THERE ARE THOSE WHO BELIEVE
“The final annihilation of the life-form known as man. Let the attack begin.”
The year was 1978. Nine hundred and nine followers of Jim Jones did drink the Kool-Aid and died in a mass suicide at the behest of the tragically charismatic cult leader, while Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, was born. The dominant New York Yankees once again won the pennant, while the Dallas Cowboys triumphed in the Super Bowl. Yet another reason not to mess with Texas.
On the radio, the Bee Gees dominated the charts, along with Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, ABBA, Paul McCartney & Wings, and Frankie Valli with his hit theme song to the movie Grease, which was a top-grossing film in theaters. Other films released that year were Animal House, Heaven Can Wait, Halloween, Midnight Express, and, most memorably, in late December, Richard Donner’s revelatory Superman: The Movie. Keith Moon of the Who died that year, as did Nancy Spungen, who was violently stabbed to death by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the seminal punk rock band the Sex Pistols.
If you visited the bedroom of many a young teenager in 1978, you’d likely see Kenner’s ubiquitous Star Wars toys, a 2-XL talking robot from Mego, and a poster of Farrah Fawcett thumbtacked to the wall. And not surprisingly, the video game Space Invaders continued to collect millions of quarters in arcades around the world.
Ironically, a different kind of space invader was about to take over ABC that year, Battlestar Galactica, a landmark series for television as well as a personal triumph for its creator, Glen A. Larson. Although not exorbitant by today’s standards, the series’ estimated price tag of one million dollars per episode was a turning point for the 1978–79 season and the industry as a whole. Millions watched as the most publicized series in history made its three-hour debut at 8:00 P.M. on Sunday, September 17, 1978, against the annual Emmy Awards (which prompted host Alan Alda to crack at the ceremony, “Don’t you wish you were home so you could watch Battlestar Galactica?”) and the television debut of the Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong on CBS and NBC, respectively. Wondering what was on Fox that night? There wasn’t one—the Fox network didn’t debut until 1986—nor was there any major network at the time other than NBC, CBS, and ABC, the so-called Big Three.
By the time of his death in 2014, Glen A. Larson would become one of the most successful and prolific television producers of all time, but in 1978, despite early triumphs, he was still at the beginning of an enviable career that would later include B.J. and the Bear, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I., The Fall Guy, and many others.
Born on January 3, 1937, in Long Beach, California, Larson, a devout Mormon with eight children, already had several series on the air by the time he pitched Battlestar Galactica to ABC, among them Alias Smith and Jones; Switch; Quincy, M.E., starring Jack Klugman as the curmudgeonly coroner; and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, based on the famous series of mystery novels.
A broadcast veteran, Larson began his early career in music, as a member of the musical group the Four Preps, for which he composed three gold-record-winning songs. Attracted to the film and television industry, he began writing teleplays for such series as Twelve O’Clock High. His talents were soon noticed by veteran screenwriter Gene L. Coon, who had just left late in Star Trek’s second season to run the Robert Wagner–toplined series, It Takes a Thief, and became a mentor to the creative young writer. Larson rose quickly through the television-industry ranks, advancing from writer to story editor and, eventually, to series producer and creator, showrunner, and fixer.
GLEN A. LARSON
(creator/executive producer, Battlestar Galactica)
Like most ideas, writing isn’t writing, it’s rewriting. You’re searching and playing with your themes. One of the things you do as a writer is that if you have a story problem you reverse it; you find ways that if you can’t make something happen one way you look at the opposite. It’s a little trick of writing you use in mysteries or anything else. You find out that you don’t force things by doing that.
(son of Glen Larson)
My father always wanted to be a writer. When he was a kid, he was a page at NBC. He grew up surrounded by movies and television. That’s what he wanted to do. I think he sort of fell into singing and the band. That’s what you do. You want girls? You go form a band—and they just happened to make records and had a good time. But even when he was with the Preps, he would sit in his hotel room and write. He would turn on the faucet because he liked the sound of running water. It goes back to his childhood.
If we were filming a movie, we’d cut away to his childhood. There’s some deep psychological stuff there. I think it had to do with his mother. She worked. She was a single mother. He was kind of a latchkey kid. He would know that she had come home because he would hear the bathwater turning on at night, so he loved the sound of running water. Years later, he would have a fountain, or he would turn on the bathtub when he wrote, which was terrible in a drought. He was not very conscientious about water usage. He would just turn the faucet on, and just let it go for hours.
GLEN A. LARSON
Most authors don’t enjoy writing. It’s a lonely, frustrating, demanding way to earn a living. What we enjoy is having written, and watching skilled actors bring it to life. For a screenwriter, the happiest words in the English language are “FADE OUT.”
In the Four Preps, they’d be touring around and he had one of those IBM Selectrics or something like that. He would sit there and write. I remember we were going through some of his old stuff, many years ago, and he had a script called “Finger Popper.” I’m like, “What is this?” He goes, “This is the first thing I ever wrote.” I didn’t read it. I don’t think he wanted me to read it, but it was the first thing he ever wrote.
(executive producer, Halt and Catch Fire)
I learned how to write television from Glen. He was the first person to teach me that as a writer, you lock yourself away from all distraction. You do not answer your phone, you don’t care what’s going on, you get people to do it for you. You go wherever it is where you find peace, which for him was his house in Malibu, and you work undistracted and create the most pleasant environment for yourself to write. He probably created more shows than anybody in the history of television, and successfully, too, because most of his shows were big hits during the seventies and eighties.
Larson’s writing ability, coupled with his eye for the commercial requirements of the business, soon made him a star at Universal Television, which was his home for over a decade, until he left for 20th Century Fox in the early eighties. Although it wasn’t without controversy, Larson’s penchant throughout his career for extracting ideas for television series from popular movies at the time (Alias Smith and Jones was seemingly inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and B.J. and the Bear was clearly redolent of Every Which Way but Loose, among others) led to noted author and raconteur Harlan Ellison pejoratively labeling him “Glen Larceny.”
GLEN A. LARSON
I like to think that you can do a lot of different things when you are part of a team organization like Universal. I was kind of Frank Price’s [head of Universal Television] fair-haired boy in some ways; I would be his fireman. He originally made The Six Million Dollar Man as Cyborg and it didn’t get bought. It just didn’t work. So he assigned me to do two or three ninety-minute movies, from which we sold the series. I just brought a different approach to it; what I would think would be slightly more commercial. Ultimately, I do look for commercial value, because there is no great joy in having a victory in the studio that no one sees.
My father worked a lot. He was gone most of the time. I didn’t see him a whole lot, but he always made it a point to throw the ball around and to have special moments, and I think he did that with most of the kids, like going to a Dodgers game and things like that. Being a showrunner is a twenty-four/seven a week job, though.
Unfortunately, I wanted to be with him all the time. I could have just sat in his office, and I used to at 20th Century Fox. Just sit in his office and play with little car toys. He was working on like three or four different shows. That’s when he had The Fall Guy on the air. He did so many pilots. Those were good times.
GLEN A. LARSON
When the president of NBC saw the Quincy, M.E. script [in which Jack Klugman, as a medical examiner/coroner, solved crimes using forensics], he didn’t want to buy the pilot until it was pointed out to him that we already had a thirteen-show commitment. That’s a fairly dark arena when you deal with death on a weekly series. But that’s the way they think, they say, “Who will want to watch this?” Well, there is a lot of interest in forensics, and we used humor to slip the audience what you call “the flat end of the wedge,” to get your foot in the door. The show got much more serious after it had been a mystery movie, largely because Jack [Klugman] liked to push it harder in those directions.
My father was a type-triple-A personality. He was always going. He didn’t stop. He was always working on many things at the same time. There was one year he had like five shows on the air at one time. I can’t even imagine. Going from editing bay to editing bay, how do you keep it all straight? But he could. He loved that. He needed that.
BARRY VAN DYKE
(actor, “Dillon,” Galactica 1980)
My impression of Glen when I first met him was he was like a big kid. He was so enthusiastic. I got along great with him. He really loved what he was doing. And had fun with it. I just thought he was a terrific guy.
Glen was a guy who liked a posse. He would call me up at ten o’clock at night on a Saturday, having had dinner already, sitting with my wife watching TV, and say, “Come out to Malibu and have dinner with me.” And I always found it impossible to say no. I would drive out and there would be seven or eight or nine other people with Glen holding court. We’d all sit together and [Galactica 1980 producer] Frank Lupo would come out and other people on other shows of his, sometimes actors, sometimes people who weren’t even associated with him professionally but just people that he knew.
I enjoyed those days. I got to the point where I looked forward to those phone calls. It didn’t happen all the time and it didn’t happen frequently, but for me, it was entertainment and it was a glimpse into the world of a guy who drove everywhere in a chauffeur-driven stretch limousine, who had a three-quarter-inch videocassette deck in the back with a television, who had a plugged-in IBM Selectric in the back of his car. It was a traveling office. And he lived in this really beautiful house on the waters of Malibu.
It must have been a lot of pressure to maintain his lifestyle. To maintain that house and having a jet and the cars and the limo. It’s part of the costume that you wear. You have to keep up with all these other showrunners. People perceive you as successful and as at the top of your game. Other people don’t have this. That’s all I knew. You always went to the front of the line. You were standing in line for Star Wars. “Do you know who I am?” It was embarrassing, but also kind of cool. We just go right into the special entrance. He liked that. He liked the status that it afforded him. He liked being an icon, sort of.
Right when they first started the Universal studio tour, we went on a special VIP tour in a station wagon. I still remember this big, brown station wagon, and we had a driver. Somebody was driving us through and then we went through the ice tunnel from Six Million Dollar Man. As a kid, you’re five, six years old, getting this type of experience. You really take that for granted.
(associate producer, Battlestar Galactica)
Glen was a scream and a very interesting human being. I liked working with him—although he drove me nuts. He drove everybody nuts, because he just wouldn’t let go of any product. It was hard to nail him down, but he had terrific ideas and he was good at what he was doing. It might not have been Shakespeare, but he had a very keen sense of story and was an interesting person to be with.
ALAN J. LEVI
(director, “Gun on Ice Planet Zero”)
Glen was a man of ideas. He came in all the time with different ideas and then he was let go off most of the shows that he created. He was not that good as a continual producer, but he was a marvelous idea man.
(director, “Saga of a Star World”)
Glen works to his greatest capacity to make the best product that he can make, usually based on some knowledge of a prior type of program that did work as a theatrical picture, and take that style and concept and apply it to television.
He was creating, he was writing the pilot, getting it going, and then moving on to something else, which was his personality. He didn’t like the day-to-day operation, year after year after year. I don’t know how he would have been staying on a show for six, seven years. He just didn’t have the attention span for that. He wanted to keep creating things. He had lots of ideas.
There were a lot of unsold scripts, just shelves full of stuff that he had written that he really believed in. Every single idea he ever had, good or bad, he was an absolute believer. He loved it. He could sell it to anybody. Back in the old school, he would put on a suit and tie, go into his network meeting. He would sell something having nothing written. Probably something on a napkin or even just give a quick line and they’d be like, “Absolutely. We’re going to order twenty-two.” They don’t do that anymore. It was a different time. He had the clout to do that for a time. Not many people did. There were a handful of people who could do this. You’ve got to be a salesman.
Along with Glen Larson’s Quincy, M.E., which began as an installment of the NBC Mystery Movie, many other popular Universal series dominated the Nielsen charts in the seventies, including Emergency, Kojak, The Rockford Files, McCloud, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk. MCA/Universal, presided over by the legendary Lew Wasserman and Sid Sheinberg and which owned Universal Television, was one of the most successful television production studios in the business.
With the last vestiges of the old studio system slowly on their way out, MCA/Universal had one foot in the old Hollywood and one foot in the new as the business was beginning a dramatic transformation. With a massive backlot and myriad stages at its Universal City home, while continuing to keep both above-the-line and below-the-line talent under contract, the studio was uniquely positioned to produce some of the most iconic shows of all time. It was here that some of Hollywood’s most legendary movie stars found themselves in their twilight years as regular staples on television, ranging from Joan Crawford on Night Gallery to Bette Davis on It Takes a Thief to Ray Milland and Lew Ayres on Battlestar Galactica, among many others.
(art director, Battlestar Galactica)
Universal was always called “the Factory.”
(actor, “Cadet Bow”)
Universal was this big TV factory, producing maybe a dozen shows on a weekly basis to the three TV networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. An analogy would be: If Galactica was a “counterinsurgency” in search of targets, then Universal was “the Pentagon.” And, once you had clearance to be in “the Pentagon,” you were fair game.
CHRISTIAN I. NYBY II
(director, “The Long Patrol”)
Universal was almost like a college campus. They had anywhere from fifteen to twenty television shows in production at one time. So the stages were always full. There would be a couple of features going, so you kind of knew who everybody was. You’d see them in the commissary or around the lot. Everybody kind of knew everybody.
Universal had over twenty television shows going at the same time on the lot. This is way before anybody ever moved out of Los Angeles to make anything. It was wonderful. Instead of sitting down in a commissary to have lunch, I would just walk around from set to set and play with the monkey on B.J. and the Bear or talk to James Garner or go over and take a look at Buck Rogers. It was all there. It was terrific. It was a real movie studio. It was like a scene out of the end of Blazing Saddles where people were just walking around wearing different costumes and you felt you were in the movies, although the vast majority of what was being done there were actually television shows.
MCA founder Jules Stein was still on the lot, and I met him at the commissary one day, that was cool. He was one of the original “alpha” New Yorkers, an eye doctor turned music and band promoter-agent turned mogul, taking a moribund Hollywood motion picture studio of horror films and turning it into what became a huge conglomerate. Universal TV was still in its heyday.
CHRISTIAN I. NYBY II
It was kind of the last of the big studios. By then, Fox had sold off their backlot and it became Century City. Warner Bros. kind of had that kind of feel, but Universal still had actors and directors under contract. Actors would shift from one show to another. You’d see them on The Virginian and they’d go on The Name of the Game, then show up on Ironside or Adam-12 or something.
(story editor, Battlestar Galactica)
Steven Spielberg had his offices on the first floor. Glen and [Galactica producer] Donald Bellisario were on the fourth.
(director, “Murder on the Rising Star”)
I thought Battlestar Galactica was really so timely and groundbreaking. It changed television and offered an opportunity to get out of the Marcus Welby, M.D. mode of doing series, and really got into doing adventure, and having control over it, on the stage. The work that they did was just stunning.
ALAN J. LEVI
Back then, we shot television. Head close-ups and masters, and over-the-shoulders. Today, every TV show today is a feature film. We began that transition. I think Galactica was one of the shows that was at the beginning of that.
With a string of television hits behind him, Glen Larson was probably one of the few people in the industry with the experience and clout to make Battlestar Galactica, an epic and expensive TV series with feature film aspirations, a reality.
(film critic, Access Hollywood)
No conversation about Battlestar Galactica can start without talking about Star Wars, because the pitch for that show, the pitch that everyone was given, was imagine Star Wars production values on TV, and that’s what it looked like. I’ll never forget in the commercial for the premiere that shot of a Cylon Raider passing over the top of the Galactica, with that little tiny Raider, and you see the scope and the detail on the Galactica model.
(journalist, Battlestar Galactica historian)
A successful producer always looking for the next big hit, Larson saw the achievements of Star Wars as an opportunity.
GLEN A. LARSON
Science fiction had been pretty dead up until Star Wars broke, and obviously when something like that comes in and fuels the market it makes a big difference. People did bring out their projects, including us. Clearly we came in early, and with such an ambitious project and with the Industrial Light & Magic group involved. This was a different generation of space project. It captured the new wave.
Star Wars gave them license to say yes. It was a proven model now. They hadn’t done anything like that on TV. Star Trek wasn’t really like that. Very different show. Star Wars proved that people wanted to see this kind of thing. Let’s do it on TV using John Dykstra. You had Star Wars as the boot camp which created all of these possibilities and these effects makers. It did a lot of the legwork, so you could do it on a much smaller budget on TV.
GLEN A. LARSON
Ours is a business and a world in which I guess every car has to look like a Mercedes and when you go in to sell something it doesn’t hurt that one of the biggest blockbusters of all time is on the screen. I have to say that John Dykstra and Richard Edlund and that group of young people from Long Beach City College had taken and moved the techniques of doing space effects into a whole new generation.
He had the right idea at the right time. Without Star Wars, it never would have happened, but I think they were very different things.
A huge part of Star Wars’ success, in addition to the groundbreaking special effects from Industrial Light & Magic, was the designs by legendary conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, who was also part of Galactica’s early development and helped sell the show, as Larson cagily included McQuarrie’s stunning preproduction art as part of his sales pitch, even attaching McQuarrie’s artwork in copies of the scripts he gave to the crew and actors.
My layman, nonartistic eyes have always perceived a distinct difference between Ralph McQuarrie’s preproduction aesthetic, and how those concepts and designs were ultimately visualized onscreen. While many broad strokes of McQuarrie’s intent were grafted on the show, his developmental work suggested an overall aesthetic which was much sleeker—perhaps glossier—than what eventually went before cameras, which was grittier. His concept paintings are rather badass.
That said, I understand why the powers that be opted for a more grounded, gritty universe. Galactica isn’t a terribly clean tale in terms of thematics—many stories were driven by explorations of treachery, greed, desperation, and struggle. These concepts often feel more accessible, and may even be amplified by, more “real world” and familiar settings. And, of course, Star Wars demonstrated that a universe doesn’t have to be squeaky-sleek. Love or hate the show, it’s impossible to argue that there’s some mighty potent iconography present. For my money, the show’s base aesthetic is a key reason the series has endured.
GLEN A. LARSON
We had pretty good response from the guys at ABC. We had very strong support from one of the top guys [ABC VP Stephen Gentry], who later died in a plane crash with [Mission: Impossible creator] Bruce Geller, and was really our mentor at ABC, a big fan. When we lost him, we lost some of our people who were most simpatico with us, who kind of knew what we wanted to do.
To make the ambitious project a reality, Larson teamed up with longtime associate Leslie Stevens. Stevens, a writer/director who had worked with Larson previously on McCloud and It Takes a Thief, joined the series as supervising producer. John Dykstra, fresh off his revolutionary work on Star Wars, was lured away from ILM, both to serve as a producer on the pilot and to supervise the visual effects.
For Battlestar Galactica, Larson revived a series concept he had pitched unsuccessfully a decade earlier, Adam’s Ark. The premise focused on the journey of a group of humans in search of a new home after the cataclysmic destruction of Earth. For Galactica, he reversed the idea, having our celestial brethren coming in search of us.
GLEN A. LARSON
It was a colonization theme and had a lot of interesting elements to it. At the time I was pitching it, Star Trek was on the air and Star Trek didn’t last long so no one was interested in that area. In a way, it was the reverse of Galactica. It was inspired by the mysteriousness of Howard Hughes and all of his enigmatic dealings out in the desert in Nevada, where he was buying up hotels. Hughes had always been one of the pioneers of aviation. I noticed Time magazine had a cover anniversary issue which looked at the top five hundred people in our society. Anyone who had ever been on the cover of Time had been invited to a photographic session and so I had this sort of screwball idea, that Howard Hughes invites these people out to a major achievement ball in the middle of nowhere.
The building for the celebration is the most spacey-looking thing you’ve ever seen. Somewhere along the line someone realizes there’s some odd sensations going on and you discover that this thing has taken flight. It turns out the Hughes computers have predicted that within a finite date a nuclear holocaust destroys Earth. We had variations on what the threat was, but the premise was Noah’s Ark. The ship had left Earth with all of these incredibly important people to set sail. For Galactica, instead of leaving Earth with sort of a doomsday scenario, it was a little more optimistic coming from out there.
It was the biblical story of Exodus. They’re looking for Earth. What a great twist. I remember thinking, “Oh, I get it. They’re looking for us.” Does it take place in the past or the future or the present day? Who knows? We found out, and we regretted it, when we actually learned in Galactica 1980.
Given that Galactica was driven by so many conceits and thematics derived from outside material, Mormon beliefs and practices, for example, it’s certainly feasible that Larson had conceived the overall thrust of the show far earlier than the late 1970s. Or, that the essence of the show had been generally shaped in his mind or via notes, without pen having been formally put to paper.
This said, considering the substantial amount of material which is available from Galactica’s development and production, including extremely early designs and unproduced scripts, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the notable dearth of material directly pertaining to Adam’s Ark.
Knowing a bit about Larson from folks who worked with him over the years, my personal hunch is that some variant of Galactica was bouncing around in his head for quite some time, but was never fully formed. When it came time to coalesce these ideas—an opportunity enabled by the release Star Wars—it was impossible for him not to catch some sort of blowback given that franchise’s immense visibility, popularity, and uniqueness.
More than any other show, Battlestar Galactica was my father’s legacy. He felt attached to that more than anything else, so he was really reluctant to let that one go. Back in 1977, he was successful, but he wasn’t huge yet. They weren’t just writing him checks to do whatever he wanted to do. He had to prove himself. Battlestar Galactica was his sort of magnum opus. There was a lot of that methodology from the [Mormon] church. There was just a lot of him that he put into it. It was a story he had been mulling over for a long time. Some stories just stick with you, and I think he knew this was going to be his legacy. He put everything he could into it.
ALAN J. LEVI
Glen’s main force through all of that was he wanted to beat Star Wars to the theaters, because he had read the Star Wars script. When Universal turned it down [after George Lucas made American Graffiti for the studio], he and Leslie Stevens got together and formulated Galactica. That’s how he got the idea of making it and he was determined to get it on before Star Wars came out.
Leslie was an alien expert and he wrote books on aliens, interplanetary travel, and the whole bit. Universal had turned down Star Wars and Glen had read the script somehow, and he said I’m going to bring Star Wars to the small screen, and that’s how Battlestar Galactica got off the ground. It was he and Leslie actually speaking to put the initial thing together, not a lot of people know that.
The one thing about Glen is that Glen was always the star. There was a little bit of tension between the two of them because Leslie always felt that he had made more of a contribution toward the original Galactica being done than what he had been given credit for. He didn’t get co-credit on much of what he wrote. He was such a kind, soft man. He was so brilliant. His books are almost a bible on intergalactic beliefs, alien beliefs, and so on. He believed it all! He was a very quiet man, a big soft-spoken man, but you listened to every word he said because he was that brilliant. My dealings with him were basically as a mentor that I owed a great deal of appreciation to. He never really got involved on set. He would come down and visit every once in a while, but Glen was the one who really ran the show and Glen hired most of the people who were working on the show. I never did forget that Leslie was really a good human being. A very talented writer and it was very sad when he died.
(director, “Saga of a Star World”)
I first became acquainted with Leslie Stevens’s work on a play that he had done in New York in the early fifties called Bullfight, which was kind of a dark piece about two brothers who are bullfighters, and the bullfight is done almost as a ballet on stage. He had a lovely poetry and a lovely sense of human value. He can also be very commercial and did plays like Marriage-Go-Round and TV series like The Outer Limits.
I had great respect for Leslie Stevens as a writer and he said, “Come on and do the pilot of Battlestar Galactica, ‘Saga of a Star World,’ because what we’re going to do is we’re really going to tell the story of mankind here, we’re going to talk about human values.” I said, “Okay, because it’s really a comic book right now as far as the story is concerned and the people.” He said, “Yeah, but we’re going to work on that.” It ended up being a really good craft exercise, but they ultimately never did fix the story. It never really did become the story of people. It was just a cartoon.
I see Star Wars as a literal and figurative “hero’s journey,” sometimes wrapped in sociopolitical allegory with hints of slavery, Nazism, World War II, Vietnam, etc. Galactica, to me at least, has always been about humanity trying to find itself and define itself, asking what is truly important when all is lost? How do we relate to spirituality and faith, when neither seems to be delivering exactly what we’re seeking in a given moment? It’s about the dangers of imbalance between political and military infrastructures, and how this lack of clarity can lead to uncertainty and even annihilation. Galactica, in many regards, is driven by harder, more tangible, more expansive themes than Star Wars often is. How fully, or smartly, it actually exploited these themes is an entirely different matter.
ALAN J. LEVI
You can’t sue Roy Rogers for being a cowboy after Gene Autry, you know. This was a different kind of a show. He put Cylons in there because there were no Cylon types in Star Wars so there was a real threat there.
Does Galactica owe its green light to Star Wars’ success? Without a doubt. But riding the wave of a popular trend—and exploiting genres and formulas which have recently proven successful—is a long-standing Hollywood tradition which is practiced even today. There’s a long road between existing because another property proved successful, and actively ripping off that property.
Battlestar Galactica was my entry into TV in Hollywood. Like many of my generation, Star Wars was the catalyst. After numerous enthralled viewings on the big screen, I wanted to fly jets in space. And apparently, so did ABC.
Not only had I seen Star Wars a day or two before it opened but I had sunk a ton of money into 20th Century Fox stock based on the movie and it like tripled. I saw it at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building on Wilshire Boulevard and, like everyone else, I’ll never forget seeing that ship coming over your head and it didn’t stop and everybody went out of their minds.
Back then it was all doctor shows and a Western or two. It was just by the numbers. And then there was this weird space show they didn’t know what to do with it. When we went off the air we were twenty-fifth in the ratings. They would kill to have that kind of number right now.
Of particular interest to Larson was the opportunity science fiction provided to explore theological and theoretical themes not possible in more earthbound programming. In the mid-seventies, long before the Kardashian daughters were even a glimmer in their parents’ eyes, pop culture was fixated on astrology, the Bermuda Triangle (to wit: NBC’s short-lived Fantastic Journey), and Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, first published in 1968, in which the author postulates that ancient astronauts (a.k.a. aliens) helped forge the great civilizations of the globe.
One of the more visually intriguing examples of this exploration is Galactica’s use of Egyptian symbols, such as in the helmets and costumes, to suggest a link between the citizens of the Twelve Colonies of Man and ancient civilizations of Earth as well as the signs of the zodiac. Larson was fascinated by the idea of an advanced civilization settling on Earth and leaving its influence, in the form of the pyramids, on developing civilizations. He married this to the tenets of his Mormon faith, creating such concepts as the Quorum of the Twelve, part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
GLEN A. LARSON
It’s fun stuff theoretically and philosophically to explore some of these themes. I actually used to sit with who I consider to be one of the great minds behind Star Trek, Gene Coon. Gene was a mentor of mine who brought me into television. He would sit with me at lunch and we would explore thematic issues about the Athenians and the Phoenicians and all kinds of migratory patterns of humans on Earth. We would talk about some of the theological things that the Mormons believed; that the Tribes of Israel scattered and many wound up in Central and South America with the pyramid influence. There’s a kind of interesting contamination from what we perceive as the old world to the new.
Even today, very few people are aware of some of the references to Mormonism in Galactica. He drew from some of the names, but they’re not religious. The religion has been stripped away. You’d have to be pretty high up in the church to know about Kolob. The Council of Twelve is a very different thing in the Mormon church than it is in Galactica, but that’s what he knew, and that’s what made it so special and so different. Even today it’s a very esoteric thing. A lot of people like it for that reason. They like that he infused his own beliefs. Nowadays everything has to be sanitized, cleaned up, focus-grouped to death. It’s the corporate nature of entertainment these days.
GLEN A. LARSON
I also thought it would be great fun for all of the people who live and die and won’t get out of the bed in the morning until they read their horoscopes. I thought they would have great fun in giving greater credibility to astrology and letting the mythology of the zodiac like the Picons and the Virgons spring from something far more tangible; that perhaps the origins of some of these things really precede these beliefs. What I was laying was the groundwork for further exploration of those themes and letting people’s beliefs take a new form. Instead of nailing everything down, you just open up areas and discuss them in the genesis of these people that ultimately genetically wound up here.
(actor, “Captain Apollo”)
Television back then was still into clichés of good and bad. It was only later that we began to find a hero can have a dark side. Obviously, Battlestar was a merging of a lot of Mormonism and a smattering of other religions.
GLEN A. LARSON
It really just comes from personal belief. Religion has played an important part of just about every tribe on this planet in one form or another. There are some wonderful books out like Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods. Every one of the ancient civilizations, and we mentioned the Egyptians, the Toltecs, and the Mayans and the others, had an incredible knowledge of the galaxies and the constellations and of mathematics, and there is no evidence that any of those societies developed that information on their own.
For me, the personal joy of this particular series was that we could explore the fact that there are far greater powers in the universe than we know. There is a passage in the Bible about Ezekiel, who saw a wheel way up in the middle of the air. A NASA engineer did an analysis of it and said he saw a spaceship because based on his analysis that ship would fly today. So all of those various underpinnings worked through my mind and made it fun to explore some of those theories. Not necessarily coming close to accuracy—but, at least, leaving that one element open, because the greatest scientists who ever lived, including Wernher von Braun and Albert Einstein, all believed in a god or something much stronger and more powerful than any of us.
(costume designer, Battlestar Galactica)
The concept for Battlestar Galactica was all on the page; there was no question about it. Glen had originally conceived of the thirteen lost colonies as being Earth people. Since our projections of the earliest people on Earth were the Phoenicians and the Egyptians, we decided to take elements a step in a different direction and use them in connection with all the [Colonial] costumes. All the yokes on the uniforms were cut to look like the Egyptian neckpieces worn by the pharaohs. The helmets were specifically designed to look like the pharaoh’s head covering. All of this was done very intentionally, but it was done in a stylized version of how the actual things looked.
(Battlestar Galactica archivist)
I loved his work, but always thought the Colonial Warrior suit was literally pinched right out of a French comic book.
In original discussions, ABC programming executive Fred Silverman envisioned Battlestar Galactica being produced as a seven-hour miniseries encompassing the three-hour pilot followed by a string of two-hour episodes (“Lost Planet of the Gods” and “Gun on Ice Planet Zero”) to be broadcast as special-event programming during sweeps, given the huge success the network had experienced with miniseries event programming such as Rich Man, Poor Man and the massive ratings juggernaut Roots.
Originally, the plan was for them to do a series of TV movies. Now, once they went into series, they were always catching up, and the writing of the show suffered. They were basically giving wet prints to the network, because they were editing and scoring up to the last minute.
GLEN A. LARSON
That was one of the things [ABC president] Fred Silverman wanted to do, and he may have been right, because then we could have taken a lot of time on each one and just hand-built each one to some extent. We almost tried that in the first few episodes, because we did a couple of two-hour variations and I think they were some of our best shows.
Although seemingly cashing in on the Star Wars space-combat formula, the premise for the series owes as much to television classics such as Wagon Train and The Fugitive—fleeing the destruction of their civilization by the Cylons, the battlestar Galactica leads a ragtag fleet of civilian ships on a journey to find a new home: Earth.
Battlestar Galactica was different from Star Wars, because Galactica was on every week, every Sunday on ABC, and that repeat, that constant exposure to Galactica, endeared me more to Galactica than to Star Wars, because I was getting new stories every week. I didn’t have to wait three years for a new episode of Battlestar Galactica.
RONALD D. MOORE
(cocreator/executive producer, Battlestar Galactica )
[The 1978] Battlestar Galactica was the return of science fiction to prime-time television. I’d never witnessed that. To me, science fiction was something that only existed on those sort of five-day-a-week strip syndication shows like Lost in Space or Star Trek. There was nothing in the prime-time schedule that went there. So, when Galactica came around it was like, “Wow! This is a huge opportunity. This is a big deal. It’s science fiction on a major network.” I thought this would be sort of a new era of sci-fi making it into the mainstream because of the success of Star Wars.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross