy, which had better ratings, did more to hurt Galactica than anything else. ABC probably looked at Mork and Mindy and said, "Here's science fiction the way it ought to be done." When Mork and Mindy was placed in Galactica's Sunday time slot, its ratings plummeted to depths lower than Galactica's. This is when ABC realized they had made a mistake in canceling the show.

Dirk Benedict believes the show may have been canceled partly because he was hired to play the role of Starbuck. Larson wanted Benedict for the role, but ABC refused, saying he wasn't handsome enough for the part (In reality, they had another actor whom they wanted for the role). It came down to almost a war. Shooting for the show was about to begin, and Larson told ABC he would stop production of the show unless Benedict was hired. The network finally gave in, but there were hard feelings as a result. ABC was the number one network at the time, and the executives there were said to have been rather arrogant. Thus the show may have been canceled partly out of spite due to the incident. Because ABC was the number one network, the executives may have felt they didn't need Galactica. If the show had been on another network, it might have not been canceled.

John Colicos (Baltar) has said that the Galactica production crew used a special effects camera licensed exclusively to George Lucas, and Fox may have threatened to bring this into the lawsuit if the show wasn't canceled.

Ultimately, no one knows for sure why the show was canceled. The only thing certain is that ABC made a mistake, which they admitted to by quickly reviving the show as Galactica 1980.

Enter Sheba's Galaxy