In 1980, the men and women of Battlestar Galactica finally landed on Earth. But the mission aborted when the saga landed a 7:00 Sunday nighttime slot. "It changed the nature of what the show was intended to be," says star Kent McCord.
Galactica 1980's time slot actually dictated the content of this TV show. "There was an FCC [ruling] where the 7:00 time slot was given back to the networks if the programming were public affairs, news-related or children's programming," explains McCord. "So, by dictate from the FCC, any program going in there had to meet one of those criteria. And if you're programmed in that slot, and you're trying to do an action-adventure show, what follows is that action-adventure show had better be a children's show."
Because of this, Glen Larson was faced with the dilemma of how to do an action-adventure science fiction show that fit within the boundaries of children's programming. Jeff Freilich, a Galactica 1980 producer who appeared in science fiction with The Incredible Hulk, explains how Larson accomplished this feat. "There had to be at least one educational message every act. That means four times an hour," says Freilich. In "The Super Scouts," "when the kids go off with Kent and Barry, they go the RCA building in New York, and one of the Galactica kids takes apart and puts back together a television camera. Glen decided that's going to be educational, but it's also a wonderful character moment for a futuristic child, raised from another planet, to demonstrate to people how a television camera works. That was Glen's idea of how to be educational without being preachy.
"We had to come up with a premise that could be exploited from an educational standpoint, which is why we did one about migrant farm workers. There were several shows that had messages, which for television is very difficult to get away with, because generally [series] television shows things that people won't see on the news, and they want to escape a little bit of the reality of the world. We were really forced to deal with it as much as we could. Because we had to mix the intention of the show, I think we got a little bit lost on how the show was supposed to run."
Why ABC decided to slot Galactica 1980 in this position on Sunday night escapes McCord. "I guess ABC thought it would meet one of those areas," he muses. "It would be counter-programming to 60 Minutes or whatever it was on NBC at the time."
"They just hammered us," says Larson of ABC's time-slot decision. "That's where they wanted us. That was the whole point of putting us on the air, so they could fill it as a 7:00 show. They were more powerful then than they are now. They said it virtually has to be this way. By getting on the air, we figured we could steer people in the right direction. We would do it their way until we could eventually move on and into what we wanted."
The first three hours of the show featured Troy and Dillon acclimating to Earth, and dealing with a renegade council member who traveled back in time to World War II. The villain, Xavier, planned to upgrade Earth's technology to help it meet any Cylon attacks that might come to be during the present. It was Larson's initial intention to do a Galactica time-travel show before it became mired in the FCC's programming straitjacket. Scripts were written that dealt with Cleopatra and Helen of Troy.
"We did some of those," admits Larson. "I'm not sure if that was a good idea or not. In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have toyed with it too much to begin with. We should have stayed right where we were instead of going back and doing [time travel stories.] I have mixed emotions. It may have been a mistake.
"Essentially, what Glen Larson and I talked about when we sat down together, when he was coming back with Galactica, was 'I want to try to do something akin to The Day the Earth Stood Still," recalls McCord. "Something along the lines that these two beings from outer space with all this great knowledge...were coming as peacemakers and trying to bring peace to Earth. But then, all of a sudden we got set with the 7:00 time slot and we got strapped down with a bunch of kids, doing baseball shows as Scouts. We kind of lost direction, I thought. And also, the fact it was programmed so quickly, I don't think Glen wanted to delay the premiere of the show. We had done the pilot in December [of 1979] and had worked for three or four weeks on the pilot. We started work on it, and then all of a sudden they wanted a show right away! I know that Glen had asked that we be delayed for a September  premiere so we could prepare scripts and not be put under the gun.
"I felt that...had the show gone on in the time slot everybody thought was going to be, an 8:00 or 9:00, we could have developed the show the way Glen originally envisioned it--a Day the Earth Stood Still type of series, where these two characters with vast knowledge from the stars would come to Earth and bring peace.
...The pilot we did went into all the things we could have done with the show. With the characters meeting scientists and all that area. That was very interesting, and I thought it played very good. And then we got off on a tangent and got into a 7:00 time slot and the kid thing and all of that. When you ask how would I have taken the show, I would have done exactly what Glen tried to do. Go get a copy of The Day the Earth Stood Still, put it in your VCR and watch it. It is an absolutely wonderful film."
McCord is philosophical about the show's low order of ten episodes, and he explains the modern realities of Hollywood filmmaking and network rationale, giving audiences less and less of a show they watch.
That's life. It's a different world here. In the old days...you'd get an order for 13, a back 13 and the following season you'd get an order of 26. That's the old days. In the new days, you get an order for four or five or six and a producer hopes lightning strikes. If it doesn't, hell, I've seen shows pulled off the air--gone forever--after a couple of episodes. Galactica 1980 was opposite 60 Minutes. I think we came in second in the time slot, but I don't know if that was enough to counter the high cost of doing the show."
Although Larson's original intention in doing Galactica 1980 was to created a show that would be more economical than Battlestar, that quickly disintegrated when the network declared they wanted a product immediately for speedy airing.
"The purpose of finding Earth," says McCord, "was supposed to have been so we could bring down the costs. [But what happened was] in trying to get scripts ready and shooting, sometimes we had three first units shooting at the same time, in different episodes. I don't know if the show was economically feasible or viable to continue without being an all-out hit. Battlestar Galactica was the most expensive hour here at the time. This happens when you go into production and you don't have enough lead time. Mistakes are made and things become costly. So Glen was writing to try to get the show for September 1980 instead of that January or February that we debuted, which was very, very short lead time."
"What made it expensive was they gave that show just a few weeks to get started on the air," agrees Larson. "I'll tell you a true story. I was dubbing the show on a lot on Sunday afternoon. You don't dub on Saturday and Sunday, that's how expensive it was. I saw a guy walking around in one of the Galactica warrior uniforms. (I have one in my closet, by the way.) I saw this guy walk by and I was furious! I was so mad because the [Universal Studios Battlestar Galactica] tour was using so many of our props and they weren't paying for them, and I thought we were getting victimized. I was ready to call it. "This is exactly what I'm talking about. They're taking our money and they're spending it on the tour, and I'm not getting it on the screen.' I made a phone call. A very impatient voice on the other end of the phone said, 'That's not the tour.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' 'You better check your schedules, I know you're dubbing stages but we're shooting today.' We were actually shooting the show on weekends in order to get it one the air. That's how ridiculous it got. There were guys driving out that gate every weekend in campers...and they were buying their overtime. The show was costing a fortune because the network rushed it. How fast can you get on the air? I was terrible that way. They ring the fire bell and I answer it, figuring I could do almost anything."
"There was a super-rush because it took eight or nine days to make [each episode]...and we couldn't make airdates unless we shot around the clock. One of the things that hurt the show was that I wouldn't allow them to just throw it together...I insisted that we make it look good and try to hold the quality. To do that we had to shoot a lot of overtime, a lot of weekends. The cost ran up there so...that cost our pickups [extra footage to increase coverage for editors]. We virtually couldn't afford to keep shooting them. The network was probably willing to keep it going, but it was costing them so much money."
So hectic was the filming schedule, it made for a memorable moment for the two lead stars of the show.
"This probably points up the chaos that we had to deal with. [It] was the day we were shooting the scene on the Universal 747 stage," recounts McCord. The episode was "The Night Cylons Landed," and we had probably 30 or 40 or 50 extras plus a crew. About noon, on this day with all this very difficult stuff, one of the associates producers came down and handed Barry and me eight pages of dialogue and said, 'At 4:00, you have to go to stage 25 and you have to shoot these eight pages. And no matter where you are here, you have to be over there to do this because we need this stuff to finish cutting a show that's being done.' So at 4:00 Barry and I had to go over to a different stage and leave all these extras and the whole crew...on this 747 soundstage and shoot eight pages of dialogue in a Viper. That dialogue had no reference to anything. It was Galactican language written for us. It's not easy stuff to learn. We had eight pages, and we didn't have time to learn it because we were shooting another show in another stage! That pointed out a couple of things. We had that unit shooting on a 747 stage and we had another unit shooting with us on stage 25, and I even think there was another unit out shooting with the kids or something," laughs McCord. "That's the way the show was done--to make airdates. It's very unusual."
Kent McCord, surprisingly, was originally slated to appear in Battlestar Galactica as one of the lead characters. "Glen wanted me in it, the studio wanted me in it. But it was a person on the network who had some conflict of interest," says McCord. "I've known Glen now for over 30 years, and when he called me and said, 'I got this great concept and I want you to meet with me,' I went over and met him. We had lunch together, and we drove out to the special effects studio where they were doing all the miniatures, and they had shot some tests of some things, and we went to a screening and looked at them. Yeah. I was very excited by that project. I thought it was going to be terrific! I think the original was plagued by airdates and a difficult time. It was a very, very difficult show to do. One of the most expensive hours that was being shot for television at the time! It was tough for everybody who worked on that show. Yeah. I was looking forward to having done that show. Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to do it."
As to the change in premise from an earlier show to Galactica 1980, McCord says, "I think that if you're going to follow a show that has had some success, with some following, I think you have to keep the lineage alive. Glen chose to do a time some 25 or 30 years later of which I was supposed to be the grown Boxey. So there was a whole other generation. Lorne Greene was the tie between the old show and the new show. That kept the fans they had accumulated from the original show interested."
Working with Lorne Greene was an opportunity for McCord to see a television veteran at work. "He was a very nice man. Very professional and very dedicated. Lorne had a very limited time. He would come in and do his scenes. Everything was set up for him. I enjoyed working with him. He was an interesting man."
And of McCord's co-star, Barry Van Dyke? "Barry is a wonderful, wonderful man. I had a great time with him and we had a lot of fun together. I still see Barry from time to time."
Oddly, at the end of every episode of Galactica 1980 was a paragraph on Project Blue Book that said, "The United States Air Force stopped investigating UFOs in 1969. After 22 years they found no evidence of extra-terrestrial visits and no threat to national security."
"The network put that for 7:00 kids. That's standards and practices," says Larson.
McCord doesn't recall this paragraph at the end of the show; however, he notes, "I would imagine that if you're going to deal with outer space and things like that, that little paragraph at the end of the show, about Project Blue Book, is a nudge for people to think about what's out there in outer space."
McCord and co-stars Barry Van Dyke and Robyn Douglass appeared in only nine of the ten episodes shot for the series. Number ten was "The Return of Starbuck," with guest star Dirk Benedect returning as the sly, wisecracking warrior. In this episode, kid genius Dr. Zee recounts a dream to Commander Adama. In the dream, Boomer and Starbuck are on a mission, and Starbuck's Viper is hit during a Cylon attack, forcing him to crash-land on a rocky, deserted planet. The only other presence to keep him company is a deactivated Cylon robot, which Starbuck rebuilds. With his newfound Cylon robot friend, "Cy," Starbuck faces up to the reality that he could probably spend the rest of his life on this ruddy rock--especially since a woman about to give birth has appeared. But a homing beacon from Cy's ship brings more Centurions, and in order to save Starbuck's life, Cy sacrifices himself against his compatriots.
The director of that episode, Ronald Satlof, recalls, "I didn't care about the final fate of Starbuck. I liked it because of the anthropomorphization of the machine, the robot that Starbuck fixes who turns into a friend and sacrifices himself for Starbuck. I though there was a lot o human interest in a theme like that. I though that was a wonderful theme from science fiction because it is a mirror to ourselves. This was an irrationally programmed robot who ultimately became rational and saw the folly of its ways. People need each other, even if one of the people is a robot."
When asked why this episode was such a departure from the regular series, Satlof responds flatly: "They were trying to save the show. They were shooting two other episodes with Kent McCord, and it was written as a way of putting an entirely different unit [to work while] the regular shooting company of the series [was filming elsewhere]. Getting Dr. Zee and Adama in for one little scene to tell the story--that's about all that unified the two shooting companies."
Satlof recalls filming at Red Rock Canyon, "a horrible location." When they were scouting the location, it was nice and warm, and they thought it would be a perfect place to do the story. "But when we got there to shoot, there was a hailstorm and [the temperature] was in the 30s," he says. "The actress Judith Chapman had a little thing to wear, it was see-through and she was out there with her knees shaking, trying to act. It was unbelievable. We'd wrap blankets around her and say her lines and try to act before the shakes started. It was just horrible. It's what we do for television."
Of Benedict's performance in the episode, Satlof says, "He had a kind of lovely egotism tempered by a flare of humanism...so I thought he was terrific. I liked him a lot."
At the end of the story, it's hinted that we've seen the very last of Starbuck, but with the appearance of the team of Centurions, who ultimately will destroy Cy, Larson also hints that there's a Cylon vessel elsewhere on the planet in perfect working order for Starbuck to use.
"That's right. If the series had survived--and Starbuck certainly had a chance to survive--he'd rejoin the series," notes Satlof. "He'd somehow get to that Cylon ship and somehow get back to the star fleet.
"I'm not absolutely sure about this, but I really suspect that Glen...left a door open...to have him somehow get back into it in a new age, a new Galactic mission and all the rest of it, without having to age because you can explain it away with time differences in space."
Potential for resurrection aside, with this episode Glen Larson was also able to close the series with a measure of personal satisfaction. Larson cites the episode as probably his all-time favorite Galactica segment, next to the premiere episode and the two hour-long films like War of the Gods and The Living Legend.
"We were virtually going back to the original premise," he says. "That was really the series brought t a whole different level, even though it didn't need a lot of pyrotechnics."
Viewers liked this show so much that Larson got a request to do the show in London as a play. "We were approached on the subject and they never got around to doing it," he says. "It was a big hit in England. If you think about it, it was very much a play."
McCord recently bumped into a videotape of Galactica 1980. Curious to relive some of his work on the show, he rented it, only to find a badly edited film culled from three different episodes. "It's terrible! It's awful! I couldn't even watch it. It was just the worst. I remember they came to me and asked, 'Can you do some voiceovers?' It was probably one of the most dreadful things I've ever seen in my life. They should have just released The Night the Cylons Landed, a two-parter episode. That was just a mish-mash. It didn't cut together. It didn't make sense."
Like others involved with the show, Jeff Freilich says the Galactica 1980 failed, "not because the show was doing so badly, but because it was in a time slot that was the death time slot [with] CBS's 60 Minutes. At the time NBC and ABC deluded themselves into believing they could make inroads into the 60 Minutes audience with adults on one channel and under-25's on another.
"Ther other prerequisite [of the time slot] was there couldn't be more than ten incidents of violence in an episode, and that meant if ten Cylons got shot out of the sky, that was all we could do. You couldn't have anything else, which included hitting somebody on the head with a stick or punching somebody in the mouth or a car into a wall."
The competing show on NBC, The Wonderful World of Disney, got away with more violence, because it fell under the category of previously released theatrical motion pictures. Censors did not have to cut those films--but they kept their scissors sharpened for Galactica 1980.
"I remember one very particular night," says Freilich, "when Frank Lupo and I were sitting there on a Sunday and we got phone calls from ABC standards and practices, Susan Fetterman. She declared, 'You cannot air this show tonight!' She had just looked at it that day and we could not understand why. She had counted 11 Cylons being shot out of the sky, and she would not allow the show on the air with 11 incidents of violence. We had to go back to my office that afternoon with her, Peter Roth (a vice president of ABC at the time; now executive vice-president of Fox Broadcasting), and we had to sit there and watch the show and count, yes, 11 of them.
"Our argument was these were not people, they were robots. Cylons were animatrons and it wasn't hurting anybody. She put on such a stink, and we reminded her that it would probably cost upwards of $50,000 to cut one of the shots, recut and redub the film and be ready for satellite that night. We got away with it that time, but these are things you never have to deal with anywhere else."
One night while writing the episode "Spaceball," Freilich received a very unusual phone call from Texas. "Every show that I've every worked on has its own group of really obsessive fans. Regardless of the show you work on, there is a group of people who watch the show religiously and know the show better than you do, even if you are the creator of that show. They will read things into your shows that you as the creator or writer would never think about. They see people on your show as being in the real world, whereas you know they're fantasy. I got this call from a man who is very upset because he's been watching the show and he swears that's not how Galacticans talk because he's met them. Because they've actually landed in his yard and he put them up for a few days in his barn. They don't talk like that. He's calling to tell me that in the future there are several expressions Galacticans use that we don't use on the show, that we oughta use if we’re going to be accurate about them. I couldn't believe I was hearing this. I took him seriously because I didn't want to make fun of him. But I could not believe that someone truly believed what he was telling me. And yet, this was a middle-aged man, he must have been at least in his late forties if not early fifties. He was a devotee of the show."
Taking him seriously could have been a good idea. Freilich accepted the man's advice and incorporated the expressions into the show. Sadly, Freilich can't recall the specifics of what he added.
Working with Glen Larson was an enriching experience for Freilich. "Glen always had his finger on the pulse of the American television audience," he says, "and he was very good at creating shows that critics might pan, but the audiences turned into in droves. He never paid much attention to anybody but the audience. What Glen taught me more than anybody else, was to exploit whatever your own ideas were and don't pay attention to networks and studios. your own success for failure should be measured by our ideas without having them polluted or changed [by other people].
"He was really very much of an individualist. He had, more than any other producer I've ever worked for, a high respect and reverence for the writer. Glen started as a writer, a pure writer, and that's all he was. He wasn't a producer, and he built an incredible reputation as one of the faster writers in television. Speed in television is really important because things are done so quickly. I learned to go with your instinct when you are writing; to close yourself off from phone calls, make sure to have other people to handle the nuts and bolts of making a television show, to lock yourself behind a door. Glen would disappear to his home in Hawaii or Malibu and not answer the phone until he was finished with what he was doing. He also had an amazing ability to make incredibly expensive television shows despite the protestations of the networks and studios and then take those television shows, and in the case of Galactica, which is a prime example, make it into a theatrical film, release it overseas, and make back any deficit he might have incurred by making a TV show. It was very, very rare to do that.
"Glen was one of the first people to market toys and games and cards and all sort of ancillary things that could come from a television show.
" I had heard a tremendous amount of negative things about Glen Larson before [working with him]. In retrospect, most of the stuff I heard about that was not positive came from jealous people...My experience with him was a very pleasant one, and it paid off particularly well about a year and a half ago. I was in Paris on vacation from Spain, where I was doing an episode of Dark Justice, a show I created. Glen called me in Paris to tell me that CBS had just shown him the pilot I had written and directed for Dark Justice because he was interested in writing a late night show, and how he thought it was really wonderful and how proud he was and stuff. I said, 'In a lot of ways you taught me all I know.' He took no credit for that at all, kind of laughed it off. Truthfully, the other person that he really helped was Frank Lupo, who created the A-Team." (Lupo also worked on Greatest American Hero and invented, with John Ashley, Something Is Out There.)
If the show had continued further, Larson says, "We would have just expanded on our basic premise but refined our storytelling. There are an infinite number of stories you could tell in outer space. It had a lot more scale and potential than, I think, Star Trek did in many ways...We had better hardware to work with and a lot less limiting. We could have done a great deal, but we needed more time."
The last word on Galactica 1980 comes from Glen Larson, musing on a revival of the adventures of the Battlestar Galactica. "There was a point where Universal was talking about doing it the same way as Star Trek--that we might have done it as a prime access sold to stations [i.e. syndication]. But with the sale of Universal to Japan, and some of the other things, I don't know if the people [who are there now] have the imagination to do that. Right now it's a little less likely, but nothing's impossible. With the success of Star Trek and its spin-off, it's possible that this will come up again."
And would Larson be interested in doing it? "Yeah, I would, because I really think having been there once, I have a better idea of what we could do. But who knows?" he shrugs. "We'll have to see."