Perhaps the last piece of vintage sci-fi to withstand the recent barrage of big budget remakes, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA will soon be making its triumphant return to the small screen thanks to the collaborative efforts of Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer, Dan Angel and Billy Brown. For those who've spent the past year living in a cave, DeSanto and Singer were the creative team responsible for last summer's box office hit the X-MEN, while Angel and Brown (former X-FILES alums) have a new series of their own debuting on Fox July 12 the horror anthology NIGHT VISIONS. Combing the sci-fi universe to find the next "sleeping giant," the team of self-proclaimed genre fanboys believes they may have just found it with GALACTICA.
However, this is not the first time a renewal of the 1979-1980 series has been attempted. Both Richard Hatch (who played Apollo in the original) and series creator Glenn Larson have tried to launch their own revival campaigns for the classic sci-fi property. Hatch (who has written three GALACTICA novels and continues to make appearances at events across the country) and his Su-Shan Productions even went so far as to produce a teaser trailer for their high-concept remake (then titled BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE SECOND COMING), a product that they took to sci-fi conventions in an effort to drum up fan support.
However, the difficulty they encountered in reviving the property seems to have stemmed from a rather sticky rights issue, the likes of which made the SPIDER-MAN proceedings of years past look tame. It's no wonder why a revival never made it past the conceptual phase.
"I've been tracking the rights on this for about four years and it was very confusing," says DeSanto. "I had friends at Universal who I would call up and they weren't sure if it was the feature department or the TV department. Then Seagram came into the picture, and things got confused further when Studios USA bought the old library from Universal. So it became this whole hodgepodge of who did what."
As a result, DeSanto opted to steer clear of the property and instead focus his attention on the then upcoming X-MEN feature. The enthusiasm he felt for GALACTICA as a child, however, would not let up and upon the completion of his comic book to big screen adaptation, he found himself succumbing once again to the vintage sci-fi project.
"I was still drawing my Vipers and redesigned Cylon raiders and coming up with storylines and things like that," says DeSanto. "Then around June, which was a month before [X-MEN] opened, I really started to think about what I wanted to do next. I really started to focus on [GALACTICA] and devote a lot of time to it going back and watching old episodes and really trying to nail the mythology."
With an enthusiasm that was difficult to contain, DeSanto soon found himself inadvertently infecting Singer, who also had been a childhood fan of the series.
"It was on a plane when Bryan and I were headed out to do a press junket in New York when he asked me what I was thinking of doing next," says DeSanto. "I said, 'I think the next sleeping giant with even greater potential than X-MEN is BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.' He said, 'Oh, I remember watching that show as a kid. It was the only show that I watched every week!' It brought back a bunch of memories for him he got it instantly. So we started to pursue it. Fortunately, X-MEN did very well at the box office and that allowed a lot of doors to open as far as getting the project off the ground."
And get the project off the ground they have. In the course of a few months, the creative duo has managed to "sell" a studio on the concept, secure enough of a commitment to hire show runners and put together a pitch for a potential pilot. Just last week, the production received the go-ahead to create a two-hour television movie that will act as a pilot for a potential ongoing series tentatively scheduled for fall 2003.
"I dreamed of bringing GALACTICA back for over 10 years now and I can't think of a better home for it than Fox," says DeSanto. "The way it's going to work is it's going to be the same way that LAW & ORDER is repeated on USA Network after it runs on NBC. If we get the series, there will be a little more structure so it'll run the exact next week on the SCI FI Channel."
Starting on the ground floor, just like any other television production, DeSanto and Singer spent months working to secure this commitment. Along the way, the two managed to pick up another creative duo of equal ability.
"Bryan and myself went in and put together the show for Studios USA using concepts, rough outlines of characters and everything," says DeSanto. "Then we got the okay from Studios USA to bring on writers to act as the show runners. We went out and scoured the planet and found a great writing team Dan Angel and Billy Brown. They've done everything from run GOOSEBUMPS for five years to put together a show coming out this summer on Fox called NIGHT VISIONS, which is a horror anthology. As simple as it [may seem] to find good writers, sometimes that can be more difficult than finding the show's talent. The great thing about Dan and Billy is they get it and they've been in the trenches before with television. Anybody who's done 24 episodes of an anthology show with new sets and a new cast every week has my undying respect and admiration. They've just been great and it's been great collaborating with them."
Bringing their expertise in genre writing and character drama to the table, Angel and Brown look to build upon the best ideas of the original series in order to take them into an unexplored territory.
The question remains, however, why DeSanto and Singer who have demonstrated a mastery of feature film would turn to the small screen for a re-launch of the classic science fiction property? The answer, according to DeSanto, is because it just feels right.
"To do this as a feature, it's going to take X amount of years," says DeSanto. "It just feels like it should be on TV and that's not to knock or praise it in anyway. It's just there's nothing like this on television. There's nothing with this type of family drama and a space saga at the same time. So many sci-fi shows are about hardware and tech talk not a lot of them are about characters. That's why people tune in. That's why I tuned in and loved to watch Kirk and Spock, Picard and Data, and Adama and Starbuck and Apollo. These were cool people and it was nice to spend an hour with them. I think a lot of sci-fi TV has gotten into that niche territory where it's about the creatures and techno babble, not really about human beings."
In order to mount a successful re-launch, an understanding of what originally made the series a hit among fans is necessary. To that end, DeSanto immersed himself in the show's mythology living, breathing and eating everything GALACTICA.
"I've got sketches from when I was behind a cash register at J.C. Penny's 10 years ago of redesigned Vipers still being true to the look of the Viper, but trying to make it work a little differently and cooler," says DeSanto. "The key for us is the story it's all about story. The crux of the story is basically a parallel to the Exodus. This group of people is in search of the Promised Land. They are in search of Earth. I thought it was a great mythology and it also borrowed from CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, which I did a book report on in the sixth grade. But, we're also doing a character driven science fiction show. I think the reason why people latched onto X-MEN was that it was a character driven superhero film. People are going to tune in and want to see the effects, but by week three or four if you're not empathizing with those characters, you're not going to want to watch the show anymore."
Angel and Brown share in this vision, playing up even more so the space adventurers' ties to primitive Earth.
"What was cool about the idea was that there was sort of a wagon train in space," says Brown. "Humans that had begun an exodus from 12 colonies under attack and that they were looking for a legendary planet the planet Earth. It was the idea that these were the ancestors of earthlings that was so cool."
Modernizing and expanding the mythology, DeSanto believes, is what will freshen up the property and attract a new generation of viewers.
"I remembered the Iron Pillar in India," says DeSanto. "It doesn't rust. They take samples from it and still they can't duplicate the metal. They have these quartz beads on this Peruvian mummy that they found and they can't duplicate those either. Where did the pyramids come from? So it's all sort of this cool little sci-fi twist. What if we did have brothers out in space who were fighting this Great War? It's sort of a romanticized version of where we came from."
While the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER notes that the show will take place "after the seventh millennium time frame of the original series" ("I have no idea what that means," laughs DeSanto. "I think what they did was they probably went back to the original press kit and picked something up from there"), a "from the horse's mouth" explanation puts the revamped series picking up where its predecessor left off, following the adventures of the next generation Colonial Warriors.
"It's in continuity, but it's accessible to non-fans," says DeSanto. "The same way with X-MEN, fans can come in and not know anything about these characters or this mythology and find it accessible and feel the same way with GALACTICA. The great thing, too, is that people from my generation are with kids now. They all have their kids now, so its about them being able to sit down with their family and watch a science fiction show and not have it be inaccessible or so 'techie' that the families can't enjoy it. The great thing about GALACTICA was that it was Middle America science fiction."
Working hard to insure that the revamped GALACTICA does not fit into any one particular classification, Angel and Brown are taking an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to designing the series' moods and settings.
"It's not a niche show," says Brown. "It's more a broad canvas sci-fi show that really will be sort of a space opera. It's a little more STAR WARS than STAR TREK and yet with some of the sophistication, hopefully, of a WEST WING as well. I don't want to give too many details away, but I think it's going to take the best of the old show and be more sophisticated. At the end of the day, it's going to have all the bells and whistles and hardware, but its really going to be about characters. It's going to be sexy; it's going to have action and political intrigue; and we're going to see some new really cool worlds."
What then of the critically panned GALACTICA 1980 the one season flop that brought the infamous "ragtag fleet of ships to that shining star called Earth?" If DeSanto has his way, it will be wiped clean from all existence.
"GALACTICA 1980 was a virtual reality simulation of what not to do when you find Earth," jokes DeSanto. "Although 'The Return of Starbuck', which I just watched last month that's the great thing, I was able to get all the copies unedited from the Universal vault was just such a great episode. So with the exception of 'Return of Starbuck', GALACTICA 1980 will be a virtual reality simulation that some demented 12-year-old has done."
With a commitment in hand and plans to deliver the two-hour BATTLESTAR GALACTICA pilot to Fox by April, the team must kick the production into full gear a task that they are more than ready to tackle.
"Now it's about bringing on production designers, costume designers, start the casting process and flush out the script," says DeSanto. "But there's a lot of stuff that we've been working on for the past few months, so we've got a great jump on production. The great thing about this whole thing is that we've got the pre-production time to do it right. That was one of the real problems they had with the first series they just didn't have the time. They were sort of caught between a rock and hard place, especially dealing with the effects schedules that they had. We have the ability to be more sophisticated in our creation of a mini-feature each week, while at the same time still focusing on maintaining the flavor of the adventure of the original show."