Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.
This is of course the late 70’s epic space opera about the remnants of a race of humans from a distant part of the galaxy fleeing from the robotic Cylons who want to exterminate them as the titular Battlestar: Galactica leads their ragtag fleet to a hopeful refuge on the lost colony of Earth. It rode the wave of Star Wars popularity to television (allegedly based on a script creator Glen A Larson penned years back, though definitely heavily influenced by the George Lucas movie), but only lasted one season in its original form. Part of the problem was that ABC changed their minds on the direction of the show early on. It was originally intended as a seven hour mini-series that would have aired in three parts and that could have continued into an ongoing series if the ratings were good. The network decided to immediately push forward with the series, though, whereas Larson had hoped to have a season to plan it out after the mini-series had aired. That led to scrambling on the production side and thus the reason for some of the ersatz episodes the show delivered through its first season. And while BSG debuted to strong ratings, CBS counter-programmed and moved juggernaut All in the Family against it which caused viewership to drop. It still finished the season with decent ratings, but considering it was the most expensive show on television up to that time, ABC decided that decent was not good enough. There was also an ongoing lawsuit between FOX and Universal claiming BSG stole from Star Wars, so that likely didn’t help the show’s cause either. But allegedly, before the cancellation came, there had been talks of a second season that would have delivered some changes to the show. In an attempt to appeal more heavily to the female audience, several of the women characters would have become more prominent on the show. Also several other regular characters would have been dropped (the good exclusion being the annoying robot dog Muffit) and others were going to move in different directions, particularly leads Apollo and Starbuck. But instead of going that route, ABC decided to just cancel the show outright. Of course, the network had a change of heart and talked with Larson about writing a two hour movie in which the Galactica makes it to Earth. It’s not quite clear if that was to be a series finale or an attempt to keep the show going, but it eventually morphed into the much-maligned Galactica: 1980 spin-off series. That show had the colonists arriving at Earth several decades after the end of BSG‘s first season but deciding not to make immediate contact because the Terran technology was not sufficient to ward off an attack from the Cylons. Many of the characters from the original show had been dropped and the new series was designed to be more kid friendly. But the revamped version was not well received and it disappeared from the air after ten episodes (though one of those did bring back Dirk Benedict to reveal the fate of Starbuck). Ultimately, whether you consider the original BSG (which veered more towards camp) to have been cancelled to soon or having just failed to live up to its potential probably hinges on your feelings on the darker, 2003 reboot. If the 70’s series had continued on for multiple seasons, its possible the re-imagining would have never occurred (instead, it might have followed a Star Trek-like sequel series path), and the new BSG is considered one of the best sci fi TV shows of all time. But the original did have its challenges and was hampered by network tinkering that ultimately brought the first version of BSG to an early end. Interestingly, series star Richard Hatch championed a revival of the series in the late nineties and even funded a pilot episode that he showed at several conventions. You can read more about that at this link.
And fans of the original Battlestar: Galactica are highly recommended to check out By Your Command Vol 1: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Battlestar Galactica Original Series (the source of much of the information above). It contains detailed synopses and analyses of all the episodes from BSG and Galactica: 1980 plus a look at unproduced scripts and behind the scenes information.
Aired: BSG – ABC, 1978-79, 1 Season Totaling 24 Episodes, Galactica: 1980 – ABC, 1980, 1 Season Totaling 10 Episodes
Created By: Glen A. Larson
Starring: Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict,Lorne Greene, Maren Jensen, Laurette Spang