20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Original Battlestar Galactica
As much as we love the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica, you simply cannot beat the brilliant original series, which first landed on screens in 1978.
Telling the story of mankind’s last-ditch battle against warrior robots known as Cylons, Battlestar Galactica starred Lorne Greene as Commander Adama, Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo and The A-Team’s Dirk Benedict as Lieutenant Starbuck. Airing the year after the release of Star Wars, the two sci-fi properties were often compared – at the dinner table as well as in court!
Below are some things you probably didn’t know about one of the very best science fiction shows of our youth.
20. It was originally titled Adam’s Ark
Larson said that he dreamed the concept up in the late 60s, originally giving it the title ‘Adam’s Ark.’
However, TV shows with such a heavy science fiction element cost a lot of money, and Larson wasn’t able to find financial backing.
Because of this, the project (which Larson eventually renamed Galactica) remained on the back-burner for a decade – until the massive success of the 1977 film Star Wars.
As that film proved there was a significant audience for the ‘space opera’ genre, Galactica finally got off the ground, with ‘Battlestar’ added to the title to make it feel that bit more Star Wars-esque.
Of course, as we will see later on, the similarities between Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars would later cause significant problems for the show and its makers.
19. It incorporated themes from Mormon theology
Glen A Larson was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormonism.
Larson incorporated many themes from Mormon theology into the fictional universe of Battlestar Galactica.
Some viewers picked up on this early on: scholar James E Ford detailed the show’s debt to Mormonism at length in a 1980 research paper.
For one, Battlestar Galactica features a ‘council of twelve,’ evocative of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
There is also the notion of a ‘lost 13th tribe of humans’ which is rooted in Mormon lore.
In addition, Battlestar Galactica features a planet called Kobol – an anagram of Kolob, an astral body featured in Mormonism’s sacred text the Book of Abraham.
18. A series of sci-fi novels inspired by Viking warriors was the basis for the Cylons
On hitting the airwaves, Battlestar Galactica was quickly accused of being a Star Wars rip-off.
However, there was another existing science fiction property from which the show borrowed more brazenly.
That was the Berserker series, a space opera written over the course of several novels and short stories by author Fred Saberhagen.
Saberhagen’s series, which began in 1967, centred on a war between mankind and intelligent machines known as Berserkers, named after the Viking warriors of Norse mythology.
Battlestar Galactica’s robotic bad guys, the Cylons, were directly modelled on Saberhagen’s Berserkers.
Saberhagen would continue publishing stories in the Berserker series until 2005. He passed away two years later, aged 77.
17. It drew on the writings of conspiracy theorist Erich von Däniken
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
As well as drawing on Mormon theology, Battlestar Galactica took inspiration from the theories of Swiss author Erich von Däniken.
Von Däniken found fame with his best-selling 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? (yes, with a question mark) which proved popular with the burgeoning New Age movement.
The book posits the theory that the gods of ancient human religions were actually visitors from other worlds, a theme further explored in von Däniken’s subsequent works.
This popularised the notion that ancient monuments such as the Pyramids were constructed by these aliens.
- Credit: Diego Delso/CC-BY-SA
Battlestar Galactica was one among many science fiction properties to take inspiration from von Däniken – despite the historical and scientific community widely dismissing the writer’s theories as nonsense.
Von Däniken’s influence can also be felt in TV shows including Space 1999 and The Phoenix, and later in such movies as Stargate and Prometheus.
16. The pilot episode was interrupted by a live broadcast of an Israel-Egypt peace treaty
The 1978 premiere episode of Battlestar Galactica was hoped to be a major TV event for network ABC.
The two-hour series premiere was one of the most expensive TV episodes ever made, with an $8 million budget.
However, its initial broadcast on the 17th of September 1978 had the misfortune of coinciding with some fairly significant news.
Battlestar Galactica’s premiere was interrupted two-thirds of the way through by a live broadcast from the White House.
- Credit: Picryl
This was so the American public could watch Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sign a peace treaty.
It wasn’t until after this hour-long interruption that the remainder of the Battlestar Galactica premiere was able to air.
15. Its makers were sued over the show’s many similarities to Star Wars
- Credit: LucasFilm
In attempting to capitalise on the popularity of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica lit the fuse on a large-scale legal battle.
20th Century Fox, the studio behind Star Wars, launched a lawsuit against Battlestar Galactica’s owners Universal Studios.
The suit charged that the makers of Battlestar Galactica had stolen 34 individual ideas from Star Wars, which had been released only the year before.
Universal, however, were not about to take this lying down, and responded by counter-suing 20th Century Fox.
Universal’s suit claimed that with that Star Wars had stolen ideas from some of their properties, including the 1972 film Silent Running and the 1930s Buck Rogers serials.
After a few years of back-and-forth between the lawyers of the respective studios, both cases were ultimately resolved out of court.
14. George Lucas himself also threatened legal action
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
20th Century Fox weren’t the only ones compelled to take legal action by Battlestar Galactica’s clear debt to Star Wars.
George Lucas, writer-director of the 1977 film and creator of the Star Wars universe, also made his own threat of legal action.
Famously, Lucas built his personal fortune and multimedia empire Lucasfilm off the back of the Star Wars merchandising rights.
As such, Lucas fiercely protected the copyright to the likeness of the characters, creatures, worlds and vehicles featured in Star Wars.
For their designs and FX work, Battlestar Galactica had hired Apogee Inc, a company comprised of former members of Industrial Light & Magic, the FX division of Lucasfilm.
Lucas charged that Apogee were deliberately creating Star Wars-like designs, as well as arguing that the Cylon Raider and Colonial Viper Battlestar Galactica toys could be confused with spacecraft from the Star Wars toy range.
13. It was axed less than eight months after its premiere
Many children of the 80s look back on Battlestar Galactica as one of the most epic, enduring TV shows of their youth.
It may come as a surprise, then, that the show’s time on the small screen was actually very short.
After premiering in September 1978, Battlestar Galactica was cancelled in late April 1979, after less than eight months on the air.
Network ABC said their decision was down both to the show’s declining ratings, and the high cost of production.
After all the publicity and merchandising, the ratings simply didn’t prove high enough to keep the show going.
However, thanks to syndicated re-runs, Battlestar Galactica lived on and remained popular with audiences worldwide.
12. There have been four small-screen reboots
While the original run of Battlestar Galactica might not have lasted, the story didn’t end there.
After fans of the show pleaded for it to be brought back, Glen A Larson met with the network, and the result was Galactica 1980.
This sequel series saw the crew travel back in time to present-day America (in no small part because shooting in the real world would be cheaper than the space-set first series).
However, this new take on the Battlestar Galactica concept was not well-received, and the series proved even more short-lived than its predecessor, axed after 10 episodes.
It would be another 23 years before Battlestar Galactica returned in a darker, more adult-oriented form: first in the 2003 miniseries, then in the acclaimed series that ran from 2004 to 2009.
This Battlestar Galactica reboot was itself followed by a number of supplemental ‘webisodes,’ 2010 spin-off Caprica, and 2012 TV movie Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome (originally intended as a pilot for a further TV series).
11. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century recycled sets, props and FX from Battlestar Galactica
When Battlestar Galactica was axed, creator Glen A Larson wasted no time in getting a similar TV series off the ground.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century made its TV debut in September 1979, roughly five months after Battlestar Galactica’s cancellation.
An update of the classic hero from comics, radio plays and serials of the 1920s, this was a considerably more light-hearted space opera than Larson’s previous effort.
As the high budget had been a factor in Battlestar Galactica’s cancellation, Larson and company opted to save money on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by literally re-using material from their last show.
A great deal of the special effects, sets and props featured in the series were directly recycled from Battlestar Galactica.
Unfortunately, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century still wound up costing the network too much money without getting high enough ratings, and it too was cancelled after 37 episodes.
10. The US Air Force unofficially named a fighter jet after the Colonial Viper
Among those viewers captivated by Battlestar Galactica were members of the US Armed Forces.
The show was so well-loved by the Air Force that a jet came to be informally named after one of Battlestar Galactica’s spacecraft.
- Credit: Srđan Popović via Wikimedia Commons
The jet in question is the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, colloquially known as the Viper.
The plane was officially named the Fighting Falcon in 1980, this name having been chosen in an Air Force contest.
- Credit: SSGT LEE O TUCKER, USAF
via US National Archives
Despite this, the pilots at the first base to house the F-16 quickly took to calling it the Viper, in homage to the Colonial Viper craft from Battlestar Galactica.
Although the F-16 has never officially been given this name, it is informally referred to as the Viper to this day.
9. It started the trend of made-up swear words in sci-fi
Battlestar Galactica kicked off a curious trend in small-screen science fiction: the use of bespoke curse words.
Most famously, the series introduced the term “frack” (alternately spelt ‘frak’ or ‘frac’) as an interstellar substitute for that other F-word.
Other terms used in Battlestar Galactica which didn’t catch on in quite the same way include “felgercarb” and “golmogging.”
These terms were ostensibly used as a way for the characters to swear without any trouble from the censors.
However, many recognised this as an interesting way of helping to establish the new society of the show’s deep-space, far-future setting. “Frack” would later be used with great regularity on the Battlestar Galactica reboot series.
In fairness, we probably can’t hold Battlestar Galactica solely responsible for this: the show premiered the same year as Mork & Mindy, which famously introduced the extra-terrestrial curse word, “shazbat!”
8. It was originally intended to be a trilogy of TV movies
With its high budget and production values, Battlestar Galactia could be considered a precursor for the current age of ‘event television.’
However, there’s a good reason that the series was considerably larger in scale and ambition than most shows of the time.
Originally, creator Glen A Larson had not envisioned Battlestar Galactica as a standard weekly TV series at all.
Instead, Larson planned to realise his vision for the story as three movies made especially for television.
The lengthy pilot episode Saga of a Star World was produced with this approach in mind, and originally the plan was to make two more TV movies of similar length.
However, network ABC instead ordered that Battlestar Galactica go into production with weekly episodes to fit 60-minute time slots.
7. A potential mini-series adaptation was scrapped after 9/11
- Credit: Guy Hendrix Dyas
For many years after Galactica 1980, numerous attempts to revive the property failed to get off the ground.
However, a new small screen take on the property came close to getting the green light around 2000.
- Credit: Guy Hendrix Dyas
The now-disgraced director Bryan Singer, fresh from the success of the movie X-Men at the time, was attached to a new Battlestar Galactica TV mini-series.
However, the project was one of many in Hollywood that had the brakes applied following the earth-shattering events of September 11th 2001.
- Credit: Guy Hendrix Dyas
Suddenly, the idea of an action-adventure series that saw Earth under attack by alien forces felt a little too close to the bone.
This in part explains the darker tone taken by the eventual Battlestar Galactica reboot, which tapped into the bleak mood of the time.
6. There are nods to the show in The A-Team and Knight Rider
While Battlestar Galactica did not remain in production in the 80s, its echo can be felt in some of that decade’s most popular TV shows.
While The A-Team was not a Glen A Larson production, it paid affectionate tribute to Benedict’s previous role in its opening credits.
Benedict’s Faceman gives a look of puzzled recognition when passed by a man dressed as a Cylon in the street.
Creator Glen A Larson also took a little bit of the Cylons with him to his smash hit series Knight Rider.
The show famously starred David Hasslehoff and his talking car KITT – which is fitted with a distinctive red scanning light.
This detail on KITT was directly modelled on the similar red scanning light seen on the visors of Battlestar Galactica’s robotic villains.
5. A Russian journalist claimed the show encouraged “anti-Soviet hysteria”
Copyright infringement wasn’t the only heinous charge levelled against Battlestar Galactica at the height of the show’s success.
The series was also accused of being Cold War propaganda designed to further bias the West against the USSR.
Russian journalist Melor Sturua claimed that Battlestar Galactica encouraged anti-Soviet hysteria in its depiction of intergalactic peace talks.
The long-standing conflict between America and Soviet Russia was at a somewhat volatile stage when Battlestar Galactica hit screens.
The journalist wrote that the negotiations between the humans and Cylons in the show resembled the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talk) summits between the Soviets and the United States.
The ten years that followed would be a nerve-wracking time, but, by the end of the decade, the Cold War would effectively come to an end with the dissolution of the USSR.
4. Some of the toys were deemed to be a health hazard for young children
Battlestar Galactica’s toy line was produced by Mattel, who remain one of the world’s biggest toymakers to this day.
At the time, Mattel were still nursing their wounds over turning down the chance to make Star Wars toys.
Rival toy company Kenner picked up the Star Wars contract, and promptly made a massive fortune from it.
However, on top of being labelled Star Wars imitations, Battlestar Galactica’s toys came to be deemed a bona fide safety hazard.
Some of the toys fired small plastic pellets, which presented a likely choking hazard for young children.
This health risk, which George Lucas also pointed out as part of his threat of legal action, led to many of the toys being redesigned.
3. The show’s cancellation was implicated in a teen suicide
In August 1979, 15-year-old Eddie Seidel Jr. of St Paul, Minnesota committed suicide.
Before his death, Seidel told police that he was in emotional turmoil over Battlestar Galactica’s cancellation.
The family of the troubled teen confirmed that he had been an obsessive fan of the show.
Seidel had been one among the many who had written to network ABC requesting the reversal of their decision on Battlestar Galactica.
Seidel’s family described their son as “a sometimes brilliant boy who couldn’t find enough in life to keep him interested.”
Psychiatric treatment revealed that “he was just kind of bored with life, that there was nothing here for him to excel in.”
2. There was once a sophisticated ‘Battle of Galactica’ tour at Universal Studios
Universal were so convinced of Battlestar Galactica’s commercial potential that they used it as the basis for a theme park attraction.
Battle of Galactica, a tour based around the TV show, opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in June 1979.
At the time, it was the most expensive attraction ever built at the park, was a price tag of $1 million.
The live show featured actors as well as animatronics, plus 200 food spaceships and sophisticated laser battles.
It remained at Universal Studios Hollywood until 1992, when it was replaced by a Back to the Future ride.
However, the Battlestar Galactica: Human vs Cylon roller coaster later opened at Universal Studios Singapore in March 2010.
1. A brand new series is currently in development
After proving a success in its various incarnations, yet another new take on Battlestar Galactica is in the pipeline.
NBC Universal are banking on the show being a big draw for their new streaming platform, Peacock.
The new Battlestar Galactica is being developed by Sam Esmail, the creator of Mr Robot, who promises that it will not be a reboot.
“We’ll explore a new story within the mythology while staying true to the spirit of Battlestar,” says Esmail.
We don’t know about you, but we cannot fracking wait for more Battlestar Galactica on our TV screens!