Coate: Which were the standout episodes?
Altman: There are a few really classic episodes. Certainly, War of the Gods is a remarkable two-parter that deals with faith and spirituality. It’s a shame Ron Moore never figured out a way to crack the Count Iblis storyline for 2004 BSG, which he did try to do, because he could have really taken this to the next level, but even back then it’s a really well told story with a remarkable cliffhanger vividly heightened by Stu Phillips’ swelling score. Of course, The Living Legend is a magnificent two-parter that introduces Lloyd Bridges’ Commander Cain as a foil for Lorne Greene’s Adama and is a Patton In Space story brilliantly told. And it eventually led to Ron Moore gender swapping Bridges’ Commander Cain for Michelle Forbes’ steely Admiral Cain as part of a stellar arc on BSG 2004 as well as in the telefilm, Razor. “Commander, why are you launching Vipers… ” another in a great line of cliffhanger endings.
Gerani: War of the Gods was more interesting than most. Living Legend was fun with Lloyd Bridges chewing the scenery. Hand of God was a spirited final episode.
Coate: Which episode is your favorite?
Altman: The one-hour episodes are almost never as good as the two-hour episodes because they don’t have the budget and the tapestry to tell big stories, but there is a one-hour episode that is among the best BSG ever had to offer in its original incarnation. It finally cracks the code on action and character and that, of course, is Hand of God, the final episode of the first season in which Apollo receives, what is revealed to be, a transmission of the lunar landing. It’s just a case of the show firing on all cylinders and it’s so sad that this is the episode on which the show went out on because you can’t help but wonder how much better the show could’ve been had it been renewed for a second season and we might see the original show in a very different light today as a result.
Gerani: War of the Gods.
Coate: Favorite character?
Altman: Like most people, I would have to say Starbuck. Dirk Benedict was just so perfect in that role, and what’s ironic is ABC didn’t want him and didn’t think he was handsome enough. They fought Larson the whole time until they finally had to give in once production began to avoid a shutdown. Ironically, Barry Van Dyke who ended up playing Dillon in Galactica 1980, was one of the runner-ups and ABC jumped on the chance to cast him when it was clear that Benedict was not coming back to do Galactica 1980. And how anyone can’t adore the villainous, mustache-twirling John Colicos as the traitorous Baltar, I’ll never understood. His scenery chewing performance is a classic as is Lorne Greene as the patriarch of the Adama clan and, of course, the late Patrick Macnee as Count Iblis. But you also have to acknowledge the extraordinary challenge that Richard Hatch as Apollo, playing such a straight-laced and one-dimensional hero and then what he managed to do playing the multi-faceted and endlessly fascinating Tom Zarek on the 2004 series. He also was a cheerleader for the franchise and an advocate for BSG when no one else was and for this he deserves endless appreciation. Of course, when I was ten years old watching it, nothing was better than Maren Jensen as Athena at the time, but that was then and this is now.
Gerani: Adama, nicely realized by Lorne Greene.
Pilato: My favorite character was Lorne Greene’s Adama. First of all, it was wonderful to see Greene back on TV in a regular capacity since his Bonanza days. He had attempted a series return shortly before his gig on Galactica with an ABC detective show called Griff. But that didn’t last too long at all, as the audience wasn’t ready to accept him as a detective after loving him so many years as a cowboy. So when Galactica and the role of Adama came along a few years later, that seemed a better fit for Greene. He was still playing a father on Galactica, as he had on Bonanza, and he was now a cowboy in space. It was a perfect alignment of the stars, so to speak.
Coate: Where does the show rank among sci-fi television?
Altman: There are three great science fiction masterpieces in the history of genre television: the original Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and Battlestar Galactica 2004. You couldn’t have that without BSG 1978. Right behind those series, you have Deep Space Nine and then you have The Next Generation and The Outer Limits. Somewhere in the middle is Babylon 5, The X-Files and Space: 1999. Way at the bottom, you have shows like Manimal and Supertrain and Galactica 1980 and Salvage One. So where does Galactica go? Somewhere in between. It’s hard to evaluate the show based on one season, particularly given the amount of nostalgia the series evokes for people like me who watched it in its original run.
Gerani: It’s a notable misfire, but remains fairly unique.
Pilato: The original Battlestar: Galactica series holds sci-fi TV rank somewhere between the original Star Trek series and Space: 1999, and it is light years away from a show like the original Lost in Space, which I loved as well, but like Buck Rogers, was eventually played for laughs.
Coate: Do you believe the series has been well represented on home video?
Altman: In the VHS and LaserDisc era, it was dreadfully mistreated. You had the movie and then later you inconceivably had the one-hour episodes released on tape, which were among the worst of the shows. The two-hour episodes didn’t get released, with the exception of Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack, a pastiche of The Living Legend and Fire in Space for overseas theatrical release and later Conquest of the Earth, a terrible hybrid of multiple Galactica 1980 episodes. Based on all this, you wouldn’t think much of BSG. Years later, Universal Home Video did a really nice job of releasing the entire series in a Cylon head package with a myriad deleted scenes and some new featurettes for the 25th anniversary which tied in with the success of the new series which hugely benefitted from its sales on home video. In fact, Syfy probably would have cancelled the 2004 series earlier had Universal not been making such a windfall from the DVD releases of the new series. But the real apex of BSG’s multiple releases is the Blu-ray box set which is still a benchmark for the medium. Not only does it include both BSG 1978 and BSG 1980 along with all the deleted scenes from the DVD set, but they re-mastered the episodes for widescreen as well so there’s a second set of discs in which all the episodes are cropped for widescreen. The visual effects are a little softer as a result, but it’s still a great option to have and my preferred way to watch the show. It also includes both the two-hour theatrical cut of the premiere along with the three hour episode as well.
Now, for absolute Galactica completists, there is still a Holy Grail out there. Because of how few episodes were ever produced, many local stations won’t repeat a show that had so few episodes, even with Galactica 1980 added to the syndication package, so like what Fox did with the short-lived Planet of the Apes TV series, Universal edited all the episodes into two-hour TV movies and, in a few cases, added deleted footage as well as a new intro for Experiment in Terra which used pre-production art to explain the history of The Cylon Wars as well as additional footage from the Galactica 1980 episode, Return of Starbuck. These have never been released on home video and I’d love to see them, even as part of their disc on demand service or streaming.
Gerani: The Blu-rays look great.
Coate: How do the sequel series and reboot compare to the original series?
Altman: To me it’s like Star Trek The Original Series and The Next Generation, only flipped. I think TOS is a masterpiece and TNG is a great television series as is Deep Space Nine. In the case of BSG, I think the 1978 is a great, significant and vastly misunderstood series, but BSG 2004 is a masterpiece despite its flaws of which there are a few. I was never a fan of the amount of time spent aboard the Cylon Basestar in the later seasons in which I felt I was trapped inside a Crate & Barrel outlet store nor the Baltar Messiah arc, and it was unfortunate the network was so intent on keeping the show in space because as brilliant as the New Caprica arc was and is, it absolutely could have sustained an entire season on its own when you think of how much they mined from Vichy France and World War II and how many more stories there were that could have been told down there on New Caprica with that amazing cast.
Gerani: The reboot abandoned the Star Wars imitation problem and established a cerebral new direction.
Pilato: The Galactica: 1980 series was simply not the same. The momentum wasn’t there as it had been for the original Battlestar Galactica show. And the latter-day Battlestar Galactica reboot was, of course, darker and edgier. But for my personal tastes, it was too dark and edgy… mostly because the original Battlestar series was already darker and edgier than any space series that had debuted before. So, by the time the reboot arrived decades later, television shows in general, including regular drama series and comedies were dark and edgy… too dark and edgy, for my part. And making an already dark and edgy concept even darker and edgier was just simply a turn-off for me when it came to the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, its wonderful cast and solid writing, notwithstanding. Although, I, and I’m sure many others, would loved to have seen Richard Hatch’s concept of a rebooted Battlestar come to life… which he had worked on for years… even though it certainly was nice to have him involved, at least in some way, when another rebooted Battlestar concept actually made it to the air. I thought it was very respectful to Hatch to include him, and his fans, and fans of the entire Battlestar franchise, appreciated this involvement. It’s important to do that… to somehow respect the original mythology of a concept in some way, even if it means acknowledging and somehow bringing original actors back into the arena, even if they are not playing the original characters with which they are associated.
Coate: What is the legacy of Battlestar Galactica?
Altman: If BSG 1978’s only legacy was that it provided the inspiration for BSG 2004 by presenting the story of an intergalactic Pearl Harbor and galactic genocide that would have been enough, but I feel that the 1978 show’s legacy is far more significant and complex than that. And while unlike Star Trek, which presented a progressive, liberal, optimistic version of the future, Galactica depicts a far more militaristic, nihilistic and neo-conservative view with its dismissiveness of the naïve President Adar who sells out the human race in order to close an arms control treaty, a thinly veiled swipe at Jimmy Carter from the conservative Glen Larson, although, of course, Reagan would go on to be even more aggressive in this regard after the show was cancelled. Galactica ‘78 endorses military rule over civilian leadership, who are often portrayed as self-serving and incompetent, to wit the gluttonous Sire Uri, played by Ray Milland, and the entire Council of Twelve which are time and time again depicted as total incompetents. But this aside, the original Battlestar Galactica is a stunningly realized series which is Star Wars for television in the best sense of the word and a show that epitomizes the best popcorn entertainment has to offer. The less said about Galactica 1980 the better, however. Although it probably is the most marvelous chapter of our book. Seriously!
Gerani: It proved TV producers could move beyond Star Trek in producing a space-based series with continuing characters.
Pilato: The original Battlestar Galactica will forever remain a benchmark in the history of television programming. It arrived in a timely fashion, yes, to take advantage of the new-found interest in “space operas” that was rejuvenated by the original Star Wars film on the big screen. But Battlestar Galactica stands alone in the presentation of the science fiction genre when it comes to weekly TV shows.
Coate: Thank you – Mark, Gary, and Herbie – for sharing your thoughts on Battlestar Galactica on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.
Selected images copyright/courtesy ABC-TV, Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Universal Television. Herbie J Pilato image by Dan Holm Photography.
- Michael Coate