Looking back on cancellations (and almost cancellations) from the years past.
Was Babylon 5 cancelled after five years and could it have run longer? The short answer: no. The slightly longer answer: it was almost cancelled after its fourth season.
Creator J. Michael Straczynski approached Babylon 5 with a grand plan. He wanted to produce a space epic for television that would tell a complete story. Like a novel, it would have a beginning, middle, and end and it would unfold over five seasons to produce over one hundred episodes so that it would be attractive to the syndication market for an extended encore run. He envisioned the show as Lord of the Rings in space and he succeeded in carrying it off, but B5 faced a major hurdle over halfway through its run.
Babylon 5 aired on PTEN (Prime Time Entertainment Network) which was a collective of multiple independent stations that started up in 1993 with plans to compete with the three major networks at that time ABC, CBS, and NBC (FOX was still a fledgling net itself when PTEN launched). B5 aired on that network along with other shows like Time Trax and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and attracted a decent enough audience each week. But the two primary partners that formed PTEN decided to split off after a couple of years and form the separate networks The WB and UPN. That left PTEN dangling on its own and its future was very much in doubt as Babylon 5 was heading into its fourth season.
JMS knew that the network was struggling and that his show may not make it to a fifth season, so he crammed as much of the planned storyline as he could into the fourth year. That season brought us the culmination of the Shadow War, the dissolution of the Centauri Empire, and B5’s final confrontation with Earth. Those arcs were suppose to unfold over two seasons, but JMS wanted to resolve as much of the story as he could in case the show was cancelled a year too soon due to PTEN’s struggles. He even produced a final episode that takes place twenty years in the future and shows us the ultimate fate of the B5 station and several of the major characters.
But even though Straczynski had prepped for an early end, a savior came in at the last minute to assure that the fifth season would happen. Cable network TNT agreed to pick up B5 for its final season and would also produce several new movies as well as the sequel series Crusade. The final episode from Season 4 was shifted to the end of the fifth year (which worked perfectly because it took place in the future) and the show was given time to explore some of the storylines that could not fit into the fourth season such as the telepath war. Of course, Season 5 has often been looked upon as rather anti-climactic, which makes sense considering how much story had been stuffed into the fourth year. But it still had its moments and allowed the show to achieve its original five year goal and tell its full story.
So without the rescue by TNT, it’s very possible that Babylon 5 would have been cancelled, but JMS had planned for that and made sure that the show would not leave fans hanging. Actually cancelled, though, was sequel series Crusade half way through its first season because it did not perform as well as TNT hoped as well as the fact that JMS and network execs had different ideas about its creative direction. But that is a whole story unto itself that I will cover in an upcoming post.
You can stream the entire B5 series online (though not the movies for some reason) at Verizon’s go90 service at this link. The five movie collection which includes the pilot and the Crusade set-up is economically priced on DVD over at Amazon.com.
Available from Amazon.com: