My Favorite Bit: Mark A. Altman talks about SO SAY WE ALL: THE COMPLETE, UNCENSORED, UNAUTHORIZED ORAL HISTORY OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Mark A. Altman is joining us today to talk about So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica, written with Edward Gross. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Four decades after its groundbreaking debut, Battlestar Galactica―both the 1978 original and its 2004 reimagining have captured the hearts of two generations of fans. What began as a three-hour made for TV movie inspired by the blockbuster success of Star Wars followed by a single season of legendary episodes, was transformed into one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved series in television history. And gathered exclusively in this volume are the incredible untold stories of both shows―as well as the much-maligned Galactica 1980.
For the first time ever, you will learn the unbelievable true story of forty years of Battlestar Galactica as told by the teams that created a television legend in the words of over a hundred cast, creators, crew, critics and executives who were there and brought it all to life. So Say We All!
What is Mark’s favorite bit?
MARK A. ALTMAN
I HATE THE EIGHTIES
The quest to discover why Galactica 1980 sucked so bad
Ed Gross and I have been writing these oral histories of legendary genre shows for a few years now starting with The Fifty Year Mission which chronicled the five-decade long saga of Star Trek to our more recent volume on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, Slayers & Vampires. So when it came time to write So Say We All, the complete, uncensored oral history of Battlestar Galactica, we were faced with a conundrum. We were not only going to cover the original 1978 series, which is loved and loathed in equal measure by viewers, as well as the justly-lauded 2004 re-imagination, but clearly couldn’t avoid covering one of the most infamous and maligned series in television history, Galactica 1980.
Along with such 70’s laughingstocks as Supertrain, essentially about an atomic powered Love Boat on train tracks and Manimal, in which its protagonist played by Simon McCorkindale can literally transform into various beasties, Galactica 1980 was one of the most utterly derided series of that era of television. Call it anti-peak TV if you will. A lot of that antipathy had to with the fact that the original Battlestar Galactica was cancelled after only one season by ABC despite pretty solid ratings, but was super pricey, but maintained a loyal coterie of obsessed fans. Remember, this was decades before Netflix and so ABC realizing they had made a mistake, attempted to quickly remedy their error by bringing the series back in a cheaper and more kid-friendly variety.
In the original recipe version, the Battlestar Galactica, the sole surviving Colonial battle ship, basically an aircraft carrier in space, had been searching for earth after fleeing an interstellar genocide which destroyed most of the human race after an attack by the evil Cylons. The entire series is predicated on finding a new home: the shining planet known of earth, somewhere across the cosmos. In Galactica 1980, our heroes (or what’s left of them) finally find earth – in the teaser, in a voiceover. And it gets worse from there, all the characters from the original series are pretty much gone, with the exception of beloved Alpo pitchman, Lorne Greene, and instead a new ensemble of characters is introduced (all the actors ABC wanted, but Glen Larson passed on for the original series) along with a group of super-powered kids, the Super Scouts. And thus a series which began with a big-budget splash about Pearl Harbor in space with a terrific ensemble, stunning visual effects from John Dykstra, whose previous project was a little sci-fi space opera called Star Wars, and a bridge set that literally cost over one million dollars back in 1978 was reduced to a show about precocious kids with super-powers and two wacky Colonial Warriors who were fish out of water and mis-used earth colloquialisms. Neither which made for great comedy or drama.
Such was our dilemma in writing So Say We All. We knew exactly how to cover the original series, the Rodney Dangerfield of sci-fi, and certainly Ronald D. Moore’s magnificent re-imagining from 2004, but how the hell do you cover Galactica 1980, a series so misguided that the commercials advertising it at the time showed a massive Cylon attack on Hollywood only to be revealed as a simulation of what could happen if the malevolent metal marauders ever reached earth? Glad you asked. So fasten your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy night.
So here’s the deal and the god’s honest truth. I admit it. I did a very perfunctory job on the first draft of this chapter. My attentions were turned elsewhere and so I relied on the few quotes I already had banked and a number of witty bon mots disparaging the series from cast and critics and that was that. When I read through the first draft of the manuscript to our book, I realized this just wouldn’t do. Yes, this was an awful series. Yes, it pales in comparison to the bookends of the 1978 and 2004 series, but I realized that no one had ever explored this series in any depth nor was anyone likely to do so anytime in the future. If the final epitaph was to be written on the doomed series, it was up to me to do it.
And so for the first time in my writing career, which spans books, movies and television, I hit delete and literally started over from scratch. I put on my Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe/Columbo fedora and began to interview more writers, producers and actors. I did more research and so a new chapter was born. Perhaps my favorite chapter of any of the oral histories we ever wrote. I wanted to find out how a series made it to air that was this bad… and why. And did the people who made it know what they were making at the time? It resonated for me in a very personal way having worked in television and movies for nearly twenty years myself and having worked on shows that I thought were great that no one ever watched and other shows and movies for which we had the best of intentions that turned out terribly. Writing about Galactica 1980 for this book was a fascinating adventure and I was truly sorry when it was over. There was one living cast member who simply wouldn’t return my calls, but for the most part, I was able to get everyone I wanted; writers, producers and cast, and they were candid, funny and thoughtful, none moreso than the delightful Allan Cole, one of the show’s story editor’s who may hate the series more than anyone on earth and is a raconteur and storyteller of the first order who basically got blackmailed into working on it. I may hate Galactica 1980, but I sure do love this chapter on the making of the series.
So Say We All!
Mark A. Altman is co-author of So Say We All with Ed Gross, the complete, uncensored oral history of Battlestar Galactica, from Tor Books. In addition, he is also a writer/producer for television including such hit series as The Librarians, Agent X, Castle and many more and also co-author with Gross of The Fifty-Year Mission for St. Martin’s Press, an oral history of 50 years of Star Trek.