(Originally published in the Anomaly BG Concordance, 1987. This version revised December 2003)
s is well known, the Battlestar Galactica
premiere aired by ABC-TV on September 17, 1978, underwent many changes before being
broadcast. Editing evidently went on until almost the last minute. John Dykstra, who
produced the premiere, commented, ...the script was changed four times, from the
time it was (story)boarded to the time it was cut. It was even changed while it was being
cut.... There appear to have been so many differing versions, including several
before shooting began, that the complete story will likely never be known.
In the beginning, Battlestar Galactica was planned to be a series of three specials for ABC; a three-hour premiere to be followed by a pair of two-hour movies (Gun on Ice Planet Zero and one other, eventually Lost Planet of the Gods but I consider Leslie Stevens Beta Pirates a good candidate for the original third film). The premiere was scheduled to air in May 1978, and primary filming was actually completed by that time. It is not known when ABC informed the BG production team that they were buying BG as a full seriessome sources suggest word came midway through filming of the premierebut the news must have come as an unwelcome surprise. John Dykstra had remarked in an interview that the special format was a good way for this stuff to go, because trying to produce a show like this on a week-to-week basis without a substantial backlog of stock material would be difficult. His words were to prove prophetic. However, Jim Carlson, one of the story editors who joined the series after the first several episodes, pointed out that while doing BG as a series of specials would have been much easier for the production team, audiences at the time were used to the series format, and that may have been one of ABCs motives.
The most widely-known change to the premiere as shot involved the character of Serina, portrayed by Jane Seymour. As filmed, she was dying from radiation sickness. This version of the premiere was shown to test audiences, presumably in the late spring or early summer of 1978. The audiences reportedly found her impending death depressing, so ABC ordered the entire subplot edited outmuch to Jane Seymours surprise when she was asked to do Lost Planet of the Gods (fortunately, these scenes were included in the bonus material in the DVD set). The major victim of this editing, in addition to Seymour, who lost several affecting scenes, was actor John Fink, who played Dr. Paye. An indication of his importance in the original version is his billing in the creditsequal with Seymour, Ray Milland, Laurette Spang, and Lew Ayres. As broadcast, there are about 15 seconds of John Fink remainingthe scene in which he heals Cassiopieas broken arm. Presumably he was well paid, but that can hardly have made up for his excision. Fink did not reappear in the series, although his character was mentioned by Adama in War of the Gods.
In even earlier, pre-shooting script versions of BG, Serina was intended to be a continuing character. Her name was originally Lyra and in the early (November 1977) script Crossfire (which evolved into Gun on Ice Planet Zero) she was a member of the Council of Twelve. However, the character had to die, first in the premiere, then in Lost Planet of the Gods, because Jane Seymour wanted to be free to pursue film work.
Cassiopiea was also intended to suffer an untimely fate; in the Marvel Comics adaptation, which was based on an interim version of the premiere script, she was found by Starbuck, Apollo, and Boxey in the Ovion food processing cells, but she was dead. When it became obvious that Maren Jensens inexperience was going to limit the usefulness of her role, Cassiopiea was made a continuing character. She is in fact noticeably absent from Gun on Ice Planet Zero, which was shot immediately after the premiere, so this decision appears to have taken place during or after the filming of that episode.
Looking at the shooting script, it is interesting to see which of the extra scenes included in Robert Thurstons novelization of the premiere were actually filmed. The post-escape-from-Carillon celebration scene was definitely shot, and the photograph on the last page of the BG Storybook is almost certainly from that scene (it is. This scene is included in the bonus material on the DVD set). It definitely fits nowhere else in the premiere and due to its width looks like a 35mm clip rather than a posed still. In an interview with me, Stu Phillips, the series composer, confirmed that the scene was shot, scored, and then cut out. Another scene shot and cut was the scene on the bridge in which Starbuck, Boomer, and other pilots were shown films of burning Caprica to convince them of what had actually happened. Greenbean was in several of the edited scenes; although he appears in none of the released footage, actor Ed Begley Jr. was listed in the closing credits. A number of good Athena scenes were among those lost, most of which are not in the novelization. Another victim was a series of scenes of starving people aboard the ships of the fleet. Stu Phillips described these to me as being almost poetic, but they were cut to bring the running time down. Most of these scenes, interestingly, are among scenes I call “still lost” — almost certainly shot but for whatever reason not included on the DVD set.
One scene that was edited out is familiar to most BG fans; the decapitation of Baltar, which does appear in the 2 hour videocassette version. Glen Larson seemed to see trouble looming over that scene; in his interview with D.C. Fontana in Science Fantasy Film Classics #4 he said, Standards and Practices has looked at this thing not known quite what to say about it. Eventually they did know what to say about it cut it, not only because ABC was by this time trying to warp BG into a show suitable for the kiddies (1999 afterthoughtcan you imagine what BG would be like now, when shows like NYPD Blue have made vast inroads into what is considered suitable for TV?!), but also because they wanted Baltar as a continuing, human villain, a role Larson seems to have wanted to fill with Vulpa, the Cylon command centurion from Gun, who is listed in the characters and terminology sheet prepared by the production staff as a continuing character.
There are at least four scenes in the premiere that were added after filming was complete, reportedly directed by Glen Larson himself. The most noticeable of these is the long version of the discussion between Starbuck and Apollo in the Carillon mine, seen in the three hour version but not in the two hour video, in which Starbuck argues that he remain behind and destroy the mine. Not only does the lighting vary dramatically from the scenes that precede and follow it, but Apollo appears to have lost the collar pins from his tunic! Another added sequence is the discussion between Boxey and Apollo in the landram during which Apollo tells Boxey about the Cylons. This scene may well have been added after ABC insisted that the Cylons, originally reptilian creatures, be changed into robots, about which more later (actually this is a changed scene, not an added one. The original version is included on the DVD). A third added scene features Zac trying to talk Starbuck into letting him take his mission. As first filmed, Zac was assigned to the mission in the first place (included on the DVD). One other scene shot and cut in later is the scene between Starbuck and Athena in the locker room.
The order that scenes originally fell in was also changed in several instances during editing. For example, in the premiere as aired, Cassiopiea is captured by the Ovions before Starbuck and Boomer return to the Galactica for their dress uniforms. As filmed, she was captured between the scene with Apollo and Serina in the shuttle going to Carillons surface and the scene in which Boomer sarcastically compliments Starbuck on his appearance in dress uniform. In fact, most of the Carillon scenes were extensively rearranged, for no apparent purpose.
Standards and Practices, the ABC censors, did a considerable amount of damage to BG. Not only did they order the ax taken to the Baltar beheading scene, they also censored the famous launch tube sequence between Starbuck and Cassiopiea. According to Maren Jensen, ...originally they were writhing away on the floor and all you saw was Starbucks bare back. They really toned that bit down. Indeed they did, as the scene was reshot with Benedict fully dressed and sitting up. Unfortunately, no stills from the original have ever seen the light of day, much to the sadness of Dirk Benedict fans worldwide, although at least part of this scene evidently was in the version released as a movie in Canada and the UK in the summer of 1978 (and this scene was not included on the DVD and so is still missing). The censors also reportedly deleted a considerable amount of Benedicts dialogue. Once again, from the Maren Jensen interview, He was saying a lot of things that, frankly, could have been taken two ways. It was all very funny and would have worked if it was played to an adult audience. But I think the network took a little bit of offense because Galactica is now being slated as a family show. This same attitude resulted in Cassiopieas mutation from a high-priced courtesan into a medtech. ABC censors may also have insisted that the various drug references sprinkled throughout the novelization and presumably also early versions of the shooting script be removed, which is unobjectionable. The only such reference that escaped was Boomers comment about the young woman he and Starbuck encounter on Carillon smoking plant vapors. ABC also insisted that the reptilian (evidently originally insectoid) Cylons be changed into robots because at the 8pm timeslot that BG was put into only a limited number of people could be killed per episode and although the reptilian Cylons counted as people the robotic ones did not, a nice piece of ABC hypocrisy that must have amused Glen Larson. Why ABC thought that BG had to be changed into an inoffensive childrens show is a mystery. Demographics indicated that for every child in the BG audience there were four men, two women, and two teenagers also watching. According to an interview with Larson, it appears that had ABC renewed BG for a second season it would have been forced into the same 7pm Sunday timeslot its bastard offspring Galactica 1980 was relegated to. Clearly, ABC had no idea what they had.
The actual filming of the premiere must have been absolute insanity. Richard Colla, who was credited with directing the premiere, actually directed only half of it. He filmed the first 26 days and then quit or was fired apparently due to artistic disagreements with Glen Larson. He was replaced by Alan J. Levi, who was at that time working on preproduction for Gun on Ice Planet Zero (which, note, was always intended as the second episode it clearly follows the original concept in that Cassiopiea, never intended as a continuing character, is absent, Serina is dead, and the scenes with Baltar and Lucifer are clearly inserts shot later). Levi came in with one days notice and shot the remaining 25 days of the shooting schedule, 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, an incredible challenge, and it must be said that he did a fine job of it. Colla received screen credit due to Directors Guild rules; he had done the preproduction work.
John Dykstra claimed in several post-BG interviews that BG was not intended for theatrical release and that he was angered when it was released to theaters. This, according to Alan Levi, is not true; the BG premiere was shot with theatrical release in mind, in full theatrical format. The excellent appearance of the two hour cut released as a Sensurround feature in the spring of 1979 confirms Levis comments; in fact, the premiere genuinely has to be seen that way to be fully appreciated.
Although we can deduce quite a lot about how the final few versions of the BG premiere developed, we know far less about the original form of the series. Glen Larson has long claimed that what became BG was originally entitled Adams Ark and, according to Larson, was sort of about the origins of mankind in the universe, taking some of the Biblical stories and moving them off into space as if by the time we get to Earth theyre really not about things that happened here but things that might have happened someplace else in space. In more recent interviews, interestingly, Adams Ark has transformed somewhat mysteriously into an idea about a Howard Hughes-like character who believes Earth is doomed and tricks Earths best and brightest onto a spaceship and launches them to discover new worlds. This change is in itself rather suspicious. Larson claims that he tried to sell Adams Ark to the networks two or three years before the success of Star Wars made it safe to utter the words science fiction in the network sanctums. What appears to have actually happened is darker and more mysterious. According to director Alan Levi, Leslie Stevens, who was a close friend of his, approached him long before BG and mentioned an idea he had for something that obviously was BG that he intended to discuss with Glen Larson. Somehow, Larson ended up getting the credit. Leslie Stevens, the man behind the ground-breaking The Outer Limits, is the father of Battlestar Galactica; Larson is an interloper. Stevens idea, coopted somehow by Larson (evidently with Stevens agreement since he never publicly complained), eventually evolved into BG; interim titles included Star Worlds, Earth Star, and Galactica: Saga of a Star World.
Anne Lockhart reported at a convention that she was asked to do an early version of what became BG that was at that time, in her words, five men and a girl, with the girl serving approximately the same function as the Amy character in early A-Team episodes; get the men coffee, hand them their lasers, and stand back when the shooting begins. She turned that role down (either Athena or an early version of Serina), but eventually joined the cast as Sheba, a part written for her by Glen Larson.
Some time in the evolution of the premiere several detail changes were made; Serina was originally named Lyra, Apollo was named Skyler, and the viper fighters were called Starhounds.
It would be extremely interesting to know what other actors were considered for the roles before BG was cast. Anne Lockhart of course turned the first part offered to her downAthena, presumablywhile Richard Hatch claimed not to be interested and had to be pursued by Glen Larson. Dirk Benedict was evidently not the first choice for StarbuckABC apparently didnt think he was right for the part (huh?!)and he wasnt actually signed until after shooting began, which is why some of the very early articles about BG omit his name from the cast credits. Don Johnson was considered for the role of Starbuck, but Glen Larson claimed to find his slight Southern accent unbelievable in a space setting (British accents, on the other hand, are apparently safe for science fiction). Terry Carter, interestingly (or weirdly!) enough, was the original Boomer, which probably would have made him the oldest fighter pilot in the Colonial Fleet! Reportedly Patrick Duffy and Kent McCord were considered as possible Apollos. Kent McCord of course eventually appeared in Galactica (puh!) 1980, while Patrick Duffy was fortunate enough to be busy with Dallas at the time....
It isnt likely well know more about the evolution of the Battlestar Galactica premiere and the series that we came to know and love unless John Dykstra or Don Bellisario someday decide to write a tell-all BG memoir.
©1987, 2000 by Susan J. Paxton
BACK TO LOST WORLDS