A look at shows from the past that may not have stood the test of time and/or that are relegated to their era, but many of us still have fond memories of them.
What Is It? Due to a malfunction on his ship, NASA astronaut Captain William “Buck” Rogers gets trapped in suspended animation in orbit in 1987 and wakes up five hundred years later. Once revived, he teams up with Colonel Wilma Deering of the Earth defense force to tackle threats such as Killer Kane of the Draconian Empire and more.
Aired: 1979-81, NBC, 2 Seasons Totaling 37 Episodes
Starring: Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, Tim O’Conner, Thom Christopher, Felix Sila
Developed By: Glen A. Larson, Leslie Stevens
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi? No, but some of the first season episodes are worth a watch for some good, campy sci fi fun.
The Skinny: This was the second attempt by a television network to capitalize on the late-70’s Star Wars phenomenon (the first, Battlestar: Galactica, also came from Glen A. Larson), and it seemed poised for success when it debuted in the Fall of 1979. The show didn’t take itself too seriously, but the better episodes early on had plenty of appeal for sci fi fans while the show’s general sense of fun and adventure–with space battles, spandex-clad women, and wise-cracking robots–helped draw in a wider audience. And Gil Gerard did a good job of playing the lead with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But diminishing returns set in pretty quickly, and the declining quality of the scripts hastened the trend of viewers defecting from the show. It did get a second season renewal, just barely, but it went through a reboot that did little to help its prospects. In its second year, Buck Rogers became an ersatz version of Star Trek meets Battlestar: Galactica and lost its sense of fun. An important lesson here is that if you have bad scripts, it’s best not to take yourself seriously. But unfortunately the show did not follow that advice and it also wasted its one good addition, the character of Hawk played by Thom Christopher channeling Trek‘s Spock. Still, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had some good moments (very few in its second season, though), and many people have fond memories of it from the late 70’s and early 80’s. Better scripts and a continued focus on humor could have made this a better show overall, but it’s still worth checking out some of the episodes from time to time for some good, retro fun.
Cancelled Too Soon? Yes, though maybe mercifully. The show just barely got the greenlight for a second season due to its declining viewership, and the reboot it went through did little to help bring back the audience. The second season was already cut short due to a writers strike and some of those episodes are nearly unwatchable. If it had continued in the more serious vein, that would have done nothing to improve its legacy, so it was probably best that the network cut if off when it did.
Revival: There was an attempt to revive the Buck Rogers character as a web series in 2009 by James Cawley, the guy who produced and starred in (as Captain Kirk) the fan-made Star Trek: Phase II web series. He planned on hearkening back to the original comic strip and serial and he even produced a short teaser that featured Gil Gerard and Erin Gray as Buck’s parents. But things apparently fell through, and nothing more has come of the web-series. The only remnants that I am aware of is the short teaser above which actually looks quite promising.
Should It Be Rebooted? Absolutely. Because its Buck Rogers, and how is it that we do not have a decent series (or even movie) with this character by now, especially with all the advancements in special effects? The entertainment industry loves name recognition and Mr. Rogers is known worldwide. You don’t have to do much explaining with this character and you can take him in any of a number of directions. The reboot could pay homage to the original comic strip and movie serial and take a similar tongue-in-cheek approach to the 70’s series (just hire some decent writers). It could also go the darker, Battlestar: Galactica reboot direction, but then we have more than enough grim sci fi / fantasy on television at the moment, and The Orville has shown the right way to do a fun and clever genre show. There were some talks of a Buck Rogers movie, but I don’t know that anything is moving too quickly on that front so a TV version would definitely be welcome.
Interesting Fact: Series star Gil Gerard actually was a strong driving force for the changes that occurred during the show’s second season. He did not like the lighter tone of the first year and had even said in an interview with Starlog magazine that he hoped it would get cancelled after its first season. Apparently NBC execs agreed that a change of tone was needed for the show, but what it really could have used was better writers.
Where Can You Watch It? The series does not appear to be available currently on the streaming services (let us know in the comments if you have found it somewhere) but it is available of DVD and Blu-ray (see below).
Get Buck Rogers in the 25th Century on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com: