In the future year 1987, at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. The payload, perched on the nose cone of the massive rocket, was a one-man exploration vessel - Ranger 3. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut - Captain William "Buck" Rogers - was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension. An awesome brush with death: in the blink of an eye, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return the ship full circle to his point of origin - its mother Earth - not in 5 months, but in 500 years. Opening narration
Universal still owned the rights to Buck Rogers when Star Wars (1977) proved Hollywood was wrong in thinking that science fiction was dead. Two years later the TV-series Buck Rogers (1979-81) hit the air. Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) blasts off from Earth in a mini-space shuttle 8 years in the future (1987) and is frozen in a cluster of uncharted comets. Their orbit returns to Earth 500 years later according to opening narration by William Conrad, and his body is found by Draconian aliens who are trying to get through the defense field around Earth.
He's rescued by Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and turned over to Dr. Huer, who builds him a cute little sidekick robot named Twiki (voice of Mel Blanc, as a sort of cross between voices of Yosemite Sam and Duck Dodgers)
Earth is divided by old nuclear wars into the domed city of New Chicago, and mutants prowling around a devastated landscape outside. Kane and Princess Ardala suspect Buck of being a spy, but he is able to prove his time travel story while also uncovering a plot by Kane & Ardala to let in the Draconian invaders. The NBC series got so-so ratings, but NBC stayed with it as long as they could, not wanting to be too quick to cancel another Star Trek. In fact, Marc Leonard (who played Spock's father in the TV and movie series) appeared in a 2-part Buck Rogers story as an alien ambassador who loses his head - at will as I recall.
The pilot tv-movie was 88 minutes (without commercials), and the episodes were 60 minute (with ads). The pilot's screenplay was written by the series executive producer, Glen A. Larson, and cowritten by Leslie Stevens of The Outer Limits.
Additional Cast: Pamela Hensley, Henry Silva, Tim O'Connor (who you may remember from MonsterVision's Zonetroopers), Joseph Wiseman, Felix Silla
Buck Roger opening credits (this full intro only aired once, on the 2-hour pilot movie Buck Rogers...and below is the weekly version that ran on all episodes, including the pilot/movie when it was edited into two "episodes"
Erin Gray at Comic-Con 2008
Video courtesy Los Angeles Times
Most recent episodes of "Buck Rogers" on the SYFY Channel were in 2006:
There had been an earlier TV-series by the same name that ran 4-15-50 to 1-30-51, but it was an ultra-cheap knock-off of TV's "Captain Video", "Tom Corbit", and "Space Patrol." In the 1950 version, Buck (Kem Dibbs in 1950, Robert Pastene 1950-51) operates out of a secret lab behind Niagara Falls (the city of Niagara is capital of the world), in half-hour episodes. No kinescopes (film or video) are known to exist. Additional 1950s cast: Lou Prentis as Wilma, Harry Sothern as Dr. Huer, Harry Kingston as Buck's Martian crony Black Barney. After the series went off the air on ABC, some stations began airing old Buster Crabbe movie serials under the TV-series title.
Buck Rogers first appeared as Anthony Rogers in "Armageddon 2419" by Philip F. Nowlan, in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories. A sequel, "The Airlords of Han," appeared in the March 1929 issue, where it was seen by John Flint Dille, president of National Newspaper Service. He hired Nowlan to create and write the world's first sci-fi comic strip, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," which debuted in newspapers on 1-7-29. It ran without a break, in up to 400 newspapers around the world, until 1967.
In 1932, Buck's radio serial began broadcasting 4 days a week at 7:15pm, and lasted until 1939. Listeners could become Solar Scouts and get such premium offers as planetary maps and sketches of principal characters by sending in "two inches of the strip of tin that comes off a can of Cocomalt when you open it." The radio series writers included Dick Calkins, the artist who drew the Buck Rogers comic strips for Phil Nowlan. In the radio version, Wilma was also from the 20th century and had been Buck's co-pilot. Buck's destruction ray gun was supplied by the sound of a Schick electric razor. By the way, that offer of a planetary map brought 125,000 requests by mail. So then the sponsor decided to require the strip of tin for a cardboard space helmet but was still met with 140,000 responses Cast:
Buck Rogers: Matt Crowley, Curtis Arnall, Carl Frank or John Larkin Wilma Deering: Adele Ronson The villainess Ardala: Elaine Melchior Dr. Huer: Edgar Stehli Buddy: Ronald Liss Black Barney: Jack Roseleigh or Joe Granby Killer Kane: Bill Shelley, Dan Ocko, or Arthur Vinton Willie, the child protege: Walter Tetley or Junius Matthews
Listen to the 1930s episodes here
By 1934, Buck Rogers was so popular that a Virgina department store replaced its Santa with an actor dressed as Buck. In the original comic strip, Buck was a WW1 American pursuit pilot in France. After the war, he is working as a surveyor in Pennsylvania when he's trapped inside a mine cave-in and overcome by a radioactive gas. Waking up 500 years later, he grabs a gun from outnumbered Wilma Deering and kills the outlaws attacking her. She brings him up to date about the war between us and the world's other super-power 500 years from now, Mongolia. They tour Earth's cities of "metalglass," where people eat synthetic food and travel everywhere by air - roads are a thing of the past.
Buck becomes a captain of military forces, a secret agent, and then head of the Rocket Rangers. They battled the Mongols, Killer Kane, and the malevolent / beautiful Ardala.
In 1939, Buster Crabbe starred in a 12-episode Universal serial (shown weekly in theaters) as Buck Rogers, and starred in three Flash Gordon serials as well. The serials were so similar, a lot of fans have trouble identifying a Buster Crabbe sci-fi scene as being Buck or Flash.
In the first serial, Buck wakes up in the Arctic and helps fight off invading Zuggs from Saturn, who are working with Killer Kane. The serial was seen on TV in the 1950s as "Planet Outlaws", "Destination Saturn", or simply "Buck Rogers."
Additional 1930s cast:
Constance Moore, C. Montague Shaw, Jackie Moran, Henry Brandon.
* This was the pilot for the TV series that followed ("Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (1979)). When no network chose to air it, the film debuted in theaters.
* The Buck Rogers theme features lyrics that were not used for the TV series. It has been noted that these lyrics seem to parallel plot developments in the later Buck Rogers-inspired series Farscape (1999)
* Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" was the first choice to do the voice of Dr. Theopolis. The actor chosen to do the voice ended up sounding very much like Rain/HAL.
* Catherine Bach was considered for the role of Ardala.
* To make Buck appear frozen in his space shuttle he was sprayed all over with an ordinary dry shampoo. Because of this he couldn't open his eyes or move, so while he was waiting for them to shoot the scene he supposedly fell asleep.
* The space dogfights were choreographed with the aid of a Hewlett-Packard "45" computer
* The ruined City of Chicago called Anarchia was shot on the back lot of MGM Studios.
* The white building corner shown just prior to the shots inside Dr. Huer's office is a side of an administration building on the San Diego State University campus.
* Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley appear as "dream girls" along side their names in the original (theatrical) credits
* When the series started, it was not a certainty that Erin Gray would sign on to reprise her movie role of Wilma Deering. As a result, Buck has a few different female sidekicks in early episodes, notably Juanin Clay as Major Marla Landers in the episode #1.5,"Vegas In Space". Clay was intended as a possible replacement for Gray, until it was decided she would continue in the series
* When the movie was broadcast on network TV in 1979 as the first episode of the spin-off TV series, a few changes were made. The original, sensual opening credits sequence was replaced with a simple starfield, some of Buck's more suggestive comments to Wilma were cut and Tigerman's death was removed (allowing the character to return in later episodes). Most notably, a newly filmed epilogue was added, introducing viewers to Buck's apartment, the notion of Buck working for Dr. Huer and New Chicago and, most memorably for fans of actress Erin Gray, it marked the first appearance of Wilma's trademark catsuit.
* The TV version of the film (called "Awakening") features scenes in Buck's 25th century apartment that was not seen in the theatrical version. The epilogue dialogue / setup for the TV series also takes place here.
* Twiki's line "Oh, I'm freezing my ball-bearins off!" in the theatrical version is replaced with "Oh, my memory tapes are turning blue!" in the tv version. In the theatrical version "Weatherly" a pilot killed in the pirate raid is female. In the tv version, footage of a male pilot is substituted.
* The TV-episode version of this film substitutes the voice of Vic Perrin for William Conrad during scenes involving the Draconia due to the fact that Conrad's voice was already heard in the opening narration each week; just one line of Conrad's original voice work as the Draconia's PA announcer was left in, ordering the shipping of Buck's frozen shuttle aboard the Draconia
* Though there was never an official cross-over episode with Flash Gordon, a character named Gordon showed up in one episode with the following dialogue:
Brigadier Gordon: I've been doing this since before you were born.
Buck Rogers: You think so?
Brigadier Gordon: Son, I KNOW so.
* The "original" Buck Rogers of the 1930s (from Buck Rogers (1939), Buster Crabbe, made a guest appearance as Brigadier Gordon in episode #1.3 "Planet of the Slave Girls" (he was most famous, of course, for playing the title role in Flash Gordon (1936) and its sequels).
* PA announcements heard during scenes taking place in spaceports, etc. feature frequent in-joke references to other science fiction classics. For example, in "Vegas in Space" you can hear Adam Strange of Alpha Centauri being paged (Adam Strange was the hero of a popular science fiction comic book of the 1960s). Episode #1.20 "A Dream of Jennifer" has Captain Christopher Pike being paged. Pike was the captain of the Starship Enterprise in the unaired pilot of "Star Trek" (1966).
* The show's theme tune, "Suspension", originally had lyrics, but these were only heard in the pilot.
* Throughout most of the first season, Erin Gray plays Wilma as a blonde. Near the end of the first season, and for the remainder of the series, she was allowed to return to her normal brunette hair color.
* US broadcast of the second season was delayed until midway through the 1980-81 TV season due to an actor's strike. During the strike, the series was retooled to make it a variation on "Battlestar Galactica" (1978).
* While working on this series, Mel Blanc provided voices for the parody "Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24½th Century" (1980, TV)
* Mel Blanc was briefly replaced by Bob Elyea as the voice of Twiki at the start of the second season. After protests from fans, he returned to the role for the final episodes.
* The studio decided to cancel the series before the last episode was shot. The producer was evidently incensed that this happened, without his prior knowledge, and began to clear out his office immediately upon hearing the news. To exact a measure of revenge, however, he assigned an intern, Guy Magar, to direct the final episode. Magar had just happened to pop into the director's office to see if he needed anything just after the producer got the call about the cancellation. The studio had no idea that Magar had never before directed a TV show (or anything beyond a student film). Magar went on to direct episodes of Sliders (1995), La Femme Nikita (1997) and other shows.
* The opening of the show said, "In 1987, NASA launched the last of the deep space probes." However, due to the Challenger accident in January 1986, no shuttles were actually launched in 1987. The next launch did not happen until 1988.
* Episode #2.8, "The Crystals", reuses a special effect graphic from The Andromeda Strain (1971) to depict an alien blood sample viewed under a microscope.
* Written on the side of the spaceship Searcher (season two) is "Per Adua Ad Astra", which is a misspelling of "Per Ardua Ad Astra" (Through Adversity To The Stars), the motto for The Royal Air Force ('ardua' is the plural of 'arduus', meaning 'the steep place', so the phrase could also mean "Past the summit to the stars")
* The Earth Starfighter spacecraft seen in the series was originally supposed to be the Colonial Viper in Battlestar Galactica, and was designed by Ralph MacQuarrie. When Galactica producers went with a different style for the Viper, the original design resurfaced in Buck Rogers as the Starfighter.
* In "The Golden Boy", the village set is the same one used in the original Frankenstein movies.
* Episode #1.03, "Planet of the Slave Girls", Buck goes to the planet Vistula. As seen from outer space, the surface of the planet is a mirror image of the Great Lakes area of the United States.
* Buck's ship is called "Ranger 3" by the narrator. Ranger 3 was a 1962 lunar probe which missed the moon and was lost in space. NASA never again used Ranger for the name of a spacecraft series
* The series is effectively divided into two separate shows with the first season set on Earth and the second set aboard a deep space exploration vessel. The first season villains the Draconians are never seen in the second season and neither is Buck's mentor Dr. Huer. The shift from a permanent Earth setting to a spacecraft plot was an effort to boast ratings and provide for more diverse episodes. The shift had exactly the opposite effect, with many fans seeing the "Space Buck Rogers" a disappointment from the "Earth Buck Rogers"
* 1978 tagline: The original space man! The ultimate trip! Buck Rogers swings back to earth and lays it on the 25th Century!
* 1939 tagline: AMAZING EXPLOITS OF DEATH-DEFYING DARING!...Zooming from planet to planet in spark-sputtering space ships! Battling human robots! Conquering new worlds!
Trivia for 1939 serial version
* Opening narration:
From somewhere in the skies above us come, from time to time, flaming discs and weird phenomena. What are they? Whence have they come?
* The bullet cars used in the movie were the same ones used in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938).
* In the original comic strip, Buck Rogers is actually a former World War One pilot who was working as a mine surveyor at the time he came to fall into his long (500 years long) sleep. For some reason, the regulations would not allow the screenwriters to use the comic strip's continuity, so the serial is actually a completely original story with the comic strip characters added.
* The character of Killer Kane was changed, too: in the original strip, his real name was Oba Kane, he had a twin brother named Nova and a pistol called "Baby." He also had a girlfriend named Ardala Valmar. The regulations would not allow any of this background to be used, either: instead, Oba "Killer" Kane is presented as the despotic ruler of a future Earth.
* Filming Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park, Cantil, California
* A re-edited version of the the 1939 serial Buck Rogers, released to television in the 1960's as a feature film, is now floating around the underground (black market bootleg) on videotape as "Destination Saturn"