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INTERVIEW WITH GALACTICA 1980 STORY EDITORS

ALLAN COLE AND CHRIS BUNCH


This interview was originally printed in the Epi-Log Journal Magazine.

For 10 unforgettable weeks, Allan Cole and Chris Bunch were two of three story editors on one of the most maligned science fiction series in the history of television: Galactica 1980. The two were just starting out in Hollywood and were blackmailed into taking the job by a Universal executive. To avoid being blackballed from future Universal projects, they accepted the assignment. They expected that they would be assigned to script episodes of the show. To their surprise, they discovered that their job was to keep their mouths shut, read creator/producer Glen A. Larson's scripts and approve them whether they liked them or not. They had no input into the scripts whatsoever, their only job being to add the "educational dialogue" that was required by the network.

The following interview tells all about their misadventures on the good ship Galactica.


Q: Where did Galactica 1980 come from?

Bunch: Well, this is only mildly classified, but nobody wanted to do Galactica 1980 except ABC. Battlestar Galactica had eaten the big green weenie (deservedly) and cost Universal a ton of money, with terrible ratings. Glen Larson, regardless of what you think of his writing ability, does try hard, and when something fails he wants to get away from it. It's been said he is the best salesman to ever pitch a TV series, but ten seconds after he sold it he should've been banned from writing any scripts to give his own show at least a struggling chance. Anyway, ABC, for some unknown reason, decided that it was worth trying again. Universal, who'd deficit-financed the first time around to some humongous degree, didn't want to go for it. ABC put pressure on, and they caved in. Then Universal put pressure on Larson, and he, in turn, caved in. Money Talks and Bullshit Walks, so here came Galactica once more, after Larson made those so wonderful revisions in the premise which guaranteed Galactica 1980 was even worse than its first incarnation.

Cole: Battlestar Galactica was the most expensive show ever done on television at the time. It was expensive and unsuccessful. And they had legal battles with George Lucas for obvious reasons. We thought they blew it as soon as they decided that the Galactica arrives on Earth in 1980 - because nobody cares! When you're living in 1980 the science fiction element is lost and there are no big surprises. It was a fatal error.

Q: How did you get involved in the show?

Bunch: After the pilot was produced, we sold a script called Earthquake over the phone to Jeff Freilich, when he called us to see if we had anything the day he started on the show, and we came up with some fast buzzy-wuzzy crap that might convince him to Give Us Money. Something to do with earthquakes. So he says we have a deal, come on out and let's work the details out. We jumped in the car, with nada in the way of a plot, and Thought Fast. About the time we got off the freeway, we had a couple of vague ideas to flesh out our first dumb sentence.

The first draft of the script featured Xaviar, but then it was decided that they weren't going to use Xaviar anymore, which creates a small credibility problem, like we don't believe anybody but a Major Bad Guy can create an earthquake and he better have himself a Fiendish Thingie. We reworked the script and came up with Nutball Hargreaves, underground nuclear tests, roboticized security and the rest is (isn't) film history.

Cole: Anyway, we were blackmailed by Peter Thompson, the honcho at Universal into becoming story editors on the show. We didn't want to do it because we made more money freelancing. Thompson said we'd never work at Universal again unless we took the job.

Bunch: Interesting thing is that we wrote for just about every Larson show going as freelancers, and worked for him for ten weeks, but we never met Glen. Which is true to this day. Now, ain't it odd for a producer to hire a couple of supposedly talented story editors and not ever want to say hello?

Cole: We think of him fondly because he's paid us so much money.

Q: Did you have much contact with the actors?

Bunch: Generally, the writer has minimal if any contact with actors. For instance, when we worked with Lorne Green on Code Putrid (Code Red), he came in and described his acting style to us. For instance he said, "When I lose my temper, I don't shout. I get cold and give dirty looks." That was an enormous help.

Cole: So anyway, we're watching dailies one day and the kid (Patrick Stuart - Dr. Zee) is sitting in his chair and Glen Larson is in the back saying, "What's wrong with his head? Why isn't he moving?" Well, you could see he was plainly terrified! And his lines were always addressing Adama. However, his voice was changing so he's saying in this girlish voice, "Adama! Adama!" It became a running gag between the two of us, (girlish voice) "Adama! Adama!" Why he got cast in that horrible part, I don't know.

Bunch: Why did anybody get cast in that horrible show?

Cole: Galactica 1980 was our first staff job and we received a memo which lists everyone in the crew. The stars, directors, producers. It's done in descending order of importance. Starting with Glen Larson...

Bunch: Then you get God!

Cole: Then you go all the way down the list. Down to the secretaries and the janitors. At the bottom of the list are the writers.

Bunch: We read this and said (sarcastically), "This is going to be a great experience!"

Cole: Have you ever heard the old joke about how an actor reads a script? "My line, bullshit, my line, my line, bullshit..."

Q: Did you have problems with the censors since the show was on the "family hour" - Sundays at 7:00 P.M.?

Cole: The censors have their own ideas about what a child should see or should not see. We were told directly that a child cannot learn from their parents or their teachers, only from their peers.

Bunch: So all the schools in America can pack it in!

Cole: Censors are people with no imagination whatsoever. Everything has got to be plain as day. Network executives used to be creative. Nowadays the executives all come straight from Wall Street. When the censors demand something educational, they mean you have to stop the show and say something educational! There were a certain number of "educational beats" per episode and you had to count 'em. For instance in a car chase...

Bunch: "...I perceive that this vehicle is powered by an internal combustion engine, and an internal combustion engine, primitive though it is..." I'm not making this up!

Cole: We were given the job of putting in the educational beats in each script... which were all Larson's!

Bunch: He wasn't gonna do it! We suggested that they put an underrole on the screen saying "Why aren't you kids watching 60 Minutes?" They didn't think a whole lot of the idea!

Cole: So Glen's off in Hawaii writing scripts...

Bunch: And he'd call us up and say "What do you think?" And we'd say, "Dy-no-mite! Put that sucker through!"

Cole: We were rooting for the show to fail. We posted a sign that said "13" near the door of our trailer, meaning that when the show dropped to a 13 share we'd be free! They let it drop to a 9!

Q: Why didn't Galactica 1980 feature the cast from Battlestar Galactica?

Cole: If I recall, I don't think most of them were available, except for Lorne Greene and Herbert Jefferson, Jr. Also, every story had to be constructed around these kids...

Bunch: But you can't threaten the kids!

Cole: You can only have so many violent acts per show. Shouting at the kids was considered violent. Zapping a tree with a ray gun was considered violent.

Q: Have you seen any of the cast since the cancellation?

Bunch: I wouldn't mind working with Kent McCord (Troy) again. He's a nice guy. He likes writers. He understands writers. Kent used to ask why the scripts were substandard, and we'd say "Babe, you go to Hawaii and talk to Larson!"

Q: Do you think the cast realized they were on a sinking ship?

Bunch: Everybody knew.

Cole: Actors never really believe it's over until they close the theater door. They started shooting The Day They Kidnapped Cleopatra and then the word came down that the show was cancelled. ABC pulled the plug right there.

Bunch: So we had an impromptu wrap party. These actors are now on unemployment and we were trying not to break into hysterical laughter!

Q: Where did the excellent final episode The Return Of Starbuck come from?

Cole: That was actually a good piece of television because it was written like a radio play. The show had already been cancelled when the episode aired.

Q: Do you know if Larson had any other flashback episodes planned?

Bunch: Larson never plans anything! He puts paper in the typewriter and starts typing! Along about page 56 an idea pops into his mind. He'll get to page 58 and type "End Part One". There wasn't enough story in the three-part pilot to fill a one hour script!

Cole: Also, the premise of the show seemed to change during filming! "We're going to use Xaviar - no, we're not going to use Xaviar. We're doing time travel - no, we're not doing time travel."

Bunch: "We've got this Air Force guy after them - no, we don't!" I still don't remember if we settled on the Air Force guy or not.

Q: How far in advance were the episodes filmed?

Bunch: Space Croppers went out on satellite to New York twenty minutes before air time. This was the only freelance script or even staff script that was filmed because there were problems, like Larson was stuck on an episode or couldn't get the Lear Jet to pick him up in Hawaii or whatever.

When Larson is worried about a show, or trying to make it work, he writes every script. Every goddamned script. So there was a lotta fallout with scripts being commissioned and abandoned right and left and down the center.

Q: Were there any amusing incidents during filming?

Bunch: The school ship episode! (The Super Scouts, part one) If you look at the shot where they burn up the school ship, the sequence is - Troy and Dillon come out of this entryway. There's a control panel to their right which explodes. They start down the steps, then there's another explosion. They do a pinwheel, they pick themselves up...

Cole: And then they look around for a minute with a puzzled look on their faces...

Bunch: Then they haul ass out of there! There was supposed to be this enormous I-beam that would come down from the rafters and almost nail them. Unfortunately, we weren't there during filming, but we saw it during one of the few times we watched dailies: the scene was over, but the camera was still rolling. Vince Edwards, the director of the episode walks onto what's left of the set and says, "Wasn't there supposed to be a beam...?" Way up in the rafters, you hear someone say, "Beam!" - and it comes crashing down and misses Vince Edwards by an inch and a half!

Also in that episode, the ship is on fire and Vince directed everyone to stroll along as if they were underwater or walking through maple syrup! We're watching this in the dailies and Larson is way in the back screaming, "Why aren't they running???"

Cole: Larson's fuming and you can't redo the scene because the set's burned to the ground!

Q: What are your favorite science fiction programs?

Bunch: None. Our idea of science fiction is very dark. We don't have Gene Roddenberry's idea that this is the best of all possible worlds and all problems can be solved by sitting down and grooving together.


Here is another interview with Chris Bunch conducted by Susan Paxton on Compuserve several years ago. It is a bit repetitive, but there are still some gems.


Bunch: Since Allan and I were unfortunate enough to be story execs on Galactica 1980, anything involving accuracy on that show was foredoomed. First, Glen DID NOT WANT to do the show, and Universal DID NOT WANT to do the show. ABC threatened them into it for some unknown reason. Larson, as he’s in the habit of doing, whored for the money with a bad attitude. We were literally blackmailed into the gig because of ostensible expertise in SF.

Glen Larson wrote every single episode either from his place in Hawaii or from his place in Malibu. We wrote for just about every show Larson created, worked for him for twenty weeks, and to this day HAVE NEVER MET HIM.

Actually, I’m wrong - there was one other episode written by Bob McCullough, which aired simply because Glen has the wonderful habit of rolling paper into the typewriter, whackin’ away, and sooner or later coming up with a plot. In this case, he came up with a plot about page 56. So he simply wrote on and at page 62 typed END OF PART ONE. The turkey ran three parts before he finished, and was shown with Bob’s script in the middle. It didn’t matter - no one was watching the dog anyway.

The show was on at 7 pm on Sunday, as you recall, and that means you’re in the depths of Children Hour programming - it’s either that or documentaries, which means 60 Minutes. ABC at the time was doing all of their T&A shows, and to get the bible belt off their butts put a member of BSAP (Broadcast Standards & Practices - the censors) on the network’s Board of Directors, so you can figger just how far an argument with the censors got.

Anyway, we sat in our trailer getting paid astronomical amounts of money and doing dangerous drugs, and every now and then somebody’d say, ‘Hey, you hear Glen’s script just came in.’

Yeh. So what. We didn’t even read it, since of course Larson wasn’t about to ask our advice and we surely weren’t gonna volunteer it.

One story - the censor, an utterly braindead woman named Susan Futterman, questioned a line that said there were more than X number of stars in our galaxy (this was in a planetarium sequence, and one of the kids heard the lecturer say this, and she giggled and said, boy is he full of hamhocks. Dumb little joke, very dumb, very little). She called and said where did we get the facts. We said, the new edition of the Britannica which we’d just sprung for a week earlier (true). She said, ‘that’s not good enough.’ Now, ignoring the fact that the Britannica does, indeed, contain some whoppers, we tried to restrain Major Hilarity and asked her if she minded putting that in writing. She may be dumb, but she wasn’t THAT dumb. We could’ve had such a nifty thing to frame.

Another neat Futterman story--Larson dumped a REALLY dumb joke about meatballs into one episode. Futterman swore it was dirty. It wasn’t. She said the show won’t get on the air unless that line’s out. Larson put in THREE MORE meatball jokes, even stupider (they’re in the episode the way it aired) and said it goes like this or it doesn’t go. Since he’d delivered the edit TWENTY MINUTES before it went up to the bird from Universal to New York and then on the air, it went out.

Any stories you hear about Larson, Galactica, or anything at that time might be true, might be false. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you let logic judge whether they happened or not.


I want to especially thank Susan Paxton for allowing me to post this interview. I highly recommend you check out her site called Battlestar Zone. It is like mine in that it has lots of insider information about the original series that you won't find anywhere else!


Cole and Bunch also talked about the unproduced scripts of Galactica 1980. To see them, click here.


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